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Comic Art Still Enchants : With Snow White's return, Burbank gallery offers a look at the history of animation with original prints and cels.

August 20, 1993|NANCY KAPITANOFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for Valley Life.

The artwork created in the making of animation films enchants a lot of people. For many, it calls up memories of seeing lovable, irascible or evil characters on the big screen.

This summer, fans of Walt Disney's 1937 classic animation film "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" have the opportunity to relive the saga at local movie theaters in newly restored prints. They also can see original artwork from the movie in an exhibit at the Howard Lowery Gallery in Burbank, which specializes in animation and comic art.

Gallery owner Lowery has borrowed the Snow White pieces from several collectors to "present all the various forms of animation art that went into the creation of that film," he said.

Cels--paintings on celluloid--depict "the characters we identify with, love or hate. Background paintings provide the setting in which the characters act," Lowery said. "Animation drawings represent the stage in which the characters actually begin to move and sing and dance, fight and act, perform their roles.

"We also have story drawings, which are the earliest, most developmental form of the art. It's where the story and the characters are defined. Many times you'll see story drawings that represent the characters in a way wholly different from how they appeared in the final film."

Among the cels on view is one of Snow White's stepmother, the queen, valued at $100,000. "It combines two very important elements--the cel painting of the queen and the master background of the interior of her castle. And it combines them as you actually see them in the film," Lowery said. "That's the ultimate in an animation-art collectible, to be able to duplicate a scene exactly as you see it in a film."

With more than 20 years experience in the animation art business, Lowery has witnessed its growth in Southern California. In the early '70s, as a 16-year-old collector of comic books, he went to work part time at Collectors Book Store in Hollywood. He continued to work there through high school, college and after he graduated, learning the business of buying and selling animation and comic art.

Beginning his own business on the premises of the bookstore in 1984, he moved it to Burbank in 1989. In December of that year, he organized the first animation art auction on the West Coast, and has continued to hold auctions regularly ever since. In May of this year, he opened the gallery, where he sells original and limited-edition artwork from the films of Disney, Warner Bros., MGM, Hanna-Barbera and others. Disney represents about 80% to 85% of the market.

Though most studios today have art marketing programs, before interest in animation art grew in the 1970s, Disney was the only studio to actively market it. At many studios, much of it was simply thrown away.

"What shows up of that artwork are originals that were kept by people who worked at a studio, pieces that were rescued from the trash and pieces that were given out for presentation and for publicity purposes," Lowery said.

"We did have a client who came to us about three years ago. He was a garbage collector for the city of Burbank," said Tami Mahnken, who is in charge of the gallery's advertising and publicity. "In one of his daily outings, he had found some cels that he brought home for his kids. His wife put them in a closet and 20 years later, he came to us. There were about 15 of them from 'Song of the South.' Just his expression when Howard told him what they were and their value, it was terrific." Mahnken said the cels were worth from $3,000 to $6,000 each.

Artwork from Disney movies such as "Snow White," "Pinocchio," "Fantasia," "Dumbo," "Bambi," "Cinderella," "Peter Pan" and "Sleeping Beauty" are the most sought after by collectors. Besides these, Warner Bros.' 1940s short cartoons, MGM cartoons of the '40s and '50s, and '60s televisions shows by Hanna-Barbera such as "The Flintstones" and "The Jetsons" are most important to collectors.

Recent Disney films such as "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," and "Aladdin" represent "a new group of films in which the studio has once again shown its mastery of the animated feature," Lowery said. "Not everyone likes antique objects." However, collectors cannot obtain original cels from "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin" or subsequent Disney films. Beginning with the production of "Rescuers Down Under," followed by "Beauty and the Beast," Disney artists realized the character images on computer.

"So in effect, there are no production cels," Lowery said. "A collector who wants a cel image from 'Beauty and the Beast' will have to settle for a limited edition or a specially created cel."

Lowery intends to present six art exhibits a year in his gallery. Next month, the focus is on "Fantasia." He and Mahnken are available to give talks on the "Snow White" and "Fantasia" exhibits. They are also willing to do presentations at area schools.

Where and When What: Original artwork from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Location: Howard Lowery Gallery, 3818 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays through Sept. 15. Call: (818) 972-9080.

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