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Computers in the anime-making process (10/29/00)

[an article I wrote for the anime club newsletter I used to edit, slightly modified, and reposted to hopefully shed some light on Mystiria-san's question]

A curious fan once asked me if anime are created using any computer graphics or software. He noted that the art moves so smoothly, he can't believe it's all hand drawn animation.

His question is an interesting one, and one that others might want an answer to. To answer it, itís important that we distinguish between full 3-D computer-rendered animation (such as Transformers: Beast Wars) and 2-D animation which utilizes computers for various purposes. I think the above question asks more about the use of computers in 2-D animation, so thatís what Iíll focus on.

YF-19 from Macross Plus

The use of computers in animation has always been tricky. Animators who adopted some of the early 3-D rendered effects were only modestly successful (if successful at all), and for the most part, one does not see a lot of 3-D rendered anime. Even the early use of computers in 2-D animation proved tricky, as the computer-animated parts tended to stand out and look awkward next to the rest of the cel animation. As such, use of computer-assisted animation tended to be reserved for scenes where conspicuous CG (computer graphics) was deemed appropriate. Some examples I can think of off the top of my head are various scenes in Macross Plus, Ghost in the Shell, Patlabor 2, and Serial Experiments Lain. (Blue Submarine No. 6 uses a lot of conspicuous CG side-by-side with traditional cel animation, but the visual differences are so striking, many fans do not appreciate the effect, though I personally felt it was well-executed.)

With the goal of using CG that is less obvious, animators began experimenting with better ways to mesh/blend computer-generated animation with traditional cel animation. A good example of this approach can be seen in The Vision of Escaflowne. The dragons, some of the flight scenes, and other special effects in Escaflowne heavily utilized computer animation carefully woven into the rest of the anime, although the fact that I can even point out examples means that it was still not perfectly blended in. Some of the special effects in Mononoke Hime also use what is recognizable as computer animation.

Escaflowne and Mononoke Hime are not ďoldĒ anime by any means, yet truly modern anime are using computers even more, and if you didnít notice it explicitly, that means the animators are doing a good job. To cut down the cost of cel production, many studios have begun using computers even as early as the image inking and painting stage. While the original images are still drawn by hand, these images are scanned in, inked and painted by computer, put over what are often computer-generated backgrounds, modified for special effects shots, and then computer-animated. Not only is this process of computer-assisted animation often less expensive than traditional cel animation, it also allows for greater use of special effects and control over the final animation product by the director. Iíve heard people lament that the art of cel-collecting is going to be killed off by computer-assisted animation, but perhaps we should take the more positive perspective: that anime creators now have more tools at their disposal to create the works of art we love. More detailed articles on the use of computers/software in animation can be found at: and

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Last updated on March 14th, 2003
Lawrence Eng