Anime Tree Tutorial

anime tree tutorial
Lots of peoples had been asking on how I paint anime style trees in my landscape painting. I am still not really good in this area, but here is a simple write up on my workflow, and some info on what I had notice from observing trees painting in anime.

anime scene
A lot of times, anime style background art are paint with traditional medium such as poster, water color (Studio Ghibli, Yamamoto Nizou, Oga Kazuo). But as technology improve, there are more and more background art being paint in digital (Comix Wave, Makoto Shinkai), mainly to save time and layers are easier to seperate for compositing. Although we are painting digitally, we still want to achieve the traditional painterly feel as much as we can.

anime scene

Brush Tip Shape

So, what is the brush tip shape? A single leaf shape or bunch of leaves?

brush tip shape
There are no correct or wrong answer for this. Each of this brush tip can be use for different purpose, You can use the "leaves" / "trees" brush to paint the tree. Then use the "leaf" brush to add in smaller details.

traditional painting
Sometime, we read about tutorial on using "triangle" shape for the leaf, but often fail to explain why triangle. From my observation, triangle shape are probably use to mimic the traditional painting of foliages with a round tip brush, as shown in the image above. Not the best image to show the triangle, but from this image alone, we can safely said that the brush tip shape doesn't really need to be in a perfect leaf shape.

brush tip shape
No wrong or right on which one you choose. But the imperfect leaf shape seem to fulfill our need for the painterly feel better.

Looking at anime trees

Below are closeup shot of tree paintings from Studio Ghibli anime. We might want to draw the brush tip shape base on shapes like these (for the painterly feel). Notice the triangle shape?

ghibli tree ghibli tree
Also look at the distance trees. no more visible leaf shape in a lot of times. This is same in real life as well, harder to see leaves when trees are further away.

ghibli tree ghibli tree

Brush Settings

Since we are doing digital painting, we could let the software to help speed up our painting process. The brush tips options that we want to play with are size, rotation (angle), roundness, flip x, flip y, scattering. You can use the Jitter (random/noise/fuzzy) option to control these settings.

brush settings
But sometime we might use other settings such as pen direction to control the angle of brush tip. Most useful when painting grass on hill slope or ivy / vines.

brush tip rotation
You can also use Color Dynamic to shift the Hue, Saturation or Brightness. I usually keep the value for color option very low, as I want to control the color myself.

color dynamics
Remember you dont need to enable all this options. Just experiment a bit, and find your own favourite settings.

Looking at real trees

Before moving further into the topic, lets look at some photo I took. While painting trees, we want to pay attention on the shading so it give the impression/hint of tree branches.

tree branches
tree branches
A lot of tutorial will tell us to imagine the tree as a group of multiple sphere tie together, and shade it that way depend on the direction of sun light. This is the simple way, but not always the case, as there are different types of trees with different shapes. (Pine trees look more like con obviously)

Different lighting condition (day of time), how flourishing the tree leaves are, distance of trees from viewer. All these affect the shading too. So the "imagine it as spheres" wont work everytime. Just keep in mind how the shadow and highlight will form the tree shapes when you paint.

Painting trees

0) Preparing the color palette I usually start by picking few shades of color, from dark to bright. Then stack/paint them together. Preparing the color palette are important if you are painting multiple similar trees, and you want them to have similar color. Then you can just color pick these and paint. Think about it, we also prepare the color first in traditional painting by squeezing the poster/water color in the real wood/plastic palette.

tree step
1) Painting the tree shape Base color (shadow) define the tree shape (usually). So look for reference of different types of trees. A lot of times, people will draw the trunk/branches first, which determine the placement of tree leaves.

tree shape
2) Shading Brighter color. Keep in mind about the shading to show the tree branch. Don't over paint, so leave some space for the darker leaves to be visible. Some time I separate them into different layers, sometime I just paint in 1 layer. Just personal preference.

tree shading
3) Highlight color Don't overpaint this too, just the brightest area.

tree highlight
In real life, this is usually nearly white color as it is leaf specular reflection. Under shadow, it will have the the sky blue / cyan hue.

tree highlight
4) More painting/blending The color still look a bit too flat like vector art in the last step, missing the painterly feel we looking for. Probably due to lack of the color blending. In traditional painting, wet paint just auto blend the color :X

color blending
So, add a clipping mask or lock the layer transparency. Lower brush opacity or use opacity dynamic with pen pressure. Then, fix area that seem to be distracting. In my painting here, the shadow are revealing on top of trees (red arrow). Also paint/blend a bit on the blue arrow area.

A lot of time, you can just stop at this step. It still look a bit crappy here now due to the color selection (which I purposely choose for step 5). With better color palette, it will definitely look better like the image I painted below.

color choice color choice
Colors can be also use to determine season and time.

color choice
5)Now back to the crappy color tree I painted earlier. Remember, this step is optional. This is usually done to mimic a lot of anime trees painting, most notably in ComixWave (Makoto Shinkai) anime.

color choice
Add a clipping mask for your tree, then paint the blue/purple shadow with a soft edge round brush. Delete part of it with leaf brush to reveal the bright area. Also play with different layer blending mode and color to get different results.

layer blending

It is so complicated. I don't know where to start!

Don't worry. A lot of time you can just paint your tree in 1 layers and get away with it. In fact I did this most of the time. Look at some of my painting below.

street light blue evening monster

Yup, I didn't even follow the things I tell you here :D. Just remember, practice makes perfect and keep on painting happy little trees like Bob Ross always said. You might also want to look at a timelapse video on how I paint anime trees.


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