The Animation of Sonic Games - YouTube video by New Frame Plus

Discussion in 'General Sonic Discussion' started by Level Zone Act, Mar 5, 2021.

  1. Level Zone Act

    Level Zone Act

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    Sorry if there's an existing thread that this should go in. I searched titles for "animation" and a few other terms, but couldn't find a place it could fit, so I'm giving it a thread of its own...

    The game animation channel New Frame Plus has done a video analysing the animation of the Sonic series, both in-game and cutscenes. He's restricted himself to only the platformers that were released on consoles (so no Advance games, Spinball, Olympics, Sonic R, or Rush), but otherwise it's very thorough:



    Timestamps from the video description:

    I particularly liked the comparisons of how many different unique run cycles Sonic goes through as he accelerates in different games. He points out something that's never consciously occurred to me before: most of the best examples of Sonic accelerating begin with a lot of up-and-down/side-to-side movement to indicate that he's struggling a bit; then when he reaches full speed his head position goes rock solid, enhancing the feeling that running at top speed is his natural state. He notes that this is one of the changes for the worse that was made between Sonic Adventure 1 and 2: SA2 gets it wrong by giving his head up-and-down motion when he's running at full speed, which turns into a vibrating, flickering effect (most obvious when running down the wall in City Escape).

    Focusing on the games' animation means that Shadow the Hedgehog and Sonic Boom come out stronger than they do in most retrospectives on the series! And it means Chaotix gets some praise for reasons other than being an odd experimental curio.

    A few times in the video, he talks about how the proportions of the Sonic character designs make inherently difficult to show certain poses (e.g. crossed arms) and expressions in the cutscenes. One thing that might be relevant to that issue, but which he understandably didn't discuss, is how the 2D cartoons (AOSTH, Sonic X, Sonic CD intro, Sonic Mania Adventures, etc) handled those restrictions, and how much of what they did could potentially be translated into CG.


    TL;DW summary: his bottom and top 5 examples of animation in Sonic games, in chronological order:

    Bottom 5: Sonic 3D, Sonic Adventure 2, Sonic 2006, Sonic & the Black Knight, Sonic 4

    Top 5: Sonic 2, Sonic Unleashed, Sonic Lost World, Sonic Boom, Sonic Mania (with an honourable mention for Knuckles' Chaotix)
     
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  2. Metalwario64

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    I always vastly preferred SA2's animations to the first game's. Sonic's walk might be a bit underplayed, but everything looks more fluid and natural instead of stiff and robotic.

    The full speed running animation in SA2, along with all of the transitions towards full speed which result in him progressively leaning more forward and his legs swinging further back faster are massive improvements over the first game's robotic animations.

    The SA2 full speed run has always been one of my favorite Sonic run cycles:
    [​IMG]

    (ignore the shoes, they're the SADX ones I just modded onto the SA2B model for a project I'm working on).

    He seemed so fixated on how fast his head bobbed at full speed, and I'd argue it looks cool and shows how much more effort he's putting into maintaining that speed than he does his walk, and he ignored all of the nuances I mentioned.

    Also, he seemed to state that Shadow the Hedgehogs goofy rubber animations were superior on the grounds that they were "more expressive" and cartoony. Lost me there.
     
  3. Josh

    Josh

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    Dan praised the animation for looking good in slow motion, as it is in that GIF, but he said in the game itself it's looped so quickly that it just turns into a mess of vibrating noise.
     
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  4. nineko

    nineko

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    Now that was an interesting video. I usually don't comment like this, but I just had to say that.
     
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  5. Metalwario64

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    I know, and I disagreed and said that I feel it's a good way of conveying the speed and impact of how fast he's moving. I like it enough to be referencing it for my SRB2 Sonic:

    [​IMG]

    The overall animation speed seems to be the problem. As he demonstrated in the video, Sonic's walk is too fast which results in his feet sliding on the ground. If it was all slowed down by 10% or so then I think everything would look more natural.
     
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2021
  6. Beamer the Meep

    Beamer the Meep

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    I actually watched this the other day and I was kinda surprised by a lot of what he was talking about. As a former animation student, I can see parts of where he's coming from, but I think he's overplaying the exaggerated cartoony angle just a little bit. I have a feeling that while you could add just a bit more, Sonic Team wants to keep the series grounded. The moment you get Crash levels of exaggeration like he suggests they could do, the zaniness takes you out of it.

