The backgrounds in anime serve as the "stage" for the story. They are meticulously crafted, with a focus on even the tiniest details, so that the characters can move through the scene and captivate viewers. The reason behind this attention to detail is that the backgrounds greatly influence how the story unfolds as well as how the characters are brought to life. Backgrounds serve as the foundation for creating the overall atmosphere of a work and can be considered one of the pinnacle points of an animation.
While nowadays backgrounds are mostly created using computer graphics (CG), they were once hand-drawn with brushes. Whether it is interiors, cityscapes, nature, or futuristic settings with mecha elements and journeys through space, everything was hand-drawn. For a TV series, there are approximately 350 cuts per episode, while in a feature film, there can be as many as 1500 cuts produced. All of these being painstakingly drawn by teams of artists. Despite each cut only lasting a few seconds, they take dedicated days of work to create it. The level of meticulousness in the drawings, even for just a few seconds of screen time, results in the fascinating difference in quality when viewed as a completed work.
However, when anime production began to become digitized, backgrounds were one of the first elements to go. In the early stages, traditional drawings were scanned and digitized, allowing for further additions and digital improvements. This not only enhanced workflow efficiency but also opened up new possibilities for expression, which I found intriguing. With each software upgrade, the potential expanded even further, and now creating backgrounds entirely using computer graphics has become the mainstream approach. However, no matter how advanced the software becomes, there are still many aspects where hand-drawn techniques cannot be surpassed. During the era of traditional hand-drawn backgrounds, artists honed their skills, practicing how many lines they could draw within a millimeter using brushes and the naked eyes. This craftsmanship brought about a convincing sense of presence to the stage of the artwork. Moreover, the nuances of colors, the subtle art of blending, and the strokes of the brush were unique qualities that could only be achieved through hand-drawn methods.
It was, therefore, both disappointing and saddening to see the complete transition of background work from traditional paper drawing to digital production. With the disappearance of cels to suit, it felt like there were no longer any tangible remnants of the process of anime creation.
For the CEL LAB project, we are also aiming to revive traditionally hand-drawn backgrounds alongside cels themselves. I feel delighted about this endeavor because I have always felt it would be a waste to lose the incredible skills possessed by everyone involved in traditional anime production.
Bringing back both cels and hand-drawn backgrounds as lost technologies is absolutely fascinating! I am excited to see what kind of works we can create together while incorporating the new techniques available.