Tutorial for Cell-shaded Anime with DAZ Studio

I have been working toward achieving cell-shaded anime in DAZ Studio for some time now.  I believe that I have the process figured out well enough to share the knowledge with others.  In case you are not familiar with cell-shading, this means rendering a 3D model in such a way that is looks like a hand painted animation cell.  This may seem backwards to some, since the 2D artist works so hard to generate the illusion of 3D.  That two dimensional cartoon look is appealing and special, however.  You don’t get the same effect from a photorealistic 3D render.  This tutorial will show you how to achieve this cartoon effect in DAZ Studio.  It is particularly oriented toward achieving the look of anime, which requires some additional tricks.  Lets get started!

DAZ Studio has a cartoon render option included in its default distribution, but this is not what we will use.  The cartoon render feature is not flexible enough.  Instead, we will opt to change the shader to a “toon shader.”  The shader defines how light interacts with a surface.  That is saying a lot.  DAZ Studio comes with a default shader, but you can change the shader for each individual surface.  This is the second reason for using a new shader instead of using the cartoon render option.  By working with shaders, we can use different shaders for different surfaces.  This means that you can render one object with cell-shading and another in a more realistic way.  DAZ distributes a free set of alternative shaders with presets, which you can find here.  Some of these shaders are specifically for toon rendering, and we will be using one of those.

First we will pull up our figure.  Obviously, to achieve the effect of anime, you must use a figure designed according to this style.  Aiko, Hiro, and AnimeDoll are very popular figures for anime.  We will use Aiko 3.

Step 1

Also, to set the scene properly, we will create one distant light.  Typically in anime, you have just an edge of darker color on one side of the character representing the side of the character that is not getting direct light.  This is to give a little 3D effect to the 2D drawing.  To produce the same light source we need to set the distant light to shine down and a little to one side.

Step 2

Adjust to your needs, but you will probably want to parent it to the camera, since you normally want the light angle this way no matter what angle your camera is pointing.

Step 3

There are exceptions to this, but that is normally for a special scene where attention should be drawn to an unusual light source.

The first change we want to make is to change the shader for Aiko’s surfaces.  To do this, we need to select the Aiko figure, then select the surfaces on Aiko that we want to change.  We don’t want to change the shader on all of her surfaces, however.  We want to change everything except her irises, pupils, and corneas.  This is because anime eyes are often very detailed, and actually can look better left looking 3D.  The eyewhites we will still change to a toon shader, however, since we want the white to look very flat.

Step 4

Once we have all of these slections made, all we have to do is double click the dzToonMatte shader to replace the default shader for these surfaces.

If you render now, you will see that it is rendering in a cartoonish way, with a limited color palette, but it does not really look like anime.  This is because we still have many changes to make to the material settings to get it to render the way we want.  First of all, we need to change the number of color divisions to 1.  This will allow only two shades of color: direct light and indirect light.  To do this, go to the surfaces tab or window and select only the surfaces that we changed to a toon shader.  After changing the Color Divisions, we will adjust the outline threshold to 2.00.  This will make the outline thinner.  Next, we need to be sure the diffusion color of her eyebrow and eyelash surfaces are pure black.  If they are any lighter, then they will look washed out.

Now, we need to adjust the diffusion and ambient channels.  The diffusion channel reflects what color the object is.  The ambient channel is basically what color the object is when no light is shining on it.  By setting the ambient channel to a color other than black with a strength greater than zero, you can approximate ambient light.  This is significant, since DAZ Studio does not support ambient light.  What we want is for the objects normal color to show when light is shining on its surface, and a slightly darker color to show where light is not shining directly on its surface.  This is the way an anime animation cell is normally painted.  We can accomplish this by setting the ambient color to the same color as the diffusion channel, but with a lower stength.  We will set the strenth to 7% in the ambient channel.  If we do this, however, we must also reduce the strength of the diffusion channel to 93%.  If the ambient strength plus the diffusion strength don’t add up to 100%, then the render will produce unwanted highlights.  With the toon shaders, this will even cause there to be more than one color division despite our setting color divisions to 1 on the material settings.  Remeber: ambient strength + diffusion strength = 100%.

We now have a cell-shaded anime character that renders right no matter what angle you look at her from.  Even if you unparent the distant light from the camera and move the camera around Aiko, the shading will still look the way it should relative to the light source.  Hair should be optimized a little different, but I will leave that for a later time, especially since I don’t have it all figured out yet.

Next we turn our attention to the background.  In anime backgrounds are typically more detailed compared to the forground characters.  The backgrounds often look hand painted, because they often are.  They are not like photographs, though.  If you put a cartoon character in front of a photorealistic background, it will not look right.  Therefore, we don’t necessarily want to make a cell-shaded toon render on the background, but we don’t really want it to be photorealistic either.  We want to aim somewhere in the middle.

My theory is that buildings and interiors can be rendered in a photorealistic way, if there is not too much tiny detail, and the lighting is not too complex.  With simple lighting and depth of field, you can make a photorealistic render look less real and crisp, which in this case can be good.  If your background is nature, however, you really need to alter it to look more painted.  One thing you can do is to render the natural scene in a photorealistic way, but then use a filter in an image processing program like Gimp to make it look painted.  If you have Carrara you can use its non-photorealistic rendering option.  I belive Poser has ways to render like a painting as well.  After generating an image that looks painted, you can load it into DAZ Studio as a backdrop and pose your cell-shaded figures in front of it.

Thats it!  With the combination of a properly cell-shaded foreground and a seemingly painted backdrop, we have anime.  I hope you are inspired by this tutorial and produce some cell-shaded anime goodness.  I look forward to seeing it.