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Cel Shading is a style of computer rendering that imitates the look of hand-drawn artwork and animation. In layman's terms, it replaces the shading gradient of conventional rendering with flat colors and shadows (as seen at right). The style was pioneered with the Sega Dreamcast game Jet Set Radio, the first game to use 3D polygons to produce a cartoony look.

While the style is not exclusive to Video Games, it is often used there since this is the only way to produce a hand-drawn look via computer polygons. In other media, Cel Shading can be useful to render specific items in a hand-drawn production, if a given scene would be too difficult to animate by hand, such as a rotating object or an Epic Tracking Shot traveling down the length of a massive vehicle. There are also animated series produced exclusively via cel shading, usually for similar reasons. When mixing cel shading with traditional animation, it's important to calibrate the renderer to avoid visually clashing with the rest of the production (i.e. being too detailed or smoothly animated).

Be careful when tossing terms around; Cel Shading applies first and foremost to the way the lighting is rendered. Conventional rendering can still utilize solid colors, simplistic textures, and cartoonish caricatures (e.g. The Incredibles or the 3D Super Mario games). Likewise, Cel Shading can be as realistically-proportioned and textured as any hand-drawing. Actual hand-drawn media is never an example, for obvious reasons, nor are cels drawn on computers in a manner similar to convention animation.

The name comes from the cels hand-drawn cartoons were traditionally painted on to. Chiaroscuro is an oft-used visual effect.

Examples of Cel Shading include:

Anime and Manga

Live-action television

  • In one episode of Warehouse 13 featuring a virtual reality game, the "in-game" scenes were subtly rendered with cel shading techniques to help distinguish them from the outside reality.

Video Games

Western Animation

  • MTV's Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, produced by Mainframe Entertainment was computer animated, but done using cel shading.
  • Re Boot had an episode in a game based on Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z and the entire world was cel shaded, even the main characters when they rebooted into game characters.
  • The Drinky Crow Show.
  • Skyland: A weird middle ground between cartoon style and Realism, leading down into the Uncanny Valley.
  • The CGI parts of Futurama, such as the Planet Express ship and the New New York backdrop, are cel-shaded so well that in some scenes, the animation staff (in the DVD Commentary) can't tell what's CG and what's hand-drawn.
  • Because of their bigger budgets, post-revival epsiodes of Family Guy use cel-shaded CG for things like cars and moving backgrounds.
  • Iron Man: Armored Adventures
  • The Iron Giant: The Giant is CG, and fits perfect with the traditionally-animated human characters and landscapes. This is largely because the animation team added subtle imperfections to the Giant's outline and framerate to make it more closely resemble traditional animation.
  • Star Wars: Clone Wars: The CGI vehicles.
  • The wildebeest stampede from The Lion King was created this way.
  • Disney's Tangled was originally supposed to look like an oil painting on canvas, but the technology was never perfected, so it ended up being done with conventional computer animation. However, the look is much softer and more fluid than any movie that's come beforehand, and the character designs are a very good translation of Disney 2D. That said, the oil painting look can be seen in some of the backgrounds. It's especially evident in some of the forest scenes.
  • Transformers Prime is animated in CG, but the overall look of the show emulates elements of both regular CG and Cel Shaded graphics. What is done is in addition to the "hard line" shadow they also added a third level, a reflective highlight to the metal forms, and so achieving a "cel shaded but not quite cel shaded" look to it. The regular humans have a bit more of a traditional CG appearance, but the hard shadow is still apparent and they have slightly exaggerated proportions to better blend with the hyper-stylized robots.
  • The 3D segments of Invader Zim use cel-shaded spaceships, planets and stuff.
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Sandy, SpongeBob, & The Worm", this was used in one shot when Sandy & SpongeBob were running away from the giant worm.
  • "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" segment of Fantasia 2000.
  • Tron Uprising


  • A software called Dance×Mixer.
  • Character-poser software such Poser and Daz Studio, and full animation suites such as Carerra and 3DSMax, have a cel-shader packaged or available as an optional extra. 3D Custom Girl features cel-shading by default. The last one is used more for producing hentai images, but so are all the others.

Not cel-shading, but often mistaken for it

  • Borderlands used black outlines and textures with penciled-in lines to give the game a stylized Comic Book-esque look, but the lighting and shading was done realistically.
    • Similarly, Street Fighter IV has adopted a sort of inkbrush look but does not use actual cel-shading.
  • Fear Effect is an odd example: It used special textures to fake the look of cel-shading, but the characters weren't actually lit by anything. While it uses a completely different technique from cel-shading, in execution it looks identical.
  • At the time Disney made The Great Mouse Detective, a method for placing CGI directly into an animated film didn't exist. The clock innards were created as wire-frame graphics, printed out and rotoscoped onto the animation cels. Retroactively, this achieves exactly the same look as modern-day cel-shaded animation.
  • Team Fortress 2 uses a lighting system which falls somewhere between cel-shading and realistic lighting. While the line between lit and unlit is stronger than a realistically-lit scene, it's also fuzzier then a cel-shaded one. The game's shaders also include ones for directional ambient light sources above and below the characters in addition to the standard lighting (ambient lighting is usually just handled by adding a constant amount of light to all lighting calculations regardless of the direction a surface is pointing so shadowed surfaces don't turn out black).
  • Okami uses a fairly unique rendering method involving flowing liquid shadows meant to look like ink. Although in still shots it looks slightly similar to cel-shading, the actual technique, and the appearance in motion, is completely different (notably it isn't tied to light sources, instead being closer to ambient occlusion).