Anime Production Walkthrough: Cels, Douga, Genga and More

By -

The process of anime production is a very vast process. It involves different types of sheets, drawing techniques, and stages of improvisation.

In comparison to all that goes into anime production, this article should be considered a cheat-sheet that covers a quick summary of anime production and descriptions of the terminology of the process.

It should be noted that in this article, the various parts of anime production are explained in detail and not the process.


Douga, cels, and genga are the raw materials of an anime. They constitute the developmental phase and in anime production’s multiple phases and sophisticated mechanisms of functioning and form the cornerstone content for all anime, especially traditional ones.


A celluloid or cel is a film or sheet of transparent plastic used to draw. Once created in the needed set, multiple cels can be stacked on top of each other to get a motion effect from static drawing.

This is a cel, or celluloid, in anime production.

This is a cel, or celluloid, in anime production.

A cel is very thin, fragile, and flammable. Cotton gloves are needed to hold it. A bit of space has to be ensured between two cels to avoid sticking because adhesive paints are applied on both sides of a cel.

A celluloid isn’t an anime-specific material. In fact, it was used for cinematographic filming before new techniques came into play. It is usually manufactured by organic materials like cellulose and camphor. With the spike in computer animation and specialized graphics software, the traditional cels are losing their appliance in mainstream media.

A cel needs to be outlined from the front, painted from the back, and involves many steps that require attentiveness and calculations, like which parts needs to be left transparent. Today, all this can be automatically performed by computers.


The key frame animations are individual major static parts of the whole spectrum of motion. It is the finished cel used to create the animation. It comes after coloring, drying, and doing appropriate edits.

Painting a cel isn’t all that is needed for animation. There are many steps involved according to the situation. For example, backgrounds need to be inserted and designed separately, special effects like glows are created by painting the cels black (thus concentrating the light from the other side), proper drying up, applying just one color at one time, etc.


Cel production is very time-consuming. Each usable cel is created after proper planning and hard work.


Cel sheets are layered to achieve motion effect. In bigger projects, stacks of already layered cel sheets need to be grouped together. A part of a motion sequence is a collection of layers of cels.

Layering is important. For example, suppose we need two characters at a place. We need a background cel, the first character, and the second. We design them all separately. It makes it easier to edit colors and insert the same character somewhere else.


Professional animators leave many portions of a background that’ll be never used, like the part behind a character. The following image will make it clear.

Layered cels

In a wide frame, you might need to apply motion to just a specific part, like animating a character. If there is no separate background cel, then a general technique of layered cels is used.


Take a look at Sakura’s hair for example here.

This single cel will be layered itself. The area needed to accommodate motion is painted on a separate cel. It eliminates the need to repaint the entire cel for each frame of the motion.

Suppose we need a motion of waving hand on a standing character. Instead of painting different frames of the full drawing, we can just include different frames of the waving hand on top of a static character and a static background cel.


Genga art in anime production is pretty popular with otakus.

Genga art in anime production is pretty popular with otakus.

A genga is a valuable part of the animation. Special experts or accomplished animators draw them. It is essentially a detailed structure of a character or any other element of the story and is never used directly.  Genga are drawn for reference and in multiple angles sometimes.

Animators use the genga throughout and sketch drawings from it. These sketches from genga are called douga. The derived douga arts of a genga are adaptive. That is why a single genga can be used to create an array of scenes adapted into different styles.

It is not easy to acquire genga. The picture below shows how the animators draw a genga and leave minor detailing and shadowing to the animators.


Roughs or rough sketches are loosely the drafts of a genga. They’re “genga in the making” or trashed drafts.

Pre-production genga

Although it is true that all sketches used in the animation are douga, it is not totally correct to assume that all that is not directly used is genga. Some consider only the senior animators’ finished or draft sketches as genga.

These, however, still fall under the pre-production arena. So, in a pinch, pre-production drafts and sketches can also be called genga.


A douga is the part of the animation used in a cel. Except for watercolor backgrounds, everything is a douga. They are pieced together in cels to run the animation.


The douga are the drawings one can easily buy from animation studios, often along with their cels. They are generally annotated with a serial number.

Other items

Seri-cels: The poster arts and other promotional cels used for propaganda are called seri-cels. They are not used in main production.

Laser-copy: A laser-copy is a polished cel created by machines. Thus, they are also called machine-cels. They are of better quality than a normal cel.

Time charts: Crucial data like the alignments, positions, and timings of a cel, names of the creators, etc. are glued together and presented in a tabular document. It is the time chart. Formerly, its only use was to annotate the timing of a cel, and thus the name. Now it is an agglomerate of important data melted together.

Backlighting and airbrushing: Backlighting and airbrushing are mainly used for providing emphasis or creating a special effect of glow. Focused light is thrown on the back side of a cel to give it a glow. There are two ways:

  1. The light might be ultra-concentrated/focused, or
  2. The cel might be designed to focus normal light.

The cel could be made to do so by painting it all black except for the part that needs the focus.

Airbrushing works like your usual airbrush or blow-pen for making sprays of radial gradient colors that gradually diffuse into the surrounding areas. Fine adjustments to the blur and spread need to be made according to the circumstances.

Blushing, emphasis elements (like glowing halo areas), glows, body-shine (to show lustre), etc. are usually designed with airbrushing techniques.

Covers: When something goes wrong in a cel, a cover is used to edit it. The cover is wholly transparent or the same as the cel below it, with the corrected portion distinguishing it from the cel below it. These are also called kabuse.

Only the area that needs an edit is different while the rest is either transparent or identical to the cel below it. Covers are only added if the production process has been saturated to a point where original edits can’t be made. Adding covers adds more bloat to the production by increasing the cel count and might cause more problems later on.

Kabā: Kabā are like seri-cels. Just that these promotional arts are the covers of certain anime.

Settei Sheets: Settei sheets or just settei are illustrated collectables for the fandom. Actually, they serve as the mainframe structure of story objects like prominent characters, demons and monsters, complicated story-specific objects and powers, etc.

Settei sheets provide a wide range of expressions and/or positions to be used by junior or in-betweener artists as reference.

Settei sheets provide a wide range of expressions and/or positions to be used by junior or in-betweener artists as reference.

Original settei are created for serving the animators. A settei sheet contains much information, like different postures of a character’s body or her facial expressions. However, they are never directly used. Actually, they can’t be used as they are just details.

Storyboards: Storyboards contain details of the motion sequences and the scenes presented in filmstrips. This is the continuum of the motion, from which a specific genga could be made. It’s like a film script and is usually created separately for each episode. Storyboards along with time charts are the non-drawing utilities that facilitate planning the anime production.

Thanks for reading. Please share your comments below.

I derive most of my inspirations and practical traits from Hikigaya Hachiman.