How Anime is Made: Now vs Then (Step-By-Step)

Anime, with its vibrant characters, captivating stories, and unique styles, has transcended borders and captured hearts worldwide. But the journey from a manga panel or light novel to a moving masterpiece involves a meticulous process. Let’s delve into the fascinating world of how anime is made, contrasting the traditional techniques of the past with the digital revolution of today.

How Is Anime Made?

There are two main ways anime is being created today. One is the old process where everything is hand-drawn on paper. This is a tedious and time consuming process. However, popular studios like Ghibli always choose this process to produce high quality animations.

The second process is the new one where everything is made digitally. That said, it still requires a lot of skill and talent to draw the animations. The process is mostly the same, except instead of pen and paper, everything is pixels now.

Let’s take a deeper look at both the animation processes.

Old Anime Creation Process: Hand-Drawn Magic

Early anime, dating back to the early 20th century, was a labor of love. Every frame pulsed with the artistry of the animators. The process revolved around a key concept called “cel animation,” a technique where transparent celluloid sheets were hand-painted and layered over static backgrounds.

Fatto divertente: Anime cels are also sold as merchandise and are quite popular among collectors. Most of these look like regular posters but they’re special as they are hand-drawn using cels.

Below are the steps that illustrate how anime was made in the early 20th century.

1. The Foundation: Storyboarding and Genga

The Foundation: Storyboarding and Genga

The journey begins with the storyboard, a blueprint sketching out the narrative flow. This evolves into Genga, which are detailed keyframes drawn by the animation director. These Genga define the characters’ poses, expressions, and movements in every critical scene.

2. Bringing Drawings to Life: Douga and In-Betweening

Bringing Drawings to Life: Douga and In-Betweening
Picture of Jujutsu Kaisen’s Official Douga

The magic happens with Douga. Skilled animators meticulously translate the Genga into individual cels, capturing the essence of movement and emotion. Each Douga represents a single frame of animation.

2.5. The Art of In-Betweening

The Art of In-Betweening

Bridging the gap between Douga comes the crucial task of in-betweening. This is one of the least noticed, yet important steps in creating an anime.

Assistant animators, called “Dougasai,” create a series of cels that smoothly transition between the keyframes, breathing life into the animation.

3. Painting the World: Backgrounds and Cels

Painting the World: Backgrounds and Cels
Hand-drawn backgrounds using cel

While the Douga depict characters, a team of background artists paints the settings. These detailed backgrounds, often layered for depth, provide the stage for the animated drama.

4. Coloring with Care: Painting and Cel Filling

Coloring with Care: Painting and Cel Filling
The transparent sheet on top of the paper is cel

Once the Douga and backgrounds are complete, the meticulous task of cel filling begins. Artists meticulously hand-paint each cel with vibrant colors, ensuring consistency across thousands of frames.

A Time-Consuming Symphony: Challenges and Advantages

Traditional animation was a time-consuming and expensive process. Limitations in budget and workforce often resulted in static backgrounds and limited animation, with strategically used “still cuts” to conserve resources.

However, this handcrafted approach offered unique advantages. The imperfections inherent in hand-drawn animation imbued the characters with a certain charm and a connection to the artist’s vision. Moreover, the meticulous focus on detail in backgrounds and keyframes could result in stunning visuals.

New Anime Creation Process: The Digital Era of Animation

With the rise of computers, anime production entered a new era. Digital tools streamlined the animation process, overcoming many limitations of the traditional methods.

Below are the steps that illustrate how anime is made in the modern era.

1. From Paper to Pixels: Storyboarding and Digital Genga

From Paper to Pixels: Storyboarding and Digital Genga

Storyboarding embraced digital tools, allowing for faster creation and easier revisions. Genga production too went digital, with animators utilizing drawing tablets and software to create detailed keyframes.

2. The Power of Interpolation: Automated In-Betweening

One of the most significant changes came with the introduction of in-betweening software. These programs can automatically generate frames that transition between keyframes, drastically reducing the workload of Dougasai.

3. Digital Paintbrushes: Digital Cel Filling and Backgrounds

Digital Paintbrushes: Digital Cel Filling and Backgrounds
Image Credit: Skillshare

Cel coloring and background creation also benefited from digital tools. Artists now utilize software with advanced brushes and layering capabilities, enabling a wider range of effects and a more efficient workflow.

4. The Rise of 3D Animation: Expanding the Visual Palette

The Rise of 3D Animation: Expanding the Visual Palette
Beastars Anime

The digital revolution opened doors to 3D animation. While traditionally used sparingly for specific effects, 3D software now allows for complex backgrounds, intricate mechanical designs, and even the creation of 3D character models used in conjunction with 2D animation techniques.

There are several popular 3D anime like Beastars and Land of Lustrous that have proved that 3D anime can be just as great as its 2D counterpart.

A New Set of Challenges: Balancing Efficiency and the Human Touch

While digital tools offer a faster and more efficient workflow, some argue that the switch from hand-drawn to digital animation can lead to a certain degree of homogenization. The reliance on software for in-betweening can sometimes result in a “sterile” look compared to the subtle variations inherent in traditional animation.

However, as technology keeps evolving, the process of how anime is made is changing rapidly. Today we have AI software that automatically take care of majority of the anime creation process.

This saves a lot of time and allows creative artists to express themselves in an efficient way.

The Future of Anime Creation: A Fusion of Tradition and Technology

The Future of Anime Creation: A Fusion of Tradition and Technology

The future of anime lies in a beautiful fusion of the old and the new. Studios are finding ways to leverage digital tools to enhance the traditional techniques, striking a balance between efficiency and the unique charm of hand-drawn animation.

For instance, digital tools are being used to create “digital Douga,” where animators can draw directly on top of 3D models, preserving a more hand-drawn aesthetic. Additionally, advancements in 3D technology are leading to the creation of stunning hybrid animation styles that seamlessly blend 2D and 3D elements.

AI is currently used for specific tasks, such as generating backgrounds or assisting with in-betweening, rather than creating entire anime series from scratch.


You just learned how anime is made and the steps that took to create a visual masterpiece. The journey from the painstaking cel animation of yesteryear to the dynamic digital tools of today reflects a constant push for innovation.

While the debate between the beauty of hand-drawn animation and the efficiency of digital tools continues, one thing remains certain: anime’s heart lies in its storytelling and the dedication of its creators.

Whether crafted with traditional methods or cutting-edge technology, anime continues to enthrall audiences worldwide, offering a vibrant tapestry of stories and emotions that transcend borders and languages.

The future of anime is bright, brimming with the potential for even more captivating visuals, innovative techniques, and groundbreaking narratives that will continue to capture hearts for generations to come.

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