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| "Animation Analysis of Vampire Series" , posted Sat 26 Apr 07:21:|
Hello Iggy and friends. Thanks for your illuminating posts on the Vampire series. Here is my contribution to the ongoing dialogue regarding the games:
Speaking of which, since I'm in a heavy Vampire mood, I was wondering what you (or any other animation pro out there) think of it, from a strict animation point of view? Even I recon it's less outstanding than SF3, but does it feel outdated for someone... well, that's not in love with each and every pixel of the series?
Especially Savior, actually : I know many Hunter players hate Savior because the old characters lost several animation frames, but I played Savior so much that I don't notice it at all. I'm used to them, and I wonder what an expert eye think of it.
I liked this question so much i figure it needed its own thread. This is a very complicated question, and animation like everything else is pretty subjective, but there are ways you can try to look at animation objectively. When I talk about animation in a technical sense, I'm mostly referencing things covered in the 12 basic principles of animation:
They're the 10 commandments of animation (well, 12 commandments--but you get the idea) set fourth by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, who were great pioneers of animation at Disney throughout its various golden ages. These 12 principles form the foundation for animation in the western tradition (ie Disney, Warner Bros, Pixar etc), but they're also found in good animation the world over. Everyone studies these at school (I imagine they study them in Japan as well).
I think one of the reasons all those Capcom fighters stood out is because Capcom combined their great talent, creativity and artistry, with technical knowledge of these 12 animation principles.
Now first off, let me get this out of the way: I LOVE the Darkstalkers/Vampire series. I like those characters as much as I like the SF cast. So I'm not exactly unbiased. At the same time I think objectivity is impossible in anything that requires an oppinion rather than solid mathematical evidence. So here goes.
I think the Vampire series animates pretty dang well. Darkstalkers is one of the first games I remember with such high quality animation. I guess you could say Aladin for the Sega Genesis beat it to the punch in terms of delivering super smooth, feature film quality animation. And there were other games in the past like Out of this World and Prince of Persia, but they were more rotoscoped than animated.
Anyway, I think Darkstalkers is notable for being the first game where the Capcom dudes started applying those 12 principles of animation to everything. I will now attempt to breakdown the Darkstalkers series according to how it fullfills each principle of animation. I'm just looking at the entire series in general.
1.) Squash and Stretch: This is something that alot of Anime doesn't do enough of (and consequently one of the main reasons why so many American animators hate non western animation). Squash and stretch refers to the animators ability to distort the mass of an object as it moves through space. It generally recalls that very bouncy, rubbery movments of Disney esque animation, but really it's broader than that. There's squash and stretch in real life all the time. Just pull in and extend your arm, your muscle mass will bunch up then stretch out. Or look at a cat. They curl up into tiny little balls then stretch out into super lithe torpedos.
Darkstalkers has alot of squash in stretch in obvious and in sublte places.
Look at how Akaris's tomb grows at the point of impact, then shrinks back. And also how his feet are very thin when they land on the ground until the rest of his mass catches up with them. It gives the attack a real pop:
Here you can see Zabel's limbs really stretch out, especially his back leg:
Q Bee is perhaps the best example of subtle squashing and stretching in the game. When she does her dive attack her entire body distorts greatly to emphasis the downward diagnal movment. If you go frame by frame you might be suprised by just how much they stretch her out, yet it feels perfectly natural in the game.
She was introduced years later when the animators had matured quite a bit in their abilities. I think her animation is about on par with SFIII animations. Come to think of it, that might be why i like her so much. That and she's just adorable. A cute meat eating bee woman, with a petite figure and a gigantic ass. AWESUM!
2.) Anticipation: this is the build up before the release of the action. Since this telegraphs movement, you can't have too much of this in a fighting game, cos moves should be fairly instantaneous. Still Capcom managed to implement this well. Most of the crouching animations for the characters already set up the characters for some sort of counter movement. If you look at the wolf man, from his crouching position he's super low to the ground, but any of his animations coming out of that are really dynamic and "pop" out with a counter movement. Basically every crouch in the game is a sort of anticipation pose:
A more direct example of anticipation can be seen here:
He's got a very nice windup before the actual punch. It's typical to have anticipation in games today, but that definitely wasn't the case in the 90s. And even today, most games today still don't have very good anticipation.
