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Cel Shading is a style of computer rendering that imitates the look of hand-drawn artwork and animation. In layman's terms, it replaces the shading gradient of conventional rendering with flat colors and shadows (as seen at right). The style was codified with the Sega Dreamcast
game Jet Set Radio
While the style is not exclusive to Video Games
, it is often used there since this is the only way to produce a hand-drawn look via computer polygons. In other media, Cel Shading can be useful to render specific items in a hand-drawn production, if a given scene would be too difficult to animate by hand, such as a rotating object or an Epic Tracking Shot
traveling down the length of a massive vehicle. There are also animated series produced exclusively via cel shading, usually for similar reasons. When mixing cel shading with traditional animation, it's important to calibrate the renderer to avoid visually clashing with the rest of the production
(i.e. being too
detailed or smoothly animated).
Be careful when tossing terms around; Cel Shading applies first and foremost to the way the lighting
is rendered. Conventional rendering can still utilize solid colors, simplistic textures, and cartoonish caricatures (e.g. The Incredibles
or the 3D Super Mario
games). Likewise, Cel Shading can be as realistically-proportioned and textured as any hand-drawing. Actual
hand-drawn media is never an example, for obvious reasons, nor are cels drawn on computers in a manner similar to conventional animation.
The name comes from the cels hand-drawn cartoons were traditionally painted on to. Chiaroscuro
is an oft-used visual effect.
Anime and Manga
- Appleseed — The 2004 movie and its sequel, Ex Machina.
- From the same production team, Vexille.
- Dawn of the Seeker (also by the same people) uses cel shading for the human characters but photorealistic rendering for the environments and the monsters.
- Transformers Energon used cel shading for the CGI transformers. How well they did is a whole other matter entirely. Occasionally, the CGI would be replaced with traditional animation, creating an even worse jarring effect — and worse yet — it blew the CGI out of the water.
- Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex used excellent cel shading on the CG Tachikomas. Other CG vehicles tended to be rather more conspicuous.
- Freedom Project, which had character designs by Katsuhiro Otomo.
- Code Geass: Akito the Exiled uses cel shading on its highly detailed Knightmare Frames with very good results.
- Initial D Fourth Stage uses cel shading to great effect, compared to the Conspicuous CG of earlier stages.
- Envy's true form in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is cel shaded CGI. Also the various animated suits of armor.
- To (a two-episode anime that can be found on Netflix) is animated entirely with cel-shading, and looks very similar to Street Fighter IV's artstyle.
- Kakurenbo: Hide and Seek is mainly cel-shading.
- Some scenes in Kirby of the Stars are rendered in cel-shaded 3D. The show alternates between traditional animation and cel-shading a lot.
- In Sailor Moon Crystal, the switch to 3D animation used for team shots during the opening and for the heroine's Transformation Sequence is cel-shaded, but that doesn't prevent it from being fairly Conspicuous CG, due to the flatter aesthetic of the traditionally animated Noodle People character designs.
- In one episode of Warehouse 13 featuring a virtual reality game, the "in-game" scenes were subtly rendered with cel shading techniques to help distinguish them from the outside reality.
- Goosebumps: Attack of the Mutant is one of the earliest and most primitive uses of this technique, actually predating the usually-cited TropeMaker by three years.
- Jet Set Radio, and its follow-up Jet Set Radio Future. In fact, the first Jet Set Radio developed the basic technique for cel shading in videogames for the first time. It was the earliest true 3D game to deliberately incorporate manga-esque cel shading into its graphics engine.
- Sonic Shuffle, released around the same time as Jet Set Radio, did the same.
- The Simpsons Game
- Red Steel 2 does this, which actually makes the game look better on the Wii than if they were to go for a realistic style.
- The Legend of Zelda:
- Fire Emblem: Path Of Radiance and Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn both used cel-shading in cutscenes that at times looks almost exactly like traditional animation.
- Fire Emblem Awakening does this even better. A still from one of the cutscenes could pass for hand-drawn animation.
- Cel Damage
- Choro Q Works
- Musashi Samurai Legend, loose sequel to Brave Fencer Musashi
- Dark Chronicle
- Rogue Galaxy
- Lemmingball Z
- Future Boy Conan
- The Wolf Among Us does this in a manner similar to a graphic novel, mostly so it can look like its source material, Fables.
- Sly Cooper
- Steambot Chronicles
- Viewtiful Joe
- Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People adopts the style of its parent web animated series Homestar Runner.
- Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne and both Digital Devil Saga games.
- Dragon Quest entries VIII and IX.
- No More Heroes and its sequel.