    A personal example would be a final I did for a 2D animation class. We had just finished a lesson on smear frames and as a result, we all wound up using smears way too much in our animations. The main critique was that the smears distracted you from the scene at hand because it was (ironically) over-animated. Too much exaggeration with squash and stretch can be immersion-breaking. Crash 4 just barely falls under that line and it's a little more appropriate for him than it would be for Sonic imo.
     
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  7. SystemsReady

    SystemsReady

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    I hate Sonic's run cycle in SA2. It doesn't look fluid enough to be something you could perform without falling over in a heap of limbs, and you see it in the SA2:B intro too. He's practically bow-legged in the first shot.
     
  8. Metalwario64

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    That intro animation is completely different from the in-game animation, and it always looked weird (it might be the same one from when Sonic runs towards Shadow in their first confrontation cutscene).

    This is the last I'll say on this subject so as not to be known as "the guy who whined about SA2's animations until his dying breath" (especially when it's not even my favorite Sonic game, and I think I prefer the first Adventure overall), but I just see SA1's animations as much more stiff and "video gamey":

    [​IMG]

    and SA2's as a much more expressive, fluid and successful at conveying the impact and speed of his fast steps:

    [​IMG]

    which then shortly transitions into this before he reaches full speed:

    [​IMG]

    That's the kind of thing I figured he'd be complimenting the animations on considering he was complaining about the stiff, lifeless mocap cutscenes for not being expressive, and praising rubber Shadow's animations. I also don't get why he thinks Sonic's head and body should move less as he starts to run from the walk. That like... makes no physical sense. You're running faster, your legs are pushing you off the ground more, so your whole body and head along with it will be moving much more. I know when I run fast I can feel the impact vibrations reach my head much more than when I just casually walk around the house.
     
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2021
  9. Josh

    Josh

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    I don't know, even on your GIFs, I think I prefer the SA1 animation. SA2's is just so bouncy. SA1's looks smoother and more sure-footed, there's a sense of confidence there that I don't see in SA2's. And while yeah, real life humans have to move like that when we sprint, the same physical rules shouldn't necessarily be applied to anthropomorphic hedgehogs. "More realism" isn't always a good fit for cartoon characters.

    But I will ABSOLUTELY agree that it's weird how much he praises Shadow's animations. Squash and stretch is a great principle, and I think it looks nice applied to Sonic's jump ball in Lost World and Forces. More dynamic character animation that "breaks the rules" to emphasize movement and speed could do so much for this series! But Shadow's animation, specifically, just looked over-the-top cartoony, and looks awfully dated now, too. It was a bizarre fit for his game's tone and aesthetic, too. Especially his vertical climbing animation, which I don't think Dan ever showed.
     
  10. Dek Rollins

    Dek Rollins

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    I was kind of surprised that he glossed over the difference in Sonic 2's jogging animation from Sonic 1, basically ignoring that it's completely different.

    Re: SA1 vs. SA2 running animations, SA1's look much better. Keeping his position more stable when he reaches top speed looks better and matches the classic games. It's much more satisfying to look at.

    I do not agree with his criticism of SA2's cinematic animation though. While they are filled with bits of jank, I think in most scenes the use of mo-cap looks good, and the characters have natural movement (ignoring some sloppy jittering and clipping that sometimes occurs). I don't think any other 3D Sonic game has had as good in engine cinematics as SA2. SA2's cinematic animations with extra polish to match the smoothness of Heroes' in engine cinematics would improve it a lot. The mo-cap only looked bad in '06.
     
  11. You know, as much a mess Sonic Boom: The Rise of Lyric is, I have do admit the characters in cutscene looks expressive as heck, even more than Unleashed, honestly. And I never noticed it right before, even tho' we have the show already the show that.
     
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  12. Frostav

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    When he mentioned the characters in the 3D games having hands and heads that were too big and the whole mascot suit effect, I thought, "huh". Then the next day I was checking out Sonic fanart on twitter and I could not help but notice that the vast majority of fanartists draw Sonic characters with much smaller hands and more expressive head proportions than the official 3D models and it's just impossible to not notice it now. He might be right about that.

    ...which only makes it more bizarre that Sonic Team's own artists and animators haven't noticed this at all?
     
