- Kids can turn a favorite car pic into a "old school" animation cel with an easy painting DIY. All images: Lisa Tate

Easy Car "Toon" Cel Painting

Here's an all-ages DIY that turns favorite car photos in to old school animation cels.

6w ago
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I have always been a fan of the pre-computer, non digital, old school animation process.

The first animated cel I ever saw, as a matter of fact, had been in our home long before I was even born.

In the summer of 1955, my mother was 15-years-old and visiting family in California. They took her to this “brand new amusement park” called Disneyland that hadn’t even been open a week. She didn’t have much money for souvenirs, but since her favorite character was Tramp from Lady and The Tramp, she found a picture of him on celluloid for $1.50. This pretty much used up her spending money, but it was worth it because this image had been used in the movie.

Today, an original collector animation cel of Tramp can come with a three- or four-digit price tag depending on the condition, but thankfully my mom’s old souvenir is still in the family.

When I was a teenager in the 1980s, I was fascinated by animation cel art, but even then the cost of collecting them was getting crazy. So I made my own.

I found old discarded overhead projector sheets from my dad’s office, traced over cartoon images from books, magazines, and catalogs, painted them, and placed them over a solid piece of construction paper. I even thought about selling some to friends, but my mom reminded me that would be “counterfeiting,” and is in fact frowned upon by animation companies.

I kept these in my room or dorm all through high school and most of college. Then I “grew up” and threw them all away, for idiotic reasons I still can’t fathom.

This process is even easier today, as being able to print out images we find in the size we want is at our fingertips. Office and craft stores make it easier and more affordable to purchase paint and clear paper.

For those who want a cool DIY, turning a favorite photo of a car, your own vehicle, or any other famous car, into an animation “cel” is something even those with absolutely no drawing skill or experience can do. You just have to know how to trace.

First, find the image you want and print it out on white paper (preferably cardstock). Print out a second image "flipped" horizontally, if you are going to use the original image as a background.

Two printed car images and two clear pieces of plastic soon to be little "cartoon" cels.

Two printed car images and two clear pieces of plastic soon to be little "cartoon" cels.

Place a piece of clear acetate, mylar, or similar material over the picture and tape the corners to hold it in place. You can get these transparent sheets at craft, school, or office supply stores. Shrink art paper works well, too, if you want to make charms, or you can upcycle flat surfaces on clear plastic containers.

Next, trace over the main image with a fine line felt tip marker.

Use a thin felt tip marker to trace over the picture. Easy.

Use a thin felt tip marker to trace over the picture. Easy.

Place the printed image aside until later. When watching an animated production, remember the backgrounds are created separately to give a sense of depth.

When the marker has completely dried, turn the image over on a white or light surface so you can see it well. Using acrylic or craft paint, paint the smaller details first (headlights, windows, etc.). Use the printed image as a reference, or create your own color scheme. You can also use gel pens for the smaller details.

Paint the smaller details first. Flip the painting over often to check on the progress.

Paint the smaller details first. Flip the painting over often to check on the progress.

Let this layer dry completely, and then fill in the larger areas, covering the smaller areas. If you get outside of the edges, wait until it dries and carefully scrape off the excess with a wooden toothpick. Don’t use anything that will scratch your clear paper.

Cover the entire dried image with the main color to make it even. All the details will still be visible when it is done.

Cover the entire dried image with the main color to make it even. All the details will still be visible when it is done.

Turn this image over and align it with the original printed image. Hold the edges in place with clear craft glue.

There! You have a “cel.” Be creative and add your own backgrounds or solid colors if you just want a “study” of the car.

The plastic "cel" can be placed to aline with the photo background, or placed on another, more neutral backdrop.

The plastic "cel" can be placed to aline with the photo background, or placed on another, more neutral backdrop.

For those who do like to draw freehand, find one of your own favorite pieces of fan art or original characters, and try this with your own images.

These make great room decorations or look good as greeting cards.

Not every car has been made into a cool car "toons," but with a little creativity and paint, you can have the next best thing.

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