I'm curious about how they are animated:

  • Flower petals in the air
  • Water effects (e.g the intro of The Garden of Words)
    • Water droplets in pond (00:17 and 1:35)
    • Reflection of a person walking (01:54)
    • Sun reflecting off water
  • Time-lapse (e.g Your Name)

Are backgrounds done frame by frame? Or do they use something like AE?

  • Not specifically about the points asked in the question, but might be related: What technique is used to draw the lifelike backgrounds in the movie Ponyo?
    – Aki Tanaka
    Aug 11, 2018 at 17:54
  • Cel animation (and CG animation in the same style) uses several layers, so an animated background is just a another layer (or layers) than can be animated just like any foreground layer. That isn't to say certain special techniques can't be used to achieve certain effects (eg. CG rain effects in The Garden of Words), but that's true of any part of the animation.
    – Ross Ridge
    Aug 12, 2018 at 3:29
  • @RossRidge so some of the backgrounds will have to be done frame by frame too?
    – custuu
    Aug 12, 2018 at 18:36
  • Animation requires that multiple individual frames be produced somehow, whether it's hand drawing multiple individual cels, moving a single cel across multiple frames, or using some sort of computer 3D rendering. There's lots of different ways things can be animated whether it's something in the foreground or background.
    – Ross Ridge
    Aug 12, 2018 at 19:34

1 Answer 1


Technically, everything you list isn't a background in the sense used in traditional hand-drawn animation. A background is a static image, and anything moving is on a separate layer. One shot may have several layers. Flower petals are animated just like characters, for example, on their own layer(s).

I think what you mean are environment shots.

However, this gets more complicated with CGI. The examples you cite of water droplets are made with CGI; they're not hand-drawn (that's partly how the camera can tilt so effectively). Similarly, the reflection is made by taking the hand-drawn animation and placing it on the CGI-based water surface.

The time lapse you show is a trick of reversing the traditional layering. The foreground layer is made up of environmental objects like trees, while the sky is a fully animated layer. Someone's drawing those clouds and that sun, every frame, and it's just being placed on a layer behind the one containing the trees.

If by "AE" you mean After Effects, the Japanese animation industry generally uses software that's been built for specifically for the anime industry, like RETAS Pro. Some are integrated into the workflow, while others are standalone. But if an effect is being generated on the computer, it's generally classified as CGI, like the water droplets, regardless of the tool being used.

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