Friday, October 23, 2015

Makoto Shinkai Style Painting Tutorial

anime tree tutorial
In 2012, I was involve in an animation project and I am in charge of creating the background plates. Anime style background especially the work from Makoto Shinkai's (新海誠) is one of my main inspiration and reference. The background artworks I did for the project are not that great but some peoples are interest on the workflow and requesting a tutorial for it. So here it is, the Makoto Shinkai style painting tutorial.


The first step is concept and layout. I want to have that sad and lonely feeling in most Makoto Shinkai's anime. So, I end up drawing someone sitting in a grass field, looking at the distance mountain.



Makoto Shinkai's anime have awesome color selection. So, choose a good color combo for your artwork. But what if we are not good at picking color? Pretty simple, just use photo reference.

Image above show some photos I took with my camera phone. These colors already look quite pretty even without adjustment. So, spend more time looking at the sky and take more photos for reference.

photo reference
To have more "Makoto Shinkai" feel in your artwork, you can actually just reference color from the master himself. I will be doing a sunset settings, so I am using the sunset color from Makoto Shinkai's "The Place Promised in Our Early Days".


The very first thing to paint is the base layer which is usually the sky. There are multiple ways of doing the gradient of the sky. You can use the gradient tools, or a soft round edge brush to paint it manually.

shinkai artwork
You can add more "points" to the gradient tool, instead of just two. Pick your colors from the color reference you prepare earlier.


Add a new layer for your clouds. We don't want to paint the cloud on the sky layer as it make adjustment harder. More over, having the clouds in separate layer will make it easier for animation.

cloud painting

I use a hard round edge brush for painting and chalk brush for eraser. Scale down your brush as you progress to have more details on the cloud.
  1. Paint the shape / contour of the cloud.
  2. Lock Layer Transparency.
  3. Shade the clouds

Using Photo For Cloud

Unfortunately, painting clouds is not really an easy task. The cloud I did here look like a shoe rather than a cloud. To have a nice looking cloud, it need to be natural and random. So what can we do that if we are not good at drawing cloud? Again, photo reference.

cloud photo
I quickly go through my photo library and found this photo of nice looking clouds I took.
  1. Original Photo.
  2. Convert it to greyscale. CTRL-H-U
  3. Invert the color. CTRL-I
  4. Level adjustment. CTRL-L
    a) Adjust the image level so the clouds are dark (opaque) and background are white (alpha).
    b) Now you can make your custom cloud brush with this greyscale image. Go to EDIT > DEFINE BRUSH PRESET.
  5. Use your new cloud brush to paint a cloud.

cloud painting
Cloud on the left image is paint without using photo, look ok but there is something wrong with it. On the right is paint with the help of photo. When one improve his/her drawing skill, they less rely on the help of photo. Remember do not just take photos from google images, always check the copyright status.


Painting the grass is straight forward. The default grass brush in Photoshop is already more than enough for this task.

grass painting
Pick the grass brush and turn off the color dynamic or set it to a lower value. Start with a smaller scale brush to paint the distance grass, scale it up to paint grass that is closer to the view. Beside scale, we also want to paint the distance grass with a faded color to show depth.

  1. Distance grass. small brush scale, faded color
  2. Mid grass.
  3. Near grass. big brush scale, darker color

You can paint the grass in different layers, so it will be easier to adjust them to simulate depth and layers are good for animation.

3D Render

Sometime it is easier to use 3D for detail object such as electric pylon. It will take more time if we are going to draw this manually everytime when we need something similar in the scene. What if we make a mistake on the perspective? We have to draw it again. By using 3D, we just need to move the camera and click render. It will then output image with alpha transparency and z-depth ready.

Blender3D Electric Pylon Blender3D Trees

Highlight and Specular

Proceed to add in more detail to the painting by adding highlight and specular of objects in the scene. I used a hard round edge for this task.

Cloud highlight
Adding a bit highlight on some area of the cloud where sunlight pass through.

Tree highlight
Since the trees are render from 3D, it look polygonal. Adding the highlight help to make it to look more painterly. But it will be better if you can paint over the render more.

Grass highlight
Highlight/Specular on grass to give the impression that they are wet /translucent.

Makoto Shinkai's Magic Fog Glow

I would say this area is the main style of Makoto Shinkai earlier work. Adding fog glow to your painting.

Fog Glow
Add a new layer, change the blending more to "screen" or any other addictive mode. Choose the soft round edge brush for both your brush and eraser. Start adding fog to area where you think it should be. In my artwork, I paint it along the horizon, because it is sunset. Adjust layer opacity and erase the glow layer if needed.


I have compile some of my progress image into a video, I also try to animate this artwork slightly, to show you what animation is possible with a single painting.


3 years after this blog post, I did a repaint on this artwork. Doesn't seem to have much different when view in thumbnail.

Asia Jaya LRT Station Asia Jaya LRT Station
TOP: 2012. BOTTOM: 2015


DeviantArt AsiaJaya
DeviantArt AsiaJaya 2015
Pixiv AsiaJaya 2015
Vimeo Makoto Shinkai Style Painting
Youtube Makoto Shinkai Style Painting

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