- Wild ARMs 3, done to hide the fact that the models are almost PS1-quality. All subsequent Wild ARMs games utilize it much better, however.
- Prince of Persia (2008), another painted-style approach.
- Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter.
- Ultimate Spider-Man used a version that looked a bit more like a comic-book rather than a cartoon.
- Zone of the Enders: The Second Runner used a subtler version to give the visuals a unique style.
- The Naruto: Ultimate Ninja series
- The Dragon Ball Z Budokai and Budokai Tenkaichi series, starting with the second one. (The Gamecube version of the first Budokai had something like cel-shading, though.)
- Bomberman Jetters. Interestingly, the Japanese version of the game wasn't cel-shaded.
- Bleach: Shattered Blade
- Valkyria Chronicles: Looks like a chiaroscuro drawing painted with watercolors.
- Punch Out for the Wii features this look.
- Chrome Hounds uses cel-shading in a subtle manner, similar to Zone of the Enders 2.
- Under The Skin
- Robotech Battlecry
- Digimon Savers: Another Mission, released in English as Digimon World Data Squad.
- Mega Man X: Command Mission
- Auto Modellista is notable as one of the first auto racing game to use cel shading.
- Drift City, an auto racing MMORPG
- The second Fullmetal Alchemist video game uses cel shaded graphics and looks a lot better for it.
- Atelier Rorona
- The Fairly Oddparents: Breakin' Da Rules used this.
- Naruto: Clash of Ninja
- The MMORPG Mabinogi
- Another MMORPG, Dream Of Mirror Online
- Done very well in Champions Online.
- Asura's Wrath: Made to look more like Hindu and Buddhist art than a Cartoon, and not quite as pronounced as other examples, but it's occasionally noticeable.
- The Darkness 2 has a cel-shaded look, apparently to remind players of it's comic book origins.
- Marvel vs. Capcom 3
- Seal Online
- Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness (the first two episodes, anyway)
- Poker Night at the Inventory uses this on the Strong Bad and Tycho models.
- Eternal Sonata uses very thin outlines around the character models.
- The Tales Series uses this frequently, perhaps most notably in Tales of Vesperia and Tales of Symphonia.
- Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil
- Gravity Rush
- Fur Fighters
- Ni no Kuni, the art for the game was done to such an extent to mimic hand-drawn animation. Given Studio Ghibli had involvement, it makes sense.
- Guilty Gear Xrd, uses this in place of traditional 2D sprites. In addition to cel shading the character models, Arc System Works also animated them with minimal tweening making them move just like traditional 2D sprites would (or as close as is possible with 3D models).
- Super Smash Bros. 4 has this for the Nintendo 3DS version. This had previously been used for Toon Link from The Wind Waker in Brawl.
- The PC version of Sheep, Dog 'n' Wolf, although mostly just for the characters and some of the objects.
- A Hat In Time
- Ganbare Goemon: Toukai Douchuu Ooedo Tengurigaeshi no Maki
- Vector Thrust, possibly the only example for this in a flight simulator.
- Tiny and Big, which leverages the effect to emulate comic books.
- Pokémon X and Y uses cel shading for virtually every 3D model, both in the overworld and during battles, where it's much more noticeable. The Pokemon Ruby And Sapphire remakes do this as well, since they're based on the same engine.
- MadWorld combines this with Deliberately Monochrome to give the artstyle an overall Sin City-esque feel to it.
- Terra uses bits of this this as part of its art style. Helps that it's drawn on a computer.
- MTV's Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, produced by Mainframe Entertainment was computer animated, but done using cel shading.
- ReBoot had an episode in a game based on Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z and the entire world was cel shaded, even the main characters when they rebooted into game characters.
- The Drinky Crow Show.
- Skyland: A weird middle ground between cartoon style and realism, leading down into the Uncanny Valley.
- The CGI parts of Futurama, such as the Planet Express ship and the New New York backdrop, are cel-shaded so well that in some scenes, the animation staff (in the DVD Commentary) can't tell what's CG and what's hand-drawn.
- Because of their bigger budgets, post-revival episodes of Family Guy use cel-shaded CG for things like cars and moving backgrounds.
- Iron Man: Armored Adventures
- The Iron Giant: The Giant is CG, and fits perfect with the traditionally-animated human characters and landscapes. This is largely because the animation team added subtle imperfections to the Giant's outline and framerate to make it more closely resemble traditional animation.
- Star Wars: Clone Wars: The CGI vehicles.
- The wildebeest stampede from The Lion King was created this way, and took about two years to animate.
