Ask John: Is Anime All Digital Now?

Question:
Is anime still drawn by hand, or is it all done with computers now?

Answer:
Especially within the past few years, digital animation has become more and more prevalent in the Japanese industry, but traditional hand crafted anime hasn’t become extinct quite yet. Digital animation usually consists of hand-drawn monochrome frames of animation scanned into a computer, colored and then combined into sequences of animated movement. The benefit of digital animation is that the process of hand painted thousands of animation cels is eliminated, cutting costs and production time. In turn, this allows more money to be spent on visual effects, art quality and other areas of the production. At the same time, because digital animation is still a relatively new process, output quality can vary dramatically. Digital productions such as the Mama episodes of the Secret Anima Series hentai OAVs have a primitive, almost amateurish look. Titles like Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne and Sci-Fi Harry have good art, but the coloring, layering and animation quality may look artificial or stilted. On the other hand, titles including Tonari no Yamada-kun and Kotetsu Tenshi Kurumi are virtually indistinguishable from traditional hand painted cel animation, and new titles like Chikyuu Shoujo Arjuna make full use of the ability of computers and digital animation to create virtually photo realistic settings and camera angles and fluid motions that would be extremely difficult, time-consuming or virtually impossible to produce with hand drawn and painted cel animation.

Hand drawn and painted cel animation, though, is still very much present in the current anime industry and most likely will remain so for the foreseeable future. Current productions including Noir, Inuyasha, Zone of the Enders, One Piece, Comic Party and Daa Daa Daa either use limited or no digital animation. In fact, the producers of the recently completed Earth Defense Family TV series stated that the production would not employ any digital animation or computer enhancements because the producers specifically wanted to maintain the look and feel of traditional anime. At least until digital animation evolves to the point at which it can indistinguishably replace the bright, “warm,” human touch of traditional anime, hand made anime will continue to flourish.

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