Celulight Technology Preview - Cel Shading in After Effects


Here’s a little plug-in for After Effects that I’ve been working on for a while. It’s somewhat based on my Normality relighting suite, but rather than using pre-rendered normal maps, Celulight lets you shade and light directly from outline drawings or cels.

This can give a really fresh 3D look to cartoons or anime.

Celulight offers regular diffuse and specular shading as well as a new cel shader to simulate the characteristic multi-shade look of the more expensive 2D animation films.

Celulight is not ready for release quite yet, but I’ve prepared some samples and more information on my website: Celulight Technology Preview

I’d really like to hear if there’s any demand for this plug-in. Is this something that would be interesting to the After Effects community?

Looking forward to hear your thoughts and comments!


im a newbie with AE but i think this plugin will be useful specially with some logos (besides cartoons) is there a way to flatten some areas if you dont wish to have emboss look?

btw this plugin promising!


double post


The biggest problem for most people will still be creating the normal maps which is the ultimate limiting factor. Once that hurdle is overcome, people certainly will have lots of fun.



Ah, but that’s the cool part: Celulight creates the normal map itself from the outlines! All you need to feed it is an outline drawing or a flat shaded toon cel.


By the way, if anybody has some nice outline drawings, comics or colored cels they’d like to see shaded, I’d love to try it out on them… I’m not a great draftsman, so my resource of graphics to test with is a bit limited :wink:


Ah, I see. That part was unclear to me. Then it’s certainly going to be easy-peasy.



It looks great… I would love to try it ^^


Looks very interesting.
thanks for posting!


Sounds really cool :slight_smile: !


[left]well, sounds really interesting.

but how the hell do you get the information for the normal maps. just guessing? cause there is absolutely no information about depths in an outline drawing…

im curious,



You’re right, the outlines don’t inherently offer information about the surface normals, so obviously the technique is an approximation and naturally has its limits - for example, it cannot create accurate shading for flat or edgy surfaces.
However, if you look at cartoon characters, you’ll see that they are generally very round and vaulty, which really facilitates the approximation of the normal map. Since cartoons aren’t photorealistic anyway, in most cases we can easily get away with less than realistic shading.

So I suppose you could say Celulight does “educated guessing” when it comes to determining the normals - but you’d be surprised how well it works in most cases! :thumbsup:

Also, I added a function today that lets the user specify whether the contained surface is convex, concave or flat depending on the color of the outline - this creates many new possibilities in terms of shading.



count me in! want to try it!:thumbsup:


Well, as there appears to be more interest than I had anticipated, I’m preparing a version of Celulight for beta testers.

Anyone interested please contact me through my website, this will make communication easier along the line.
Please mention your version of AE and your PC specs. Oh… and sorry, Windows only for now!!

The beta should be ready by early next week.


this seems really cool


I was expecting only a handful of candidates to beta test Celulight, but ended up with more potential testers than I could possibly ever need. As I don’t want to start some kind of popularity contest here, I won’t be excluding anybody and have decided to simply make this an open beta.

Please go ahead and download the Celulight Beta from http://www.minning.de/journal/celulight-beta/

Nonetheless, I’m still counting on your feedback :wink:

So if you happen to come across a bug or manage to produce something interesting with the plug-in, please let me know and perhaps post an image in this thread!


Some hints on the usage of Celulight:

First of all, remember to create a light source in After Effects - without that, it won’t work at all. For now leave it at its default position, you can move it around later.

Note that this is an early Beta version and there are red lines rendered over the frame - sorry, no production use for now!

Now that that’s out of the way… import your outline layer and apply the Celulight plug-in. This can be a simple line-art drawing or even an already colored cel. As long as there’s a reasonable amount of contrast between the fill and the contour, Celulight can handle it.
Also note that it works best if the layer has a transparent background. However, the artwork itself should have a fill color, even if it’s only white.

Immediately, you should see some rough shading. Play with the Threshold to adjust the areas that get shaded. To smooth the shading, adjust the Filter parameter to your liking. The higher the filter value, the smoother your shading becomes… at the expense of longer render times. I’ve had good results with the Medium and High settings.

It may help to disable the Shading Engine at this point while you adjust the normal map. The normal map is created internally by Celulight to approximate the height of the surface - no, it’s not perfect and there may be cases where it simply doesn’t look right… but for Cel shading on cartoon characters I’ve had excellent results so far.

If your outline has colors besides black, enable the Colored Outlines switch - this allows you to control the shade and shape in specific areas, e.g. you can set them to be convex, concave or simply flat. (I’m currently adding controls to simply ignore a specific color.)

To control the shading, there are a bunch of parameters that are probably self explanatory; if not, play around with them to see what they do.
Then there’s the Toon Engine: Switching this on changes the shading from the standard diffuse to a cel shaded look. Use the Toon Threshold to control the shadowing. If you have Gloss enabled, you can add a third color to the base and shadow.

The Gradient parameter is a bit experimental but gives a very modern cartoon look similar to the game Kingdom Hearts. I like it! :slight_smile:
Another experimental feature is the Bump/Normal mapping. Not quite sure why you’d want to use this, but perhaps it can help with a sort of paper cut out or less than pristine cartoon look. Play with it - you’ll see what I mean. :shrug:

Well, that pretty much sums it up and should get you started with Celulight. I’ll post a more detailed tutorial on my website in the coming days.

If you have any questions please post them here; that way, other users may have their questions answered as well.

Have fun and cheers!


Aaaaand another update: I’ve integrated my old PainterMan RenderMan shaders into Celulight.

This means that it now allows for truly painterly shading… try it, it’s really cool!


the setup file doesnt install anything for me. Tried installing it to an empty folder and it doesnt add anything to it…


Thanks for pointing that out :slight_smile:

I got rid of the setup routine for now. Try downloading the file again and just copy the plug-in .aex from the .zip file to your AE plug-ins directory.