3.) Staging: Basically how the animation is framed in the shot. Now, of course, Darkstalkers only takes place in the side view with no zooming, just panning. But the stages are build around this concept and they feel very full. They don't feel flat and they are interesting and surround the action well, without distracting from it.
Look at how the killer plants in the background frame the action, rather than clash with it.
Darkstalkers has some GREAT stages. It was the first Capcom game to have bgs that felt like fully painted backdrops, rather than pixel art with repeating elements. Aside from being technically sound with good rendering, color choices and prespective, the stages were full of character and mood. Fetus of God will always be a personal favorite of mine. My older brother actually outright refused to play on that stage because it was so disturbing.
4.) Straight Ahead or Pose to Pose: This has more to do with the process of animation itself. When you animate, you can either draw out the key poses first, or you can just draw them one frame after another in order. Most people go back and fourth between the two. Complex character animations are generall done Pose to pose, while something like cloth or floppy secondary animations are done straightahead (though generally after the main animation has been worked out pose to pose). I imagine Capcom employed both techniques for this game. For instance, I'm sure Pyron's flame animations were done with straight ahead animation:
5.) Followthrough and overlapping action: This refers mostly to secondary things like clothing, hair, bouncing breasts etc, think of it as the aftermath of the main action. The Vampire games are good about this. DarkStalkers is one of the first games I can recall that has any followthrough animation at all. It's one of the first games where everyone's hair animates on a slight delay and the cloth animation isn't bad (like Dimitri's cape):
Felecia's hair has tons of volume and body. It bounces along as it trails her movements (this animation is also a great example of squash and stretch):
Also Dimitri and Pyron have a nice delay on their evil auras. They could have pushed some of the followthroughs further (its so easy to criticize animation by saying hypothetically, that anything could be pushed further), but it's good as it is. Capcom would later outdo themselves in this department with SFIII. That game has the best cloth animation out of any game, much better than any 3d simulations of cloth. But again, the fact that Darkstalkers had followthrough animation at all is commendable, especially for such a fast paced game with quick recovery times for most moves that don't leave much of a window for this sort of animation.
6.) Slow out and Slow in: This refers to changing the spacing and timing of actions so that it's not totally even (when animation is very even it is sometimes refered to as the "King Kong effect" refering to the old stop motion films where everything moved at basically the same speed). Darkstalkers is a real vanguard when it comes to Slow in and Slow out for game animation. I'm sure alot of you guys can recall the first time you saw Darkstalkers/Vampire and thought "wow that's beautiful, so smooth!". It's not just cos it had more frames of animation than any other game to date, but because they put those frames in the right places. Every action has a varied tempo.
For instance, look at Lillith's walk cycle. It's such a nice little skip, with a great lilt to it:
The frame padding in Vampire is very expertly done to give weight to the moves. Fierce attacks tend to have alot of frame padding, giving them a very meaty feeling. They looked and FELT stronger than weak attacks. The principle of slow in slow out is most obviously exhibited with the slower characters, like Victor with his giant club like limbs.
I liked playing him just because I liked watching his ponderous movements, which got more and more extreme as the games went on. I freaked out the first time i saw his charge special where his forearm grows HUGE and you can see all the muscles and tendons literally bursting out. But really, every character and every move in the game, even the quick little jabs was made with great consideration to slow in and slow out. Darkstalkers gets an A+ introducing the language of slow in slow out to videogames.
Oh and I almost forgot to mention, another thing the Vampire games do well is the characters tend to lead their actions with their shoulders and hips:
This is supremely important for imparting impact. It's also a basic principle of martial arts, that all your power comes from the center of your body. Alot of animation still does not utilize this principle. For instance, if you look at the new Iron Man game currently in production, his movements are very stilted and weightless because they don't originate from his torso.
For instance, when he picks someone up and throws them, the motion is lead by his hands when it should be lead by his shoulders, then his upper arm, then his forearm, then his hands. By leading with extremeties rather than the torso, you end up with animation resemblant of a marionette on strings.
