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The Art Style of Studio Ghibli (How To)
By Steve Chang - November 30th, 2023

Studio Ghibli, under the visionary guidance of Hayao Miyazaki, has carved a unique niche in the world of animation. Its distinctive art style, blending realism with whimsy, has captivated audiences globally. This blog delves into the various elements that define Studio Ghibli's artistic approach.

Read more: Learn how to craft the perfect prompt for your Studio Ghibli artwork sketches and studies here.

What are some character design styles of Studio Ghibli?

Conceptualize characters typically in their youth, around 14 to 18 years old. Remember, the essence of Ghibli characters lies in their spirit and courage. This should be the core of your character design.

These young characters often find themselves in situations where they face significant challenges, whether they are fantastical or grounded in everyday realities. Their spirit and courage are not just personality traits but are intricately woven into their stories and development. Reflect this in your design by considering how their experiences might shape their expressions, posture, and even attire. For example, a character who is on a journey of discovery might have a curious and determined look, with bright, wide eyes that reflect a sense of wonder and resilience.

Studio Ghibli also excels at using physical features to express these internal qualities. Pay attention to how their facial features and body language can convey their inner strength and courageous spirit. A forward-leaning posture, a determined gaze, or a slight frown of concentration can speak volumes about their character.

In these films, the character's hairstyle often reflects their personality, background, and the journey they undergo. For example, a character like Princess Mononoke, who is fierce and in touch with nature, has a wild and untamed hairstyle that echoes her untamed spirit and the wild world she inhabits. When designing a character, think about what their hair says about them. Is it neatly kept, suggesting a life of order, or is it messy, indicating a more adventurous or carefree personality? Consider also the practical aspects of their lifestyle - a warrior might have hair that is styled to stay out of the way during battle.

A key aspect of the style is maintaining consistency and harmony throughout the character design. Every element, from the shape of the eyes to the way clothing drapes, follows the same principle of straightforward, unembellished design.

Remember that these characters often undergo significant emotional growth. Their design should leave room for this evolution. A character at the beginning of their journey might look different from how they appear at the end, reflecting the changes and growth they have undergone.

What kind of facial design techniques does Studio Ghibli employ?

In Ghibli's style, facial features are harmoniously balanced, avoiding the exaggerated proportions common in many manga styles. When you begin sketching a face, pay close attention to the size and placement of each feature. The eyes, nose, and mouth should be in proportion to each other and the size of the face. This creates a more lifelike and relatable character, which is a signature of Ghibli's approach.

The eyes are central to expressing the character's emotions and spirit. While maintaining proportion with the rest of the face, a notable Ghibli characteristic is the slightly larger inner part of the eye. This doesn't mean the entire eye is oversized, but rather that the area around the pupil and iris is given more emphasis. This emphasis on the inner eye adds depth and intensity, conveying the character's inner thoughts and feelings, such as determination, curiosity, or wonder.

One of the most recognizable features of Ghibli's character design is the way hair is depicted. It tends to be thick, with volume, and often ends in rounded tips. This gives a soft, almost fluffy appearance to the hair, distinguishing it from the sharper, more angular styles commonly seen in other anime and manga genres. When drawing hair in this style, start by sketching out the overall shape and volume before adding individual strands. Focus on creating a sense of fullness and movement.

For profiles, focus on small, subtle noses and prominent chins. Keep your lines simple and fluid. This approach is key to achieving the Studio Ghibli look in profile drawings.

Pay attention to neck proportions. Miyazaki's female characters often have thin necks, while males have slightly thicker ones. This subtle difference is crucial for gender representation in your drawings.

What is the color direction in Studio Ghibli artwork?

Studio Ghibli's mastery in color design is not just about creating visually appealing scenes; it's about using color as a narrative tool. As artists, we can learn to use color to add depth and emotion to our work, making our art not just seen but felt. Emulating Ghibli's style means understanding the power of color in storytelling and using it to weave our own artistic tales.

