This week we are going to talk about a favorite among Japanese anime games and many other games that want to go for a cartoony art style: cel shading. Unfortunately, it has been a pretty busy week for me so I will be providing examples from other games instead of my own but I will still provide tutorials on how to accomplish cel shading in your own games! This is a technique that is used in the rendering phase of the game within the game engine you are using to change how color and shadows are visualized. The noticeable change between a regular render and a cel shaded render is how there is considerably more detail and color variation in models that are regular shaded. Cel shading washes all of the detail out to make it look like a flat character and simplifies the color palette to a select few colors. One very famous game that truly shows how cel shading can create an immersive experience is The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, a game made from Nintendo.
As you can tell the character, Link, on the boat is very simple in design and there is no texture besides color and a single tone of shading. The detail is then used only when important but it is still sparingly used. This can create a vivid experience for the eye that is usually bright but can easily be just as effectively used in darker shades of color. This is also the best way to mimic an art style that may appear in a comic book or TV show. Most games that have source material from cartoons will be using cel shading to create the same look. Here is another example from an upcoming game named One’s Justice from the TV anime series, My Hero Academia, which has a more detailed character render using cel shading. Although this is a much more detailed example, you can tell that the hair has one tone of shading as well as many other parts of the character.
Cel shading is a great way to make your game stand out if you are going for an innovative art style. Although, there is a very easy way to make cel shading look garbage if you do not carefully create the model and color it appropriately with your textures. Another important note, cel shading does not have “texture”, so you will not want to use a bump map unless you are experimenting. You will want to put all details on the actual texture for the model. For those that do not know, a texture is not the same as a bump map. A texture is used to add color and detail to a model. Otherwise, it’ll just be white or whatever the default color for a texture-less model is for the game engine you are using. A bump map works with the texture make the model look like it has an actual texture to it such as bumpy, metallic, bricks, or other things. Balancing all of these things can be a challenge but just takes some playing around with. You can either get models off of Asset Stores, create your own in modeling software such as Autodesk 3DS Max or Maya, or if you are looking for a free option, Blender.
To look into creating cel shading models for yourself in the Unity game engine here are some great examples. I personally use Unity myself and find it very powerful especially for things like cel shading because they have a preset already made for it! If you are a more advanced user, you can always write your own scripts to have the Unity engine render your game to how you exactly want to. Next week we will be taking a look at how lighting in games can make a game go from amateur to professional looking.