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JezMM

The Animation of Sonic Games

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So, several years in the making, New Frame Plus recently released this behemoth of a video:

It's a really excellent analysis and I heartily recommend giving it a watch (though understandably, maybe pair it up with a chore or watch it piecemeal if you aren't passionate enough about the subject to just sit down and watch a nearly 2 hour video).  The author is a professional animator, and has a pretty level-headed opinion in that he is not much of a fan of the franchise but is very fair towards it and its challenges (both in terms of what Sonic's character design poses in terms of animation challenge and... literally the development challenges of doomed projects like 2006 and Boom).  (For those whom it matters to, he's a fairly calm narrator too, there's plenty of little jokes here and there but no obnoxious youtuber stuff like constant live-action comedy sketches interrupting the video etc).

I find myself agreeing with a lot of his thoughts, as well as what he considers the high points and low points for animation in the series.  The general conclusion he comes to by the end is that he'd like to see Sonic animated, especially in 3D, as more of a cartoon character than he is currently.  He also observes that Sonic characters PROBABLY need a redesign to some degree to become easier to animate.  At this point, we've had the modern Sonic design long enough that I'm ready for a fresh look, but if they do keep it the same - which is fine, I still like it - they need to appreciate that his modern look stemmed from a 3D approximation of 2D artwork... so you better put the budget, time, effort and trickery involved into making him animate like a 2D character as well, with all the squashy, stretchy, cheaty tricks and techniques that entails.

While I'd love a bit of discussion on this video and its observations - whether you agree or disagree with them - it isn't mandatory, so feel free to also use this topic to highlight the animation styles for Sonic you think work best or worst over the years, or animation styles you've seen elsewhere that you'd love to see the franchise take a crack at - either in this world with all of Sonic Team's limitations, or a perfect one where money and time is no object.

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I just want in game cutscenes to convey Sonics speed in a way that doesn't look like crap. In CG it's just fine but man whenever they need Sonic to move fast in-game it look jank as all hell 

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2 hours ago, JezMM said:

He also observes that Sonic characters PROBABLY need a redesign to some degree to become easier to animate. 

That's a point I'm not sure I agree with. Particularly about how he pointed to RoL as an example of this but...I don't really think there's all that much of a difference where it matters? They don't have quite as much of the "big hands" problem as some other takes on the characters and they're a hair more human-shaped overall, but I feel like most of the differences in design (Knuckles' proportions aside) are pretty surface level. And he specifically praises the facial animation but I think the faces are the least different parts of the characters and the only reason the Modern designs aren't animated as well is because they just haven't bothered. I dunno, I'm not an animator so maybe there's something subtle going on that I'm missing.

Also I completely disagree with his thoughts on Boom Sonic's running animation he looks like he's just flopping around and it's real gross. Other than that it's a really good analysis and I mostly agree with what he's said.

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Oh yeah, forgot about that, I definitely felt the same about Boom's running animation, was a genuine "are we looking at the same thing here?" moment.  The rippling effect maybe could work but overall it has the same horrible sillouhette issue as 2006's fanned arms running.

Regarding the faces, my guess was that he means - judging by the evidence in front of him - their faces don't have enough points of articulation in their designs to allow for more expressive animation in-game.  But yeah that's another anomaly in his argument that I don't really follow.  Modern characters could definitely be animated as expressively as Boom characters without any changes needed.

To be honest actually, if more cartooney squash and stretch was used, they could probably use that to get around clipping issues with the giant hands and feet.  Shrink and squash them as needed to fit around one another for particular movements, etc.  I'm sure it could be done without being noticable by a skilled animator.

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34 minutes ago, JezMM said:

Shrink and squash them as needed to fit around one another for particular movements, etc.  I'm sure it could be done without being noticable by a skilled animator.

