As a fan of Japanese Anime, I always wanted to understand how they have formed their distinctive style and how this style is achieved by artists. In my thesis project I tried to answer the question of what makes Japanese Anime visually unique by setting up a comparison between photographs, photorealistic CG renders and Japanese Anime. Based on my assumption of “Japanese Anime style = Photorealism + Human eye favorable features - Unnecessary details”, I carried out a systematic study of Japanese animation director Shinkai Makoto’s work, reverse-engineering his creation process, and identified some key features that are exhibited in most of his works. With an understanding of those artistic characteristics, I explored how to recreate his style using a combination of 3D software packages and custom tools.

The way I recreate his style is by first rendering a base image, using a commercial photorealistic renderer, out of a 3D scene that artists made. Then, in order to achieve the complex look of Makoto’s style, I wrote a custom post processing app to introduce different artistic features, during which custom lighting calculations are done by performing deferred shading and image processing on AOV’s from the renderer. Some effects are applied by blending in screen space ray traced overlays, and the software also provides a shader live coding interface for artists to prototype their procedural effects. Finally it composites those feature layers with the base image. This method eliminates the need for 2D hand-painting of lighting overlays and effects, and since it’s agnostic of the host renderer, has the potential of being fitted into a realtime rendering engine.

By addressing the problem of 3D rendering techniques being difficult to artistically stylize, this project opens up the possibility for Anime artists to incorporate a 3D workflow, allowing more efficient motion graphics production and reducing human labor. The use of creative code for stylization, although sets a higher bar for target users, is in my opinion a more efficient and expressive tool for advanced artists, which encourages more creative use.