What Resolution Are Early Digipaint Shows Made At?

by Justin Sevakis,

Ryan asked:

As you covered before, in the early 2000s anime transitioned to being animated in a totally digital format. This locks the finished product to a set resolution. So my question is: what was the average resolution of a movie produced in the early digipaint era before HD was common? I'd imagine the bigger budgets would have bumped up the resolution to something closer to native HD, making for a more natural transition to Blu-ray than the average upscaled TV series. Is that usually the case, and worth the upgrade from DVD for movies from this time period?

If you're confused as to what "digipaint" is, check out this column from a few months ago.

There was no set resolution for digitally-produced anime in the early days. That's part of what makes anime from that era so difficult to work with technically.

Early computer-generated animation was very dependent on standard definition video technology, which at the time had to be 29.97 frames per second, interlaced, and effectively 720 x 480 pixels in resolution, or worse. Many early digitally-made anime from this period was produced with letterboxing, masking off the top and bottom of the screen to give the work a cinematic feel. However, those unused pixels shrank the picture even further. Some anime from this era was produced at 640 x 360 resolution! Other high-budget anime, such as Ghost in the Shell, was higher resolution, but very few (if any) were produced at the 1080p resolution we often enjoy today.

Since the frame rate was different than anime was normally produced at (24 frames per second), some early digitally produced anime is animated at the "wrong" speed. There are pieces of animation like Bubblegum Crisis 2040's opening sequence, where some shots are sped up to 29.97 frames per second. Since animators were not trained to work at that frame rate, everything animated this way looks a little strange: a little bit too fast, and too smooth compared to standard anime.

Lots of digital shows also integrate 3D animation as well. However, combining the 2D and 3D animation led to other weirdness. You have shows like Monster Rancher, which had most of its animation in 24 frames per second. Those 24 frames were then turned into interlaced 29.97 video, where it was blended with 3D animation at 30 frames per second. This looked fine on TVs when it came out, but today it's one of many anime that simply cannot be cleanly turned into a progressive presentation.

The early digipaint shows are difficult to work with today, and can look pretty rough when made into a Blu-ray. Video professionals do what they (we) can with them, but they simply will never look as good as shows made after the dust settled, and best-practices for anime in the digital age were established.

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Justin Sevakis has worked in the anime business for nearly 20 years. He's the founder of Anime News Network, and owner of the video production company MediaOCD. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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