Working on an Environment in Ghibli Style

Working on an Environment in Ghibli Style

Kids With Sticks team talked about the production of their recent stylized scene which turned out to be the starting point of their new game inspired by Ghibli. You can learn even more information in their recent blog post.

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Currently, Kids With Sticks studio consists of 5 people working full time and a lot of friends helping us out. Each of us specializes in something different so as to support each other in their daily work. The team consists of


We worked on lots of games and combined, we have 35+ years of experience. For more information, please visit our website at where we will share information about how we work, what we do, etc.

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Game in Development: Style

Unfortunately, we cannot disclose many details about our game in development at the very moment, but the art style of the Ghibli studio is our main inspiration. What we take from a handful of Miyazaki’s films is primarily colorwork and environment design. By choosing this style, we wanted to get out of the comfort zone and do something that we do not deal with on a daily basis - that allows us to artistically and technically express and fulfill ourselves. Of course, we also derive visual solutions from the whole anime culture. We have a difficult task ahead of us because as people brought up in the circle of European civilization, we must understand this Far Eastern phenomenon and get to know the culture of Asia a bit more.

Contrast and the right color space are the basis of our work. Thanks to the fact that Ghibli movies use traditional painting techniques (watercolor, gouache), the palettes are very distinct, and the only difficulty was to identify these colors. Of course, the very reproduction of them in the engine is rather laborious but fun work that involves changing sliders, HDR textures, and lighting settings as well as training your artistic eye in general. It sounds trivial but the learning process is endless for us.


We are still considering various texturing techniques and want to combine several of them. Thanks to recent changes in Substance Painter we can finally use Photoshop brushes which will help us work on texturing. Some objects require texture atlas and here we will paint them by hand in Photoshop, other models must have dedicated textures and they will be created in Substance Painter (we also tested 3D Coat but decided that it would be better for us to focus on one program to have a transparent way of working with models across the team).

The main idea of ​​building an environment is that we do not focus on single objects like props - all elements of the environment, even the sky, must interact with the scene. When the scene is the most important thing, we are not afraid to throw in only a slightly textured object if it supports the general artistic direction for the selected scenery.

As for materials, we do not use anything difficult here. We divided the stage into various materials for objects, grass, and trees. Trees need to have different materials with gradient control to achieve color blending like when painting with watercolors, and the grass has to blend with the ground despite having a different shade, and so for each type of grass, we have separate instances of the main material.

Base grass material:

As you can seem we don’t use normal maps for grass, the same goes for leaves.

Master material for trees:

The most important part is the gradients that control the color and the block responsible for locally distributed gradients per tree, not all the objects in the scene:


When working on the skyboxes, we started by gathering sky references from Ghibli’s colorful library. And there is a lot to chew on. We picked a couple, and later on, it was more or less a trial and error practice. We tried to imitate those skyboxes as closely as possible. For now, skyboxes are projected inside a sphere with static texture painted in Photoshop. Further on, we plan to make animated clouds to give more life to our world. 

The funny thing is that we started to build the first scene specifically from the sky because it determines the overall mood.

Some of our references:

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Restrictions & Guidelines

We did not really think about optimization while working on this first scene - it was made to test the artistic assumptions, colors, and tools that might allow us to enter the production of assets and learn what this style means to us. 

But even without any optimization, the scene isn’t so heavy.

The game we are making will require a specific approach to asset design, and therefore we are not concerned about optimization (which, by the way, will be standard limits in terms of material production, shadow distances, and additional lights, number of vertexes, and rational design to avoid unnecessary detail where it is not visible). In the post-process, we only use color grading with LUT to get closer to the colors of the selected shots from the Ghibli movies. The big conclusion after testing is that what turns out to be a nice still frame doesn't always work for a game in motion. As a result, we made a decision to take frames from anime movies as inspiration, not strict artistic guidelines.


The light in our scene is directional with a low, almost textbook value of 3.14. We did not place additional light sources and controlled the brightness by choosing the right sky map instead. We let the textures and materials do the job of drawing the mood. The key thing for us was the use of distance field ambient occlusion which made the picture "glue itself together". 

Lightning for a day/night scene:

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The simplified workflow consisted of lighting the stage with directional light with a color/temperature appropriate for a given time of day - the light must harmonize with the color and intensity of the sky, - then choosing the right skylight that will illuminate the scene in an expected way, and then determining the DFAO color to get rid of contrast peaks in the spots the light does not reach or reaches minimally.

Kids With Sticks Team

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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Comments 4

  • Anonymous user



    Anonymous user

    ·a year ago·
  • James

    Thanks for sharing, love the detail!



    ·2 years ago·
  • Anonymous user

    So nice. When I saw it I already imagined I was running around with character. Great world to explore


    Anonymous user

    ·2 years ago·
  • Anthony Hsu

    Loved the visual! This is amazing!


    Anthony Hsu

    ·2 years ago·

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