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Swap meets are where one person's trash becomes another person's treasure. But sometimes the stuff you dig up holds major significance in a historical context.
Key example: Freelance games and anime writer Heidi Kemps attended the Fanimecon 2017 Swap Meet in May and walked away with a bunch of Mega Man 8 animation cels for a mere $300.
Released for the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn in 1996, Mega Man 8 turned a lot of heads with its animated cut scenes (and the voice acting in the English release turned a lot of stomachs, but that's neither here nor there). Animation cells for popular animated shows are a rare find these days, given the medium's jump to digital. By comparison, animation cels for the anime scenes of a PlayStation-era game are purple monkey dishwashers. Nabbing a bunch for a few hundred smackers is incredible.
"The seller, noting my interest in historical [Capcom] material, pulled out a giant box of Mega Man 8 cels and offered me the whole thing," Kemps told us earlier today in an email. "I couldn’t really refuse that, especially after seeing how cool some of the cels looked."
"[The cels] reveal a few interesting things about the animation production when analyzed, like how some cels had to be color-corrected and how some in-between animation was subcontracted to Korea by the Japanese studio (Xebec)," Kemps continued. "Unfortunately, years of storage has affected the condition of the paint and line work on some of them, but they’re still stunning as a whole."
Kemps also said she'll be making a video of the collection before she offers a few individual cels for sale. Animation cels are pricey but popular collectables, and no doubt Mega Man 8's stills will court a number of buyers. At the Retro Games Roadshow panel at last weekend's Portland Retro Gaming Expo, Kotaku's Chris Kohler and GameHistoryOrg's Frank Cifaldi estimated the find at thousands of dollars.
Video games have a preservation problem. Cartridges fetch ridiculous prices, and a digital game release can blink out of existence whenever a publisher wills it to happen. Mega Man 8's cels are an invaluable collectable that's also tangible—an increasing rarity.
What's more, when a physical element of a game's developmental history does survive, it's usually a prototype build, or notes, or character sketches. Preserved cels for an animated opening is not something that pops up half as often, especially since animation was beginning to make the jump to digital by the mid- to- late-'90s.
Given how many games of the era had animated intros and story sequences, I wonder how many iconic PlayStation game scenes are mouldering in attic boxes. Wild ARMS, I hope someone's taking care of you.