It'd be noticeable but that really shouldn't matter

Shadow crossing his arms in the opening of his game is the first and only time that's ever looked good and it's very obvious his arm is very clearly mis-placed or elongated to  make it work

Stuff like that just shouldn't matter as much in 3D

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This was a good video. A lot of it was stuff I had realized already but there was also a few details I either never noticed before or never thought much of. The biggest, hardest pill to swallow was just how The Adventure games's movement animations just don't hold up in some ways. I really do prefer them to most of what came after still but I hadn't even registered flaws like the jittery movement at the highest speeds. 

It also made me realize that yeah, completely separating my feelings toward the designs, Sonic Boom has some clean, snappy gameplay animations that would hold up compared to the average action game. Maybe it's nothing to write home about in the grand scheme of things but compare the melee animations in Black Knight and it's hard to complain. I just don't think the designs of Sonic Boom contributed to that improvement. The smaller tweaks like giving the characters more defined shoulders did, but there were a lot of additions there that were completely unnecessary or even detrimental to their appeal. 99% of the improvement came from the approach toward animating the characters changing. 

I'm glad someone highlighted Lost World's animation tweaks too since I think they were really good at showing off the personality and appeal character. 

I wish he had dug into the handheld titles more, but playing all of these games back to back is more Sonic than I would wish on my worst enemy. This is much more thorough than I was expecting going to it. I usually expect Sonic analysis from outsiders to be half hearted but this was pretty great. 
 

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Finished the video and yeah it's good. I'm kinda surprised he gave post Unleashed games their dues when it comes to the animation since I'm just used to those games being criticized for it though I guess it's less about the animation and more the staging of the cutscenes.

Either way the man did his reasaerch  and I don't disagree strongly with any of it really except some parts of boom I guess. I'm glad he highlighted the bouncy fun animations on display in SLW since I always thought it was one of the games stronger points 

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I didn't expect to watch all of that but I did. I've never heard of this person before but he makes a damn good video. I found I agreed with most of the points he brought up. I was a little torn on his opinion on the vibrating run in SA2 but ultimately landed on that not really mattered because animation in that game is 20 years dated at this point anyway. Same with Heroes a bit. I did always find the CG in those cutscenes to be a little on the edge of good, especially with stuff like the dollar signs appearing in Vector and Charmy's eyes. So when he says the Chaotix lack a certain appeal the way they're animated in those scenes it's a little harder to see for me. They made such a huge impression on me as a child so I guess it's hard to look past it probably.

All this said, I am happy that the sentiments on Unleashed and Boom mirrored mine almost to a T. Although, I'm not quite sure I get where he's coming from when he says Boom Sonic's running looks good. It kind of looked a little like he was turning into Gumbi a bit but other than that, yeah. Just looking at Tails' face in that one Boom cutscene where he's tinkering and fiddling with the laser whip device kind of enamored me. It's SUCH a shame.

Forces not moving the needle in either direction is... mostly true. I would argue it looks worse than the last three boost games and especially Sonic Lost World. I guess only really because the limitations in the animation stands out way more when the animation style and models haven't changed for the past 10 years on top of a lot of obvious shortcuts being made like in that one really awful scene where they're fighting all the clones. It doesn't help that it's pixelated as fuck too.

I have no clue what's next for Sonic in this department. They've been way more into animation lately than they used to be and the gap in time between now and Forces has made it damn near impossible to figure out what the state of the series is going to be moving forward. At present, we haven't seen what Mania's success is going to lead to seeing as how Forces began development before that game was a thing. 

I can only hope the needle is moved somewhere good but it won't surprise me if it stays right where it is. Honestly, one of the few things that would immediately catch people's eyes for the next game's marketing success would and should be a change in animation style. Not designs. I don't agree that the specific designs should change. I think it's totally possible to squeeze good expressions out of them with their eyes shaped that way. You just need your 3D animation to take after the 2D stuff or the comics more often. So many advancements have been made nowadays that it's harder to argue that isn't possible either. Or at least, it's harder to buy that it isn't possible.

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Good vid. Only problem is that the Sonic designs are actually GREAT for expressive cartoony animation. The problem is they don't take advantage of that and try to make the character acting just look "normal".

