Disney has called in a British art conservation expert to save priceless original film cells from some of their most beloved animations from being lost to the ravages of time. Films such as Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio and Alice in Wonderland were hand-painted, frame by frame, on plastic sheets. Some of these cells are more than 80 years old and have started to warp, causing the paint to flake.
But British scientists have come up with an unexpectedly simple solution. While most precious artworks benefit from a dry environment, they found that increasing humidity caused paint to reattach itself, thus reversing the damage.
Dr. Tom Learner, from the Getty Conservation Institute, and formerly a conservationist at Tate Modern, has been working with Disney Animation Research Library in Los Angeles. “It’s always nice to end up on a happier note rather than the doom and gloom of degradation,” he told a meeting of scientists in Austin, Texas.
“As part of our Disney cell study one of the problems was with the plastic deforming through degradation. It’s very sensitive to humidity, so when the humidity drops to a dry condition the paint becomes rippled.
“We found just by putting these things in chambers and ramping up the humidity you actually are able to re-adhere the paint to the plastic, so while we are not able to flatten the cells, we can re-adhere it. What’s lovely about this is we haven’t had to put in any glue, adhesive or anything to stick the paint down. This means the paint is safe, will not crack and it can be digitally photographed. We are thrilled.” But other ageing plastic artworks are in danger of degrading, he warned.
Some have already been badly damaged, such as Naum Gabo’s 1927 sculpture Model for Construction in Space ‘Two Cones’ in the Tate collection.
Dr. Learner said: “The scary thing about these sorts of plastics is they appear very stable for a long time and then just suddenly go.”
Movies such as Snow White and The Seven Dwarves, Pinocchio and Alice in Wonderland were inked and painted by hand, one frame at a time, on sheets of plastic.
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