Makoto Shinkai Style Painting Tutorial

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Last year, I was doing a lot of background plates for an animation pitch project, Sunsastera and Makoto Shinkai’s (新海誠) work is one of my main reference. The background artworks I did are not really 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. It will not be a step by step tutorial, but I will break down the tutorial into category for easier reading.

The Artwork “Asia Jaya Station”

Asia Jaya LRT Station

Image above, Asia Jaya Station is the finish artwork I did yesterday night. I will be using this artwork as the back bone for this tutorial, explaining the elements in the artwork one by one.


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.


The detail in this stage is not that important, it is just a guide for yourself on the painting. From the image above, you can see that I have already clean up the line for the main character slightly, and put in a 3D render of electric pylon I did in Blender3D.


As we all know, Makoto Shinkai’s anime have awesome color selection. So, choose a good color combo for your artwork. But what if we suck at picking color? Pretty simple, just use photo reference.


Image above show some of the photo 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”.

NOTE: According to the booklet from “5 Centimeters Per Second”. In some scenes, the interns will paint over the photo base on colors choose by Makoto Shinkai.


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

To paint the clouds, I use a hard round edge brush with pressure sensitivity. Scale down your brush as you progress to have more details on the cloud.

Unfortunately, painting clouds is not really just about brush and color only. 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 how do we do that if we suck at drawing? Again, photo reference.

cloud photo

I quickly go through my photo library and found this photo of awesome looking clouds I took several years ago.

cloud painting

Image on the left is paint without using photo, look ok but there is something wrong with it. On the right is with the help of photo. I believe when one improve his/her drawing skill more, they can actually just paint the cloud without the need of photo.


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

grass painting

To paint the grass, pick the grass brush and turn off the color dynamic. Start with a smaller scale brush to paint the distance grass, scale it up to paint grass that is closer to the view. Beside the scale of the grass, you might want to paint the distance grass with a faded color to simulate fog/haze and depth.

I paint all the grass in one layer, but you can paint it in different layers. so you can easily adjust them to simulate depth and again layers are good for animation.

3D Electric Pylon, Trees

Sometime it is easier to just use 3D for certain stuff, like this detail electric pylon. It will take more time if you are going to draw this manually. What if we make a mistake on the perspective? We have to draw it again. In 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

Another good point of investing your time in 3D is re-usability. I can easily reuse these 3D assets in other project later on (actually this electric pylon was already asset from another project I did)

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.

The Character

Paint your character by determining the light source. In my artwork, it is from the other side of the character. If you want to follow Makoto Shinkai sytle of shading, shade the character in 3 shades.


It is better to put “line” and “color” in different layers, as you don’t want to screw up the line when you coloring your character. You can choose a dark color for your outline instead of using pitch black. Do this via color overlay in layer style or you can just adjust the line layer directly.

Makoto Shinkai’s Magic, Fog Glow

Now, I would say this area is the main style of Makoto Shinkai. Adding Fog/Glow/Haze 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.

Final word

There you go, I have shown you all the tips and tricks that you need to know. The rest are really just the idea, layout and compositing of the artwork, which are a totally different topic.

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. Recommend to watch it in 720p HD mode.

And as of 2015, 3 years after this blog post. Here’s a new painting I did base on the same color.



I had written another anime style background painting tutorial, which focus on painting trees and bush.

Like this article/tutorial? Follow me on my Facebook page to get more updates.

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20 kind souls comment on “Makoto Shinkai Style Painting Tutorial”

  1. george says:

    Would you have any recommendations of books that teach beginners how to do this kind of art work?

  2. mclelun says:

    Not sure about elements, but you can always download and try Krita.

  3. james says:

    Thank you for your straightforward and informative site. I love your style! Will photoshop elements have all of these tools, or do we need a full version? Very respectfully, James from CA

  4. mclelun says:

    all the brush in this blog entry are Photoshop default brush.

  5. Billy says:

    are you using a brush pack becouse i dont have most of these brushes

  6. […] Over Photo (Aug 2013) Paint Over 3D Render (June 2013) Anime Style Background Tutorial (Dec 2012) Makoto Shinkai Style Painting Tutorial (Oct […]

  7. […] year, I blog about my research on Makoto Shinkai’s (新海誠) style background painting and seems like lots of Shinkai fans love it. So, here is a new writeup. Hopefully it will be more […]

  8. mclelun says:

    Any soft edge round brush will work and choose darker color like red, orange. Not pure white, yellow because we are using the addictive mode.

  9. Aleksa says:

    I mean which tools do you use exactly? When im trying to add a fog, nothing happend, just a white screen(depends which color i choose)
    But between your 2 pictures, the second one is so beautiful and full of life)

  10. Aleksa says:

    Hellow, im a litte bit confused, how you did the MAKOTO SHINKAI’S MAGIC, FOG GLOW.
    I use Photoshop cs6, please contact with me.

  11. Ankit Sharma says:

    This is nice. the Makoto Shinkai style tutorial is good help thanks.
    can you share more of your finds thanx again

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  13. […] Asia Jaya Station, 2012 October 13 Wrote a brief tutorial about my workflow on background painting, since some peoples are requesting it, Makoto Shinkai Style Painting Tutorial. […]

  14. Manga UK says:

    This is amazing! Great tutorial – thanks for sharing!

  15. Ray says:

    You are truly wonderful. Lots of very helpful pieces of advice here. Thank you so much!

  16. […] is a follow up to my last painting tutorial for noob like us. I have found out a few things that I like to share with peoples that have great […]

  17. Kamppus says:

    Thanks you for tutorial

  18. mclelun says:

    Yup in this artwork, mostly painted

  19. shinkawa says:

    geez, awesome tutorial! Most of the objects highlight are painted?

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