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Cel Preservation Keeps Early Days of Animation Alive

Los Angeles

Art: Westlake Village lab saves and restores the rare, clear plastic sheets on which the first cartoons were painted.

June 04, 2001|PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Today, Stark boasted, S/R Laboratories has more than 10,000 colors and makes its inks and paints just as Disney did decades ago. But that knowledge was hard-won. When Stark approached former Disney employees, they tended to be tight-lipped. "Everybody was very secretive, as if they would hurt the studio or would hurt Walt's memory," Stark recalled.

Eventually, Stark had two big breaks. Retired Disney chemist Emilio Bianci shared information on the composition and properties of the studio's paints and inks. Then Stark found a man who had made paint for Disney. Stark grilled him, and the man confessed he had forgotten everything. But, he added, "I wrote it all down."

Another former employee showed Stark how to hold the brush to create the rich shadows that marked the Golden Age of Disney films. Thanks to such revelations, Stark and his staff are able to achieve such effects as sprinkling Tinker Bell with authentic-looking pixie dust.

Stark Passed the 'Dragon' Test

David Pacheco, creative director for Walt Disney Art Classics, said he calls Stark to answer such questions as the precise color of Snow White's shoes. Stark also cares for Pacheco's personal collection. The first time, Pacheco tested Stark by removing a tiny chip of paint from a cel from "The Reluctant Dragon" that needed restoration.

"It was so pristine, it was beautiful," Pacheco said of the cel Stark sent back. Moreover, the restored paint matched the original chip perfectly. "That's it," Pacheco decided. "Whatever in my collection needs restoration, he's got it."

A lover of animation art, Stark doesn't collect it himself, although another of his companies holds twice yearly auctions of work consigned to him. He also does appraisals.

Stark said he helped bust a forger of cels and has testified as an expert witness. He told the court in one case that a cel featuring the Seven Dwarfs was worth $7,000, some of which went to the unhappy owner's soon-to-be ex-wife.

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