Friday, July 17, 2009

What influences video games - Animation

Video Games started off with really basic looking characters and backgrounds. The idea of realistic graphics was impossible to pull off until recently. Therefore video game designers had to turn to more artistic representations of reality to get their ideas across. This lead to borrowing a lot of ideas from animation.


Disney and a lot of early animators and cartoonists perfected the art of anthropomorphic animals. In this school of art it is not important to keep the animal looking like its reality. The reason artists wanted to give animal characters more human features was to make them more relatable to the viewer. These humanizing features also helped with portraying emotion and character. The basic idea was to take an animal and make a few key changes to it; have it stand upright on two feet, elongate its arms and legs, give it fingers and thumbs, enlarge the eyes, and widen the mouth. The changes to the arms and legs allowed for the animation to move more fluidly and represent gestures. Giving the animal fingers and thumbs made it so the character could now interact with the world around it. The enlarged eyes and mouth gave the animation more personality and portray emotion. Everything in animation is usually exaggerated and this can only work when the characters features are also over the top.

Bugs Bunny is a perfect examples of pulling these techniques off. He still looks like a rabbit while having exaggerated human features.

Klonoa is suppose to be his own breed of animal but as you can see he has cat-like features mixed with human elements. The standard things are exaggerated and elongated (legs, arms, hands, feet) but his ears are also long. These ears not only create a unique animation but also add to the gameplay.

I can't write about animal characters without mentioning Sonic the Hedgehog. You can read more about him here.


The Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 try and make human characters look as realistic as possible. However, before these consoles, realistic high definition graphics were not common (some games still tried to pull off realism but not to the extent they do now). Older games used highly stylistic art designs to create an appealing character without having to be realistic. When game designers are trying to create a characture of a person they also borrow a lot from Disney as well as Anime.

Many people do not realize but Anime and Disney have a lot in common. Anime is highly influenced by "Steamboat Willie" the very first Mickey Mouse cartoon. These Disney cartoons were such a success in the west as well as in Japan that the Disney signature (big eyes, overly expressed emotions, and slapstick humour) is still prevelant in Anime today.

Steamboat Willie. Probably the most important cartoon ever created. The styles seen in this cartoon were almost unheard of before. Disney was a pioneer in animation and how to make it look fluid and not stiff. Even though Mickey Mouse is far from being a human the animation in this short influenced everything.

Astro boy is one of the older Japanese characters. Notice the big eyes and exaggerated emotion. These are all traits the Japanese learned from watching Disney.

You will notice that most stylized humans in games feature big eyes. These big eyes help with expressing emotion (just like with animal characters). Also these characters usually have enlarged heads. The face is the most important thing for the player to read their character (especially in older games where the hero rarely spoke) and when you have a big head you can exaggerate the face.

Super Mario is easily the most recognizable figure in video games. He is such a great character not only because of his early design but also for his later more polished design. Once Nintendo had the technology they made Mario more cartoon-like. His features could fit into any Disney movie.

Final Fantasy VII is full of anime characters. Final Fantasy VII is one of the first games to bring anime into 3D. The overly anime stylized characters in the game matched perfectly with the quirky storyline.

Link from The Windwaker. Rather than going with the realistic look, The Windwaker took Zelda into a cartoony animation style. It was a blend of modern Anime and Disney. Some features (such as the eyes and certain character emotions) came from anime, while the colours and enemy models look like they are straight out of a Disney movie. This cel-shading style (the use of 2D art on 3D character) has become extremely popular.

Tex Avery

If there is one other person who is just as influencial to animation as Walt Disney, it is Tex Avery. Tex Avery worked for Warner Brothers and later MGM, designing the characters Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig. However, what Tex Avery is most remembered for is his animation style and direction. Tex Avery took the Disney school of thought to the extreme. Tex believed you could do anything with animation and proved it. His characters were much more flexable and had extreme emotions. Certain things we take for granted in animation like the double take, eyes popping out of a characters head, characters falling off cliffs into a puff a smoke, and cartoons having a sarcastic tone to them (Whats up Doc?) were all popularized by Tex Avery. He pushed animation into a truely unique form of comedy that was a perfect blend of both slapstick, and smart-humour.

A typical Tex Avery character emotion. Even though the character is very distorted it is still recognizable and easy to read.

Daffy Duck is one level of Tex's comedy. Daffy is comepletely insane and is almost constantly on the edge of a mental breakdown. You can also see Porky Pig who was a much different character under Tex Avery (and the villian Porky evolved into Elmer Fudd).

Bugs Bunny is the opposite of Daffy Duck. A complete straight character whose sarcastic tone and straight talk helps highlight the craziness around him.

These animation techniques were brought over into video games very early. Older games could not be subtle in their animations and needed exaggeration to get their point across. Tex Avery techniques were used to fully animate characters and make them more fun to play. It also helped introduce a level of humour to some early games.

The Battletoads may have been a cheap Ninja Turtles rip off but their animations were almost completel borrowed from old Tex Avery cartoons. Notice how the characters are very flexible and eyes popping out of their heads.

Sonic the Hedgehog was animated much like a Tex Avery cartoon. Sonic's speed lended itself perfectly to the rubber like aspects of Tex's style. In Sonic 2, the lead characters gained the ability to roll into a ball and speed off in a blur. This transformation is much like something Tex would have done. Also Sonic has a bit of a Bugs Bunny attitude.

The old NES Super Mario Brothers had a simple gag in it. When Mario died he faced the screen with an emotion of despair and fell off. This is exactly like when a cartoon charater walks off a cliff and looks at the viewer before he falls, which was a Tex Avery trademark. The death in this video is from a glitch but the animation is the same no matter how you die.

Dhalsim was one of the more unique fighters in Street Fighter 2. What made him so strange was his ability to stretch and contort his body. The rubber qualities of Dhalsim are very similiar to a Tex Avery cartoon in which the characters were always stretched in every which way. This picture is from the newest revision of Street Fighter 2.

The Nintendo character most influenced by Tex Avery is Kirby. Kirby may take a lot of cues from anime in his design, but the gameplay is all Tex Avery. Kirby stretches and contorts his body as he eats his enemies or flies through the sky. He can change his form into a completely different physical shape and structure to attack with special powers. If Tex Avery was designing video games you can bet he would create a character like Kirby.

Because of the early cartoon like nature of video games it was only natural for designers to take some cues from animation. Furthermore, videogames started off as a children's market so it was only natural to tie it to another thing that children liked. Animation helped give designers the tools they needed in order to make a memorable and appealing game.

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