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  13. LucasMadword

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    I doubt it's "haven't noticed it at all", my presumption is more that it's being mandated by the higher ups. A lot of artists and animators don't have the say in the final project. You are given style sheets to follow, and given animation direction. So, projects would have style sheets to follow, and then rig builders would have to work within those confines, which then further limits the animators. It's probably just some higher up at SEGA saying, "you can't make this relevant change to the character design", rather than a conscious effort to give Sonic huge arms and less expression lol, it probably comes down to, "this is how Sonic looked previously, create assets that suit that design".

    It's clear there's a lot of talented people at Sonic Team, so it just seems like budgetary and time constraints, along with mandating that consistency (however ironic that is) is maintained.
     
  14. RDNexus

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    I can't believe I actually went through the 105 minutes of that video ^^"
    To be honest, I deem some of NFP's opinions to be more personal bias about what makes good Sonic animation.
    He tends to lean towards more cartoony animation, something SA1 had to a certain amount, but he disliked it.
    He liked how Lost World seemed to revive some of the classics' appeal, but the sluggish animations break it to me.
    He also thinks a slight character redesign more into a BOOM/Live-Action style might make wonders to animation.
    Could do, especially if they attempted a more Live-Action style (I guess?), would need to see it happen to judge.
    My own bias nowadays (in a character design PoV) leans more to a mix of Classic/Adventure/Live-Action approach.
    When it comes to animation, I agree that time, experience and good budget are huge factors into devising a game.

    Wow... I didn't expect to write so much about this video... xD
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2021
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  15. DefinitiveDubs

    DefinitiveDubs

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    One thing I wish he had commented on is the overuse of "invisible grapefruits" character acting.

    In college, when learning the basics of acting on a stage, one of the first things we learned is to avoid looking like you're holding invisible grapefruits. IE having your arms outstretched and your palms open
    whenever you're talking. While it can be effective in one or two scenarios ("Can ya believe this schtick?! You seein' this guy?!"), it's mostly used as a cheap, lazy way of conveying excitement, annoyance, confusion, etc. Family Guy does this to a gratuitous extent. Sonic characters have also been doing this for a very, very long time, even without motion capture, and it annoys me to no end.
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2021
  16. Boxer Hockey

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    Ever since Sonic Colors onwards this has been especially egregious. Go back and watch the Colors cutscenes and watch as every character constantly cycles through the same two poses, one of which is the infamous "grapefruits" pose. You won't be able to unsee it. To people wondering if the character designs have anything to do with this, it absolutely does. They can live without adding shoulders or the other Boom changes, but every Modern!Sonic character needs at least a 15% size decrease in their hand/foot size easily. Those giant clumsy sausage mits are actually very limiting to performance.
     
  17. brandonj

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    You're saying Knuckles' thumbs SHOULDN'T be as big as his legs?

    [​IMG]
     
  18. Metalwario64

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    Yeah, the hands have gotten bigger over the years. I've been working with the SA2 model for my SRB2 project, and I've noticed the hands on that model are a bit smaller with slightly thinner fingers than what would come later (I think it's kinda apparent on my avatar). Definitely think that's about the size Sega should aim for, but I think if they go TOO small that it might borderline on weird fetish art, or the original movie design.

    The grapefruits thing is another thing that perplexed me about him saying that ditching the mocap was paying off in after Colors, since that was when everything was looking way more limited and cheap. Unleashed had more dynamic cutscenes with much better animations, going off of his video alone (since I have yet to play it, but I want to), and I think the motion capture looked very good there. Most things after that from all of the videos and reviews I've seen have been super stiff, limited cinematics where characters just stand around talking and waving their hands, as I've seen it put.

    On another note, the facial expressions being a problem with the designs isn't really a thing I feel, it's just a case where either the models aren't rigged properly or the animators are incompetent. The Boom faces aren't inherently more expressive in their design than the ones that came before and after. I do think we need new models with a bit more edge to them. I'm not fond of how cutesy modern Sonic has become with the super short quills and general roundness. I'd prefer a bit more of a pronounced brow ridge, longer, sharper quills and a slightly thinner muzzle.
     
  19. CaseyAH_

    CaseyAH_

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    You know somehow I haven't noticed how massive Knuckles' hands are before seeing them in a still image like this. If you told me this was a photoshop I'd believe you.
     
  20. Metalwario64

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    I've noticed it for quite a long time. Instead of looking like proportional boxing gloves, he looks like he's wearing those Hulk Smash hands. I can't remember if it was 06 or a Forces cutscene but I recall him running and it looked like his hands were being dragged behind him due to their sheer mass and weight, which is absurd looking.