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Cel Shading
aka: Cel Shaded

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Picture taken from Wikipedia, representing a spacesuit from Tintin's "Destination Moon" saga.

Cel Shading is a style of computer rendering that replaces the shading gradient of conventional rendering with flat colors and shadows (as seen at right). In layman's terms, it imitates the look of hand-drawn artwork and animation. 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 Bros. 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. If a CGI cartoon is not exactly cel-shaded, but still has a "hand drawn" appearance, it may fit under Painted CGI.

The name comes from the cels that hand-drawn cartoons were traditionally painted on. Chiaroscuro is an oft-used visual effect.


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    Anime and Manga 

    Asian Animation 
  • The characters in Sweets Fairy are CGI, but are cel-shaded to give them a 2D look.

    Films — Animated 
  • 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.
  • The wildebeest stampede from The Lion King (1994) was created this way, and took about two years to animate.
  • 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.
  • "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" segment of Fantasia 2000.
  • The Hydra in Hercules.
  • On Treasure Planet, cel shading was used for John Silver'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.
  • Arjun: The Warrior Prince was created using this technique.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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.

    Video Games 

  • Terra uses bits of this this as part of its art style. Helps that it's drawn on a computer.

    Western Animation 
  • The Dragon Prince is a cel-shaded show, the lower framerate is meant to mimic that of traditionally animated shows, with some of the backgrounds and visual effects being drawn traditionally.
  • The Drinky Crow Show uses cel-shading to resemble a Subverted Kids' Show or an old comic strip.
  • Because of their bigger budgets, post-revival episodes of Family Guy use cel-shaded CG for things like cars and moving backgrounds.
  • 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. Notably, it was one of, if not the first, to attempt this on a large scale.
  • The 3D segments of Invader Zim use cel-shaded spaceships, planets and stuff.
  • Iron Man: Armored Adventures, whose animation is outsourced to French company Method Animation in cooperation with DQ Animation. Method Animation would later provide CGI to Zagtoon shows including Miraculous Ladybug and Zak Storm, and DQ Animation would later provide CGI for Miles from Tomorrowland, Casper's Scare School, and a few conspicuous rip-offs of Disney films.
  • 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.
  • Regal Academy is animated in cell-shaded CGI with Animesque elements.
  • Skyland: A weird middle ground between cartoon style and realism.
  • MTV's Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, produced by Mainframe Entertainment was computer animated, but done using cel shading.
  • 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.
  • Star Wars: Clone Wars: The CGI vehicles.
  • Star Wars Resistance stands out from its predecessors The Clone Wars and Rebels by adopting this kind of animation style.
  • Storm Hawks is an All-CGI Cartoon, with every character and creature being rendered to look like a 2D cartoon. Animation-wise, the show is one of the best looking examples of its kind.
  • The end goal of The Long Long Holiday is to look like a traditionally animated series by employing the Cel Shading technique.
  • Transformers:
    • 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 sequel series to Prime, Transformers: Robots in Disguise (2015), uses more cel-shading than its predecessor.
  • TRON: Uprising. Helps considering that the show takes place in a digital world with digital characters, which helps invoke Uncanny Valley in a good way.

  • A software called Dance×Mixer.
  • MikuMikuDance
  • 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.

    Not cel-shading, but often mistaken for it 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • At the time Disney made The Great Mouse Detective, a method for placing CGI directly into an animated film didn't exist. The clock's gears were created as wire-frame graphics, printed out and traced onto the animation cels. Retroactively, this achieves exactly the same look as modern-day cel-shaded animation, but is technically more reminiscent of Spider-Verse's Painted CGI technique. Disney would additionally utilize this technology two years later for the vehicles and New York City skyline in Oliver & Company.
  • Disney's Deep Canvas technology took rendered computerized backgrounds and rotoscoped digital coloring over them, making them appear hand-drawn. The technology was developed for the film Tarzan, and then reused in Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Treasure Planet (which also used cel-shading, as mentioned above), and a few small elements in Brother Bear and Home on the Range.

  • 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.

  • Toon Link in Super Smash Bros. Brawl is frequently claimed to be cel-shaded befitting his source material, but from a technical perspective, he uses the same shading as everyone else.

  • Klaus is often mistaken for cel-shaded CGI. It is actually animated traditionally with shading that makes the characters look 3D.

Alternative Title(s): For The Cel Of It, Cel Shaded