I'm trying to get my head around what makes an animated movie look like a cartoon, and not like a real movie. Take the Disney/Pixar Cars image below as an example.

enter image description here

It's not photo realistic, yet it feels very sharp and detailed. Is it something with the lighting? Are there less reflections than a real live photo?

I'm trying to find Blender tutorials on how to get a cartoon look, but I just find a lot of cel shading tutorials, which is not this at all.

Any pointers or good tutorials out there would really be helpful. Also what is a proper word to search for? "Cartoon 3d tutorial" doesn't work. What is cars? Isn't that a cartoon?

I will be using Cycles as my renderer.

  • $\begingroup$ This doesn't really answer your question, but you can download pixar's render engine for free I'm pretty sure. renderman.pixar.com/view/renderman4blender $\endgroup$ Dec 31, 2016 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ Now if you wanna create a picture like pixar's movie production it's gonna take some knowledge of the art of imagery... what you see out of pixar studio are the work of many artist with lots of tools and workflow involved ... they render their image in really high resolution and apply complex supersampling to make those edges pop.... so really it's great imagery but also great amount of people and tools behind it. $\endgroup$
    – hawkenfox
    Dec 31, 2016 at 16:58

2 Answers 2


As per the comments, there is an army of people behind any particular animation of the size and scope of a Pixar animation.

While you suggest that you aren't going for photorealism, it is extremely important to understand and embrace that every concept, from the rendering shaders on up to the output transforms you see on your screen are in fact rooted in photorealistic theory and physics.

So where to start for something like "I want to learn about Pixar?" Seems like a question that no one might have an answer to, or if they do, it might be long reams of answers that don't help someone down the path of education.

Shockingly, there is in fact a wonderful resource on the entire pipeline, from math to colour to composition, all the way up, specifically about Pixar.

While going through the following course won't make you a machine that can crank out Pixar animations overnight, it is a terrific introductory set of studies and knowledge that just about everyone can learn something from.

Enjoy Pixar in a Box.

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    $\begingroup$ @Niclas Sadly I think many might run away from it thinking it is for younger people. It is an amazing resource than anyone in a pipeline should follow through. The granularity of concepts is amazing as well as giving a terrific forest-through-trees evaluation of complexities. The videos are equally amazing. Can't recommend it enough and happy if it led you to work through it. $\endgroup$
    – troy_s
    Dec 31, 2016 at 19:36

Q:What makes an animated movie look like a cartoon?

A:Many things contribute to the animated cartoony look of a cg film, like lighting, and shading, even the way the characters move, but I think in the case of your example, proportions play the largest factor.

In the image posted from Pixar's Cars, many of those textures look 'photo-sourced', like the leaves and wood.Normally we'd think photo-sourcing would lead to realism, but the proportions of the cars indicate immediately that it is a cartoon production.If you want to create a cartoon production in 3d, I think it starts with designing the proportions first.

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting note about proportions. Thanks for pointing that out! $\endgroup$
    – Niclas
    Dec 31, 2016 at 21:52
  • $\begingroup$ You're welcome. Good Luck! $\endgroup$
    – Emboo2
    Jan 6, 2017 at 1:52

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