Sazae-san is Last TV Anime Using Cels, Not Computers
posted on by Egan Loo
Sazae-san is now the last Japanese animated television series that uses layers of transparent plastic film known as "cel art," instead of computers, for its production. One of the remaining holdouts in the past, Chibi Maruko-chan, replaced physical cels with computers in 1999, and Doraemon did the same in 2002. Studio Ghibli, Sunrise, Toei Animation, and most veteran studios switched during 1990s, while newer companies such as Gonzo and Satelight have been using computers for "painting" and digital compositing since their inception.
Most studios consider traditional cel animation to be ill-suited to the era of high-definition imagery for several reasons: vibrations and slight movements can be seen between frames, static electricity can cause dust to appear on the cels, and too many cel layers can cause the lower cel layers to appear blurry and less saturated in color.
However, Yōichi Tanaka, a department head at Eiken (the main studio behind Sazae-san), said that some of those points are actually advantages. "The subtle flickering of lines adds warmth to the images. It gives the viewers a sense of familiarity and security."
The people who are capable of drawing cel artwork grow fewer as they get older; Eiken and three to four other studios employ 120 people to handle the cels of Sazae-san, but 20-30% of the artwork is drawn in China. Manufacturer Taiyō Shikisai once made 20 million yen (about US$200,000) a month from cel paints at its peak, but now makes 500,000 yen a month (about US$5,000) from them. Taiyō Shikisai head Shigeji Kitamura said, "It's the culture of Japan. We want to continue making the paints even if that cuts into our profits."