detail of animation cel
 

In early 2010 the Getty Conservation Institute began a collaboration with the Disney Animation Research Library (ARL) to improve understanding of the deterioration that can occur in plastics, a material used increasingly by artists over the last sixty years. This joint effort is part of the GCI's long-term Preservation of Plastics project, a key component of the Institute's Modern and Contemporary Art Research initiative, which engages in a range of scientific research to analyze materials in modern and contemporary art, assess their stability, investigate methods to improve knowledge of the effects of conservation treatments, and find technical solutions for decreasing the rates of deterioration.

The Disney ARL is the world's largest archive of animation, housing approximately sixty-five million pieces of animation art created over a period of more than eighty years by Walt Disney Animation Studios. The expansive collection includes original plastic animation cels and backgrounds, as well as conceptual design work, animation drawings, model sheets, layouts, exposure sheets, models, audiotapes and videotapes, reference photographs, and books.

The animation cel collection provides a unique and invaluable source of cellulose nitrate and cellulose acetate, two classes of plastic particularly vulnerable to deterioration. While the ARL's state-of-the-art storage facilities have extended the life of these materials, the exact aging process depends on a number of factors, including the composition of the plastics. A number of cels in the archive are already showing typical signs of cellulose plastic deterioration, such as yellowing, warping, and cracking, as well as the visible pulling away of artists' paint from the plastic support.

The GCI and Disney ARL will together study this collection to better understand the changes that occur in these materials over time and to learn more about the possible causes of these changes, with the ultimate aim of improving ways of preserving not only Disney's animation cels but also any object made from the same types of plastic.

In the initial phase of research, GCI scientists will assess the best methods for the in situ identification and condition monitoring of cels made of cellulose nitrate and acetate; the scientists will also examine their physical and thermal properties in detail.

This Disney-ARL partnership complements the GCI's existing collaborations with the Smithsonian Museum Conservation Institute in Washington DC, and the POPART consortium of European research laboratories, both of which were initiated in recognition of the acute lack of options available to conservators dealing with the rapidly escalating number of plastic objects in museum collections now showing signs of serious deterioration.