The choice of color in your artwork is a powerful tool for conveying emotions. This technique is subtly but effectively employed in Ghibli's animations, where colors do more than just fill space; they evoke feelings and set the mood.

Clothing: The color palette in Ghibli's clothing tends to be earthy and muted, complementing the overall aesthetic of the film. The textures, implied through rough lines and shading, suggest a tactile quality, like linen, wool, or silk.

Use contrasting colors to highlight characters or elements. Implement harmonious color palettes to create a cohesive and inviting scene.

Conversely, when depicting sadness, reflection, or solemnity, use muted tones. These are colors that have been toned down by adding gray or by reducing their saturation. Muted colors don't command the scene but rather create a backdrop of introspection and quietude. Imagine a scene of a character in contemplation, surrounded by soft blues and grays, conveying a sense of calmness and melancholy.

How does Studio Ghibli embrace simplicity in their works?

Studio Ghibli's style is marked by simplicity and clarity. Avoid overcomplicating your lines. This simplicity is not just in the facial features but extends to the overall character design.

Studio Ghibli's approach to facial features is characterized by clean, uncluttered lines. When drawing faces, focus on capturing the essence of each feature without excessive detailing. For example, eyes should be expressive but not overly ornate; noses and mouths are often depicted with just a few subtle lines. This simplicity lends a timeless quality to the characters and allows their expressions to come through more powerfully. It also makes the characters more relatable and lifelike, as the lack of over-exaggeration in features mirrors the subtlety of real human expressions.

The principle of simplicity extends beyond facial features to the entire body. Ghibli characters are often drawn with a minimalistic approach to their form. Limbs, torsos, and other body parts are rendered in a way that is straightforward and devoid of unnecessary complexity. This approach enhances the storytelling, as viewers can easily read the body language and movement of the characters. It's about capturing the essence of motion and emotion without getting lost in intricate details.

In Ghibli films, clothing is used not just as a costume but as a part of the character's identity. However, even here, simplicity rules. Clothes are drawn in a way that suggests their texture and style without intricate patterning or excessive folds. Accessories, when used, are integral to the character's story or personality and are not just decorative. They are also drawn in a simple style, complementing the character without overwhelming their design.

Even in the rendering of backgrounds and environments, there is a clear emphasis on simplicity and clarity. Landscapes and interiors are drawn with enough detail to set the scene and mood, but not so much that they overshadow the characters.

How does Studio Ghibli use costume design in their art?

Miyazaki often draws inspiration from historical clothing styles, blending elements from different periods and cultures. This creates a timeless quality, where the clothing seems familiar yet not tied to any specific era. To incorporate this into your designs, study various historical clothing styles. Look at how fabrics drape, how seams are constructed, and the types of accessories used. Then, blend these elements in a way that feels both nostalgic and fresh.

The charm in Ghibli's clothing design often comes from small, whimsical details. This could be a unique pattern on a garment, an unusual hat, or an accessory that has a story behind it. These charming details should not be overly flamboyant. They are subtle, yet they add depth and personality to the character. Think of how a small brooch, a patterned scarf, or a pair of hand-crafted shoes might reflect the character's personality or background.

In line with Ghibli's overall aesthetic, clothing lines are not overly refined or precise. They have a hand-drawn, almost sketch-like quality that adds to the organic feel of the characters. Despite the roughness of the lines, the style of the clothing is rich, suggesting a depth of texture and a sense of history. This contrast between the roughness of the drawing and the richness of the style adds a layer of visual interest and makes the characters stand out.

Many of Ghibli's characters are adventurers or travelers, and their clothing reflects this. Designs are not just for show; they have a sense of practicality. Clothes fit the characters' lifestyles - they are wearable, functional, and move naturally with the character. When designing, think about how a character would live in their clothes. How would a dress look when running through a forest? How would a coat fare on a windy day? This practical approach grounds the characters, making them more relatable and real.


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