Monday, May 11, 2015

The Backgrounds of "Ghost in the Shell"

The animated film "Ghost in the Shell" was released in 1995, and the backgrounds were produced with physical paint.

Observer K Huitula described the technical process: "They were painted with about 30 different colors of bottled poster color [a liquid form of gouache, also known as tempera]. On wet paper, first the basic color surfaces and tones are painted with a bigger brush, after which you move on to smaller details little by little."

"The straight lines are painted with a brush, taking support from a ruler and a stick gliding on its groove.

Here's an example of such a grooved-ruler device in action (thanks, Todd Bowlin)

"A paintbrush [airbrush?] is used only very seldom to achieve some certain effects, still most of the painting is done with a traditional brush. Hair-dryers are also used for drying the painting when needed."

"While not working on a precise project, all the free time is used for making painting exercises, taking advantage of the studio library consisting of various books on nature and photography. Also different variations are being done from the same painting, varying the colors and the impression of lighting."

Ghost in the Shell was based on a manga by Masamune Shirow. The film was produced by the company Production I.G., and the crew of about 200 people was directed by Mamoru Oshii. The backgrounds were the work of Hiromasa Ogura and his team. 

The original film cost 5 million dollars to make. For the upcoming Hollywood live action remake, the fee for actress Scarlett Johannson alone is said to be 10 million.
Thanks, K Huitula!


Anonymous said...

Obviously HUGE Hong Kong streets influence :)

escuderoimagine said...

Hi guys.
Two years ago, here in Spain had an expo about all these anime artists. Backgrounds, designs, story boards and sketches. You can find the book here.


I have it, an it's awesome. You can compare the scenes to see which background is done in traditional media and which is mixed with effects to create aereal perspective... you know, its imposible do that only with gouache and very dangerous to ruin all scene hahaha. Maeby James, you can say something more about that, to create this kind of light in shadows, the glaze: "veladura", in gouache ;D

But, although this it's an icredible work, how they use the grays to create all those nuances in shadows and in general all the ambient. I have a K.Oga book about the process, but its very vague, I hope these guys share their knowledge in, I dont know, maybe a gumroad, or at least in a english book. Mine it's in japanese hahaha.

Bernadette said...

I would love to have one of those grooved ruler tools. Is there anywhere I could buy one?

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Escudero.
When I was painting animation backgrounds around 1981 (Bakshi/Frazetta's "Fire and Ice"), we were using cel vinyl paint, which is a lot like gouache in being very opaque. We also used an airbrush, but very sparingly for creating subtle layers of atmosphere. That also required working from the background to the foreground, and interposing subtle airbrush layers in between. Thanks for the book recommendations!

James Gurney said...

Bernadette, I've never seen one in US stores, but it's not too hard to adapt a compass to hold a brush using a hose clamp. I show how to do it in this video:
You could replace the needle like point of the compass with a duller stylus and then find a grooved ruler to match.

Daulat Neupane said...

One of my favorite painted backgrounds in a movie. Thanks James for the insights into the making.

Geo Dav said...

I was always curious as to the process of creating those backgrounds. Interesting insight.

escuderoimagine said...

Hey James!, I didn't know anything about your work in Fire and Ice. Great!

Sooooo, well, maybe you can do that "gumroad video" to show us how to do the background techniques. hahaha ;D

Ask is free ;D


I am really much impressed after reading your article, james. I think that the process of creating the fantastic background is needed to finish our job as well as posibble
Visit>>>>, and

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what brand of tempera poster paint they used or of any similar good quality tempera paint?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris James said...


Nicker Poster Color is a brand commonly used in Japanese animation. From what I've read, there is nothing quite like it, which is why it is the go to brand over there.

David Morning said...

@Robert There's a company called ShinHan who were producing/exporting sets of similar quality paint to the west, but there aren't any over here who produce it.

It's an interesting example of how companies push products to improve. Good quality gouache apparently is hard to get in Japan for the same reason high quality poster paint is hard to get here, animation studios like Disney used it for backgrounds and nobody really used poster paints for them