I’ve heard a lot of talk about how anime today are so “detailed” and “beautiful”. For me it’s hard to see it, at least when I compare it to cels. In my opinion Japan made the most gorgeous cels, in their detail style and color. Their appeal for me goes much farther along than with digital coloring.
Within each single shade, there are what I like to call permutations within the colors. When animated, going from cel to cel, you can see a sort of flicker of life between then. There are endlessly more colors inside the apparent one than there would be in the flat colorization of tra-digital anime. The colors are so rich in cel animation, they can’t just be copied.
To give an example, I’ll use two shots from Evangelion, one from the original series (actually Death and Rebirth) and one from the Rebuild films. Both are pretty much the same shot, but one used a cel and the other colored digitally:
However, with a well known studio like Ghibli, they tend to not use this method of having filters. Compare a publicity cel from My Neighbor Totoro to a similarly lit image from Ponyo.
Though the backgrounds in Ponyo are still hand painted, the characters are not so they stick out and do not blend with the backgrounds as well as those in My Neighbor Totoro. Therefore, the contrast was taken down a bit. Ghibli’s animation is very good and they often have very rounded, dense drawings, yet their coloring too suffers from a, comparative, flatness.
Another thing that is missing from the new anime is a wider range of styles and spontaneity in the drawings. I’ve found that digital coloring is much easier to do when there are more fixed, jagged character designs, and that’s just what today’s anime is filled with. Flat looking, details widely spaced and angular.
Now, this certainly isn’t true with all contemporary anime, some are quite soft looking, but it seems this is a good example of the modern style. Digital mapping, however, is something that has produced some very beautiful looking anime, such as Gunkutsuou. In this anime, colored textures are mapped onto the folds of characters’ clothes and even hair.
I’m not complaining overall about digital coloring, but I am expressing that I feel it’s a pale shadow of a now lost art form.
When I was speaking of spontaneity in drawings, I was referring to how cels were, in the time of anime, xeroxed from the pencil drawings and hand painted. There was a retention of the texture and energy of the drawings. In 70s and early 80s anime, one probably notices a very gritty look to cels, which usually contained hatching left from the drawing stage. Also, since the cels were hand-painted, it allowed the drawings to be more curvy in places or crammed with detail.
Also, besides inking and painting, there was also the use of dry brush and airbrush techniques on the front of the cels to add texture and more volume, still done in digital but with a more visceral sense with cels. Not only that, but many times cels needed to be rephotographed in order to have things like bright light sections or separately animated reflections, things that were matted, to photograph one element and countermatted to photograph another on one frame of film. Sometimes many “passes” would be made, combining different elements. All before digital compositing.
The reason I’ve been using examples from Macross so much is because that’s a show (and movie) where the delicacy of some of the character designs by Haruhiko Mikimoto would not have been possible through digital scanning and coloring.
Anyway, that’s my opinion on the matter, which I do feel very strongly about. It’s a matter of taste, whether you like cel or digital painting, but for me the most beautiful will always be that done on cellulose acetate.
Also, if you can’t tell, my favorite animated film is Macross: Do You Remember Love? (1984).
If you want to investigate many more anime cels, I suggest checking out this site: http://chriscelsite.rubberslug.com/gallery/home.asp as it has tons of them to look at and appreciate.