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Admittedly, the limbs, particularly the hand and feet size are quite an issue to pose/animate when trying to convey expressions or actions we're used to. Have you ever tried making them hold something like a cup while respecting all proportions? People don't really realize it when we cheat in 2D lol.

In general, I do agree with the sentiment that some aspects of the character design gets in the way, and I would not mind many alterations the Boom series has made to make them easily workable with. And that's coming from someone that did not take them very well at first lol.

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18 hours ago, Natie said:

Good vid. Only problem is that the Sonic designs are actually GREAT for expressive cartoony animation. The problem is they don't take advantage of that and try to make the character acting just look "normal".

 

100% correct.

The current designs are more than capable a wide range of complex and expressive emotions. Different projects are just either more or less inclined to deform and manipulate the character models to produce the desired effects. Some barely do it at all, with predictable results, while others take the cartoon inspiration and run with it.

 

I mean, its not hard to compare the conversational stills of games to see the end result in action. In games like TSR the character models remain mostly stiff and unchanged across 90% of the gambit of emotions leading to bland posing and hard to comprehend visual clarity. In many cases, entire sets of a characters emotion boards are nearly identical, which should be chargeable as a criminal offense.

In Free Riders, who ever was in charge here had more clearance to crank the emoting up about 25% and be more dramatic with pose work. The difference is night and day. The poses and expressions read better, and the characters use their exaggerated features to their advantage, rather than as a hindrance to emoting.

 

Sonic_Shocked.jpg.e94f654a956e1ee9a75148f7da278571.jpg

 

That's more or less the exact same pose, and both are the reaction shot utilized for the "surprised" emotion, but only one of those two looks like any actual effort went into utilizing Sonic's features to sell the emotion. You can't knock the character model for not being utilized. All the tools you need to make expressive characters are already there, you just got to put them to work.

And then there are games that lean into this manipulation further still, and the results are almost always great when it comes to expressiveness.

 

This isn't a problem with a design of the characters themselves. This is a deliberate choice made by the people who are doing the animation. (or possibly a cost cutting measure - who knows).

 

 

 

 

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4 minutes ago, StaticMania said:

You can if they aren't built for certain expressions or exaggerated movements

but... they are?   People who go in with the intent of making the exact same character models emote and feel more alive have proven so time and time again. In both fan and official capacity no less.

 

Calling out the Sonic character models as inexpressive is like calling out your oven for not being hot when you were the one who forgot to turn it on.

You get out what you put in. plain and simple.

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1 minute ago, Sega DogTagz said:

People who go in with the intent of making the exact same character models emote and feel more alive have proven so time and time again. In both fan and official capacity no less.

The eyes don't really look good in those videos because they weren't meant to make those expressions -- so there's usually something off

People tend to have better results from original models

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10 minutes ago, StaticMania said:

The eyes don't really look good in those videos because they weren't meant to make those expressions -- so there's usually something off

People tend to have better results from original models

 

The eyes don't look good because more often then not the games rarely prioritize putting in the effort of contorting Sonic's eyebrows and facial structure to match his emotions. It no different from making a human face smile without adjusting his/her cheeks or brows. You can do it sure, but the end result will be lesser for it. Its not gonna feel the same. It certainly will have less of an effect on the viewer.

 

and its not like a ton of original models are pulling some radical dark magic to achieve better results. The same tricks they are using can, and have been, applied to official models in the past. The in-game models in the riders series were wildly expressive because the dev's went off the deep end with cartoon distortion. Marza's efforts in stuff like Night of the Werehog and the Unleashed Cinematics are far more expressive than the normal fare, despite using the exact same Sonic model everyone else at Sega has access to. The only difference here is the buy in of understanding that a.) Sonic is a cartoon character and b.) you actually need to use Sonic's face and body to sell his emotions.

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12 minutes ago, Sega DogTagz said:

and its not like a ton of original models are pulling some radical dark magic to achieve better results.

It's nothing extreme but it's something Sega still refuses to do

Sonic's model changes all the time and only to be cheaper

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