- Disney's Tangled was originally supposed to look like an oil painting on canvas, but the technology was never perfected, so it ended up being done with conventional computer animation. However, the look is much softer and more fluid than any movie that's come beforehand, and the character designs are a very good translation of Disney 2D. That said, the oil painting look can be seen in some of the backgrounds. It's especially evident in some of the forest scenes.
- Transformers Prime is animated in CG, but the overall look of the show emulates elements of both regular CG and Cel Shaded graphics. What is done is in addition to the "hard line" shadow they also added a third level, a reflective highlight to the metal forms, and so achieving a "cel shaded but not quite cel shaded" look to it. The regular humans have a bit more of a traditional CG appearance, but the hard shadow is still apparent and they have slightly exaggerated proportions to better blend with the hyper-stylized robots.
- The 3D segments of Invader Zim use cel-shaded spaceships, planets and stuff.
- In the Spongebob Squarepants episode "Sandy, SpongeBob, & The Worm", this was used in one shot when Sandy & SpongeBob were running away from the giant worm.
- "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" segment of ''Fantasia 2000''.
- TRON: Uprising
- The Hydra in Hercules.
- On Treasure Planet, cel shading was used for John Sliver's cyborg parts and for the Robot Buddy character B.E.N. CG backgrounds were specially rendered to look like moving oil paintings.
- Drix from Osmosis Jones, to show that he was a synthetic drug in an organic world.
Not cel-shading, but often mistaken for it
- A software called Dance×Mixer.
- Miku Miku Dance
- Character-poser software such Poser and Daz Studio, and full animation suites such as Carerra and 3DSMax, have a cel-shader packaged or available as an optional extra. 3D Custom Girl features cel-shading by default. The last one is used more for producing hentai images, but so are all the others.
- The opening to Canada's Worst Driver is presented through this.
- Borderlands used black outlines and textures with penciled-in lines to give the game a stylized Comic Book-esque look, but the lighting and shading was done realistically.
- Similarly, Street Fighter IV has adopted a sort of inkbrush look but does not use actual cel-shading.
- Borderlands 2, however, used a combination real-time filter and specially crafted textures to give the in-game world and characters the Comic Book-esque look, but had the lighting and shading exempted from the filter- this allows the characters to look comic book-esque, but keep lighting and shadows realistic, at the cost of high GPU load . Gamers have found that turning off the filter (by tweaking the .ini file) reduced the comic book-esque effect to almost nonexistent, but it does make the game run smoother on lower end GPU hardware.
- Fear Effect is an odd example: It used special textures to fake the look of cel-shading, but the characters weren't actually lit by anything. While it uses a completely different technique from cel-shading, in execution it looks identical.
- At the time Disney made The Great Mouse Detective, a method for placing CGI directly into an animated film didn't exist. The clock innards were created as wire-frame graphics, printed out and rotoscoped onto the animation cels. Retroactively, this achieves exactly the same look as modern-day cel-shaded animation.
- Team Fortress 2 uses a lighting system (Phong shading) which falls somewhere between cel-shading and realistic lighting. While the line between lit and unlit is stronger than a realistically-lit scene, it's also fuzzier than a cel-shaded one. The game's shaders also include ones for directional ambient light sources above and below the characters in addition to the standard lighting (ambient lighting is usually just handled by adding a constant amount of light to all lighting calculations regardless of the direction a surface is pointing so shadowed surfaces don't turn out black). This was inspired by, of all things, the advertising art of J.D. Leyendecker, who worked for The Saturday Evening Post. This additionally gives the game a sort of "Americana" feel, like that of a WWII ad, or manly pulp magazine.
- Ōkami uses a fairly unique rendering method involving flowing liquid shadows (and outlined models) meant to look like ink. Although in still shots it looks slightly similar to cel-shading, the actual technique, and the appearance in motion, is completely different (notably it isn't tied to light sources, instead being closer to ambient occlusion). The same applies for Ōkamiden.
- The Sonic Rush series (and the DS version of Sonic Colors) puts outlines around Sonic, Blaze, and other characters who appear in 3D, but the models themselves have little to no shading.
- The Disney short Paperman looks almost as if it were cel-shaded - the animation looks traditional, but the way the characters' heads and bodies turn make it look 3D. The animators actually drew lines on top of the CG models to achieve this look.
- For some reason, many games running on the Unreal Engine that uses outlined models, such as Trendy's Dungeon Defenders, SUDA51's Lollipop Chainsaw and the aforementioned Borderlands. The models may be outlined, but the shading is realistic (except Lollipop Chainsaw, which uses a more stylish shading technique, but it's still not cel-shading). Mind you, this isn't a technical limitation of the engine. Either it is a deliberate technique or a reluctance to develop new materials in the Material Editor.