7.) Arcs: Just about everything moves on an arc. Human locomotion can be broken down according the the arced rotation of our joints. This is another principle of animation that Darkstalkers really pushed. The way you execute on arcs in animation is you literally draw out arcs which you overlay on top of your animation for it to follow precisely. Here's an example of arcs being used for a walk cycle:
Arcs aren't just for promoting smooth circular movements, they are also essential for keeping your animation on track and not having things scoot out of place. For example, they probably didn't plan things out with arcs on SFHD Remix. That's why the animation in that game looks jerky with things popping off track all the time.
All the motions in Darkstalkers were certainly planned out with arcs. Some are quite obvious:
But really, everything in the game has good motion paths. This is such a basic thing in animation. You HAVE to plan stuff out on arcs, otherwise it just doesn't line up right frame to frame.
By the time they got to animating Vampire Savior, they were pulling off some really complex animation:
There are so many arcs going on in that motion, and alot of them are overlapping, turning in on themselves. While her legs are performing a very broad circular action, there's so much subtly going on in her torso, especially her shoulders. Look at how they loop towards the viewer. Then look at her head turning in perspective, with the antennae trailing behind forming another circle. This circular motion is also echoed in her Bee-hind (ha!). There's also a ton of great squashing and stretching going on with the spikes really popping out of her knees and more subtle stuff with her legs and stinger. There's also some great motion blurs on the wings, and great frame padding with her legs snapping into full extension only after a full rotation of the shoulders, into the torso, into her hips into her knees. There's so much weight as she throws her entire body into the cartwheel then catches herself and settles back onto the ground for a split second before resuming howevering. Everything about this animation is great and exhibits mastery of every principle of animation. This animation has it all !
8.) Secondary Action. Not to be confused with followthrough, this is more like minor actions supporting a main action. For instance, Gallon/J. Talbain's tail animations are a way excellent example of secondary action:
His tail is never the main action. For instance, in his stance, the main action would be him growling. That's what is being emphasized, but the tail gives an added sense of energy and even friskiness. If you took away his tail animation, all his attacks would still work, but they wouldn't have the same sense of character.
9.) Timing: For film, this generally refers to the pace at which actions are performed. When you hit certain beats etc. This is difficult to access for a videogame which is interactive. I would say that Darkstalkers has excellent timing in regards to how the animations come out when you want them to. Every move is like a small instantaneous performance that comes out with the press of a button. I would say the game is pretty responsive, and the length and timing of the moves corresponds with what kind of attack they are and how much damage they do, while also conveying the character you are using.
10.) Exaggeration: This generally means pushing the animations further than real life. This is sorta a guiding value behind every other principle of animation, for instance squash and stretch is already its own form of exaggeration. It seems obvious to state but, the vampire games are full of really good exaggeration. This is actually hard to do. For instance, the Guilty Gear games are full of very stylized characters doing outlandish moves, but I would say they are still far less exaggerated than Darkstalkers, because they don't push their poses and timing as much (not that Guilty Gear is poorly animated, its just not as dynamic as Capcom work). It's also possible to go overboard with the exaggeration. This is a matter of personal preference, but I really don't like the animation style in Dreamworks productions like Shrek. Everything is grossly overacted, and comes off as disingenuous. Going back to games, I'm not a fan of how Jack and Daxter is animated. It's very technically proper, but I don't like how every single action squashes and stretches in the same way. When you push everything, it deemphasizes everything because EVERYTHING is exagerated to the most extreme degree. Darkstalkers is very good about exaggerating certain motions for greater impact, while leaving other motions more mundane. It's very tastefully done.
11.) Solid Drawing: This basically means good volumetric drawing. Capcom absolutely excels at drawing. All their characters are solidly and immaculately constructed, with a great sense of volume, depth, weight, and character. This is hard enough to do with any form of drawing, even harder to do consistently in animation and harder still to convey in tiny sprites (I've done sprites professionally, and they take FOREVER). This is pretty much self explanatory when you look at any Capcