Makoto Shinkai Style Background Tutorial

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Last 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 useful than the old tutorial.

The Artwork “Outdoor Hallway”

Outdoor Hallway

This is the final artwork which I spend the whole afternoon painting it. I will be using this artwork as the backbone for this walkthrough.

Original Photo


Browsing through my photo gallery, I found this hallway photo which is perfect for showing how Makoto Shinkai using layers for shadow.

Separating The Foreground From Background


The first thing I usually do is to remove the background (sky) from the foreground object. Depending on your artwork, you might need to mask different objects into different layers. This will greatly help on painting and animation later on.

It is also better to use a mask to crop out the object instead of erasing the image directly. With mask, you can crop with brush(B) and eraser(E), instead of clicking undo all the time.

Since I just need the hallway in my artwork, so I only have one layer and I move it slightly to the left to give more space for background.

Paint Over

Foto paint over

After separating the hallway into it own layer, I added in the missing area with a hard round brush. Lock layer transparency (so you wont paint on transparent area) and start painting over the layer to give it a more painterly feel.

You can also apply the “remove noise” filter, to remove noise and image compression artifact from the photo.

Just remember, the foto paint over process is an ongoing process and you will revisit this as you work on the image more.


Foto paint over

Add a new layer behind the hallway layer. Start painting the sky with a soft round edge brush. You can use the gradient tool as well, but I prefer painting it manually to give it a painting feel.

I strongly recommend use color reference for this step (unless you are already a pro, which in this case you shouldn’t be reading this noob tutorial at all)

Painting Sky

These are some photos I took with my camera phone. As you can see, the colors are already quite saturated and perfect for animation background. To give a more Makoto Shinkai feel, we can color reference from Master Makoto Shinkai’s work. =)


Painting clouds are not easy. Makoto Shinkai can use 2 or 3 seconds to paint a nice looking cloud, while we noob spend 2 hours on a cloud and it still look like crap. Of course we can cheat with pasting photo like how I did last time. But if we really want to improve, we will need to keep on painting.

Painting Cloud

In my artwork, I use these two default brush from photoshop.

Only with these two brush, we came out with a not so bad looking cloud. Imagine if you are using custom brush.


The key of cloud painting is “randomness”. Random in cloud shape and random in cloud placement, so it will look natural and not too organize or symmetry. Unfortunately, cloud painting is not something I had excel with. That all I can share at the moment. Probably we need to go out and look at the sky more =)

Shadow Layer

Painting Shadow

I want the shadow to be case from where we are looking at, so I add a new layer and start painting with light blue/cyan/purple (cold) color.

Painting Shadow

Put this layer on top of the hallway layer, and set the blend mode to “multiply”. Now you can see why I remove the real shadow from the photo, else we going to end up with two different shadows casting in different direction.

Grass, Trees, Bushes

Painting Trees

Painting trees, bushes are similar with painting cloud. The main differences are using different type of brush. The image above shown some of the custom brush I made. You should be able to create your own custom brush easily either by using photo or manually drawing the leaves shape. Remember to change the option for “Shape Dynamic”, “Scattering” and “Jittering” too.

Painting Trees
Painting Trees

With a custom “leaf/bush” look brush, you can paint all these quite fast. Remember to make use of layer too, so changes can be done on different object easily.

Distance Building

Painting Distance Building

Distance building are quite easy to paint. Just make sure to use the transform function, and “SHIFT” key.

Painting Distance Building

Another things to remember is, since distance objects are already locate far away, so the colors can be simplify into simple shades.

More Objects to The Scene


I want to populate the scene with more objects, so I open up Blender3D and render a few 3D models that I always use. This does not mean you need to learn 3D to do background art, you only need to have enough library/stocks of assets which you can reuse easily, and it can be in vector or 2D images.


Atmospheric Effect


Use the soft round edge brush to paint the mist. Layer blending mode can be left as default/normal, as we dont want it to glow or darken the area.


Specular/Light reflection
Adding more details to the artwork, draw some specular/highlight line along bevel area. Paint the floor with a warm color and set the blending mode to “screen”, so it look like the floor are reflecting some lights from the sun.



Add new layer, use the soft round edge brush to paint the glowing area (light source). Change the blending mode to addictive mode like “Screen” or “linear dodge(add)”.

