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Cel-Shaded Animation in a Nutshell
Drawing by hand is often considered as the beginning of animation. This is why even with the advanced technologies now in the art of making things from static images, computer graphics can still be restored to the look of hand-made animation. A key animation style to get that look is cel-shaded animation.
By the name of the animation style itself, it is clear how it is rooted in hand drawings. Cels are clear sheets of acetates in which the classic 2D animation style of past Disney films is drawn. In short, cel-shaded animation aims to make computer graphics appear as if they were drawn by hand. This is achieved by lighting that is not a real image.
The results may seem simple but the actual process is quite complex. Starting with a 3D model, the cel-shaded animation continues to create distinct shadows which will give a flat appearance of the 2D animation. Similar to comic books, emphasis can be given to images that feature black ink strokes and contour lines.
Cel-shaded animation, interestingly, is more popularly associated with video games. Whenever a new game comes up, many gamer geeks and aficionados will always ask about the quality of cel-shaded. To reiterate, the first successful application of cel-shaded animation in video games was with the Sega Dreamcast game Jet Set Radio. Not surprisingly, Sony PlayStation released Fear Effect. Good times for sure.
However, the main criticism then included the quality of the appearances of the characters. Although we achieved amazing textures with these early games, it lacked a powerful light source and processes.
Even with the technical limits of the first stages of cel-animated video games, a small trend began to brew among game developers. Games with Celi’s shadow started to appear like mushrooms: Sly Cooper, Thievius Raccoonus, Dark Chronicle, Celi’s corruption, Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s helmet, Viewing Joe and of course Jet Set Radio Future. What stands out among the pack, at least partially, are The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Tales of Symphonia and Sly 2: Band of Thieves.
A game which tried to use the popularity of cel-shaded animation unfortunately experienced adverse results. House of the Dead III, designed for Microsoft Xbox, started the game’s production with cel-shaded graphics – yes, an anime-like look for a zombie-based shooter. So with disaster brewing for this awful recipe, SEGA decided to ditch the cel-shaded look and go for traditional animation styles. Perhaps a negative answer is too overwhelming to ignore.
Although cel-shaded animation hasn’t taken the video game industry by storm, it’s still an effective motif to use when implemented properly. Dragon Quest VIII, Rogue Galaxy, Killer 7, No More Heroes, Metal Gear Acid 2, Okami and the most recent incarnation of Prince of Persia all feature 3D animation which appears as anime or hand drawn. Also, when handhelds weren’t as powerful as today, most of our games sported cel-shading. Examples would be the Tony Hawk series and The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass on the Nintendo DS.
Cel-shaded animation can somehow be compared with abstract painting. It doesn’t have to represent reality exactly but when used wisely and perfectly, it can create amazing treatments for many entertainment such as video games and even animated movies.
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