July 17, 2010
A long time ago I described a method of creating realistic anime hair with The GIMP. Today I reproduce that method with a small limit: 30 minutes or less. Most people want hair done in less than 30 minutes. Anime or manga artists want it done in seconds. But once you've done this style once, you'll have good reason to put in a few minutes. Shojo comics and ren-ai games use this realistic style on very rare occasion to portray texture, depth, emotion, or something else. The reason why I find myself using it instead of my normal style of outlining sharp tufts of hair is for dramatic effect, showing people not a green haired mahou tsukai (魔法使い) but a living breathing shaded person. Even if they are fictional I like my characters to have some sort of reality because it improves my ability to tell a story.
Enough with the art, let's get down to the tech. The first thing to do is to draw the shape of the hair with large or medium size brush as seen below. This should only take you a moment because you should know what shape the hair will look. It's important that you draw this on a separate layer and never draw on it because you'll need it later. Trust me.
At this point you select the strands in whichever way you feel comfortable. Then grow the selection until the selection is selecting an outline of the hair. It doesn't matter if it's too large. At this point, shrink the outline until it is covering all strands. Create a new layer and fill the shape with white. This is your white background which you will draw upon. Now you must do the time intensive part: draw from the center of the head to the end of the strand. This will create strands of hair between the black strands that define the shape of the hair.
It doesn't look right yet does it? Take the shape strands and duplicate them. Hide the original in case you need to use it again. Use gaussian blur to turn the streaks into blurry dark lines over your textured strands. One last thing, go to the Colors/Levels menu item and adjust the alpha output levels to taste (my recommendation is to move white to around 128). You can also change the shape of the curve by moving the grey of the input levels to taste.
At this point you simply have the issue of removing the white halo around the strands. This can be done several ways but I suggest using guassian blur then the eraser to properly shape the tips. It's important that your character's hair look right and the tips of the hair are quite important. My example shows what it looks like if you do not shape the tips.
You can see that I rushed the face and didn't put a lot of effort into it but that's one obvious benefit of a good layer system: throw away that face and put in a better one.