Outdoor Hallway

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31 kind souls comment on “Makoto Shinkai Style Background Tutorial”

  1. […] fan of his named McLelun has created a way to replicate his backgrounds right here. As a summary, his strategies involve: -Using Adobe Photoshop -Using a real photo -Using different […]

  2. Christopher Cancel says:

    It’s great, but I’m still stuck with the first step. If you can let’s contact so you can guide me. I feel like I’m doing something wrong. Contact me via email.

  3. X12P says:

    Thanks. Very nice tuts.
    Painting over real photos is quite a short-cut to build up animie scenes. While if the scene is too complex, you may take a little more time to finish the painting workflow :)
    All in all, this is a very helpful way for acg fans to get started with the background painting!

  4. Silvi S. says:

    can you share the others makoto shinkai background tutorial? more details please 😀

  5. Lily says:

    Nice tut. Very easy to understand and I’ll probably try a few things you suggested. I’m normally drawing portraits so I need to work on the background art, eheheh…>_<

  6. […] Makoto Shinkai Background Style Tutorial […]

  7. hudree says:

    hey can you make how to tree grass bushes or brush setting

  8. agus says:

    Thank you, this is will be good experience to me. Go a head your art skill

  9. Ammar Fujiwara says:

    is the photo taken at seksyen 4 kota damansara?

  10. Corey says:

    Thank you for your reply. You should make a video tutorial/walkthrough like this

    but where you actually explain what you’re doing as you go. I mean theres little to no resources in english that explain the anime or animation background painting process. Your hardwork is really helping the rest of us out there man. I even have a book i got from amazon japan that explains how to paint anime backgrounds in photoshop but I cant read the words so I sorta dont understand what the thinking is from the pictures alone. You have the ability to teach the rest of us how its done. I would even pay money to fully understand your techniques/thinking or see them in action. Great !

  11. mclelun says:

    I am not sure about not blend much, but different artist/anime will have different preferences for colour palette.

  12. Corey says:

    Great ! So in anime background painting is the key not to blend much? What about colors, is the key just to look at other anime backgrounds for color basically?

  13. Ryan says:

    wow its really what i want. . . . .
    can i download the picture?
    because i dont have internet connection in my home . . . .
    i need save the picture for study at home

  14. Hirantha says:

    Thank yo …. Thank yooo! :=)

  15. […] refer to my other blog entries for more detail about painting: Makoto Shinkai Style Background Tutorial (Nov 2013) Paint Over Photo (Aug 2013) Paint Over 3D Render (June 2013) Anime Style Background […]

  16. mclelun says:

    I am not sure, maybe photo paint over?

  17. Jay-kun says:

    Yow! Yow! Can I ask what process this is called?? by manipulating real pictures to anime scenery ^_^ please reply me a.s.a.p. or e-mail me… really need this info for our thesis project ^_^ thanks!!

  18. […] refer to my other blog entries for more detail about painting: Makoto Shinkai Style Background Tutorial (Nov 2013) Paint Over Photo (Aug 2013) Paint Over 3D Render (June 2013) Anime Style Background […]

  19. saihamaru says:

    thank you, that was very educational!
    a great tutorial like this in english… i can’t ask for anything else

  20. yukihime says:

    this is amazing!!!!

  21. bonez says:

    where can i find the original image?

  22. habibi says:

    love this ! greetings from indonesia.

  23. antovic says:

    i love it, just add couple of people and it will be romantic

  24. gd0 says:

    Great job, but you forgot the warm color bleed for the long shadows. Makoto Shinkai’s unique touch.

  25. Raka says:

    I need a detail for painting over with brush please…. BTW Nice job.

  26. Elle says:

    wow thanks for the tutorial! 😀 amazing work! for the paint over part, could you explain it with more detail? i’m quite confused about it… ;w; but then again, thank you!

  27. Trent says:

    This is so EPIC. Thanks for taking the time to put this together for us! It’s so great to see someone else studying and breaking down the techniques of anime legends.

  28. Jwu says:

    Amazing work!

  29. owsome says:

    thx for toturial… nice dude…

  30. ceghap says:

    you are a legend!

  31. Hideo says:

    Thank you! Awesome as always.

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