I sometimes see this glow in the old stuff. Curious if this technique has a name, and how this was made.

Here is an example from Golden Boy.

A few extra examples, all from Rurouni Kenshin's second opening.

And from Words Worth.

Is there a documentary about the technology and business aspects for using this glow effect?

  • Most of these are just a gradient with an alpha channel applied.
    – кяαzєя
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 9:57
  • @кяαzєя you think it's cg? Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 10:43
  • second exposure is a likely option in the first picture Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 10:55

4 Answers 4


All your screenshots look like conventional cel animation but are done with various different techniques.

The first image the "glow" looks like it was painted with an airbrush, probably on its own cel sheet overlaying the rest of the image.

The lens flare effects in your second and fourth screenshots look they were painted on separate cel sheets and then optically faded in and out to animate them and then combined with the background using multiple exposures.

The glow of the candles in the third image was probably airbrushed on the same cel as the candle flames.

I'm not sure how the animated sunlight falling on the water in the fifth image was done, but my guess is it was simply hand-painted.

The last image with the glowing bar was probably done with an airbrush similar to the previous examples, though it could be that a diffuser was placed in front of the camera lens.


The short answer is "lighting."

Remember that traditional animation is constructed from multiple elements, layered and photographed together. Static elements such as backgrounds are painted on sheets of glass (plates) and moving elements such as characters are painted on multiple sheets of acetate (cels). Each frame of animation is built by layering the various elements in a photography studio, lit, photographed, and then re-built and shot again for the next frame.

Creating glow effects can be done by painting them by hand, but those super bright psychic auras, laser blasts, and the like take advantage of the fact that glass and acetate are transparent. By shining a light up from underneath the background, through translucent or unpainted portions of the various elements, or by directly cutting out parts of the cel with a razor, you can create anything from a soft, diffuse glow to intense, bright light. Color gels placed between the cel and the light source will give you those brilliant reds or blues (or oranges or purples or greens or whatever).

Lens flare and sundog effects are done in-camera by using studio lighting to create the desired glare on the lens itself.

Things get a little more complicated when you want to, say, add that intense glow to a fully painted object (like the glowing brick at the bottom there). For that, they would likely use an optical printer, a device that allows you to combine previously photographed elements with new optical effects or with other existing photographed elements. You combine the photographed sequence of the characters holding the brick, with a matte blacking out everything except the brick, and blue light shining through the brick-shaped hole in the matte, and the optical printer allows you to re-photograph those elements together, essentially.

The shot of the rippling water on the shore is also an optical composite, combining background elements (grass, tree), foreground elements (the character) a matte that blocks out the grass, tree, and character, and footage of the water effect, which may be filmed with actual liquid (heavily watered down shampoo was popular) or a stand-in medium (crinkled, reflective foil with a moving light source was also popular).

It's all effectively the same method ILM used to assemble all of the individually shot miniature X-Wings and TIE Fighters and Death Star trench footage in Star Wars.


Thanks to Kyle S. for the explanation!

I was looking for the answer, too. Looks like it's an analogue compositing technique called "Underlighting"

Underlighting (aka "Bipack Glow") is an animation technique that caught on in the 1980's, although it dates back much further.

Some parts of an animated scene may need to glow. Traditionally, a glow was painstakingly drawn by an animator, who had to pay careful attention to get the fringe colors just right to make it convincing. Even in the best cases, a hand-drawn glow still didn't look very "glowy."

The solution was to cut a hole in the background in the shape you wanted the glowing object to have, and then project a bright colored light from underneath the scene. The result was a rather awesome-looking glowing object, with tapering fringes that looked exactly as you'd expect a brightly glowing object to look.

There were, however, two big drawbacks to this technique. First of all, it was somewhat labor-intensive, as the hole in the animation background would have to move to track where the glow was supposed to be frame by frame; as a result, underlighting would typically be relegated to static background elements if needed for a prolonged portion of the animation, with underlit moving objects typically being on the smaller side to reduce the workload for the animators. And second, adding texture to glowing objects was much more difficult compared to hand-painted glow effects, though not outright impossible; typically texture was added by placing a translucent foil or a glass tube filled with a mix of soap/shampoo, water, and glitter between the background and the backlight. This second drawback meant the technique was used primarily for amorphous objects such as "energy beams" or lightning.

Source: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Underlighting

I gather gifs of underlit shots from the old anime here:

enter image description here


These are all very different effects and I don't think that most were done with airbrushing.

The first one, maybe, but it's hard to be sure without seeing a higher resolution of that image.

The second one is often "animated" and appears to be a real lens flare, that could be achieved by using a certain type of lens and shining in a light source from a side angle.

With the others, it's hard to say, again, because of image resolution issues. I've seen the water effect you're referencing a lot, too, but I'm under the impression that it's something else entirely.

As for the last effect, that's the one I'm most interested in because I see it used all the time in 80s anime and I love the effect. I'm like 90% sure it's not done with airbrushing, however. If I had to guess, they leave part of the background cel unpainted and then shoot it over a light table with the light shining through to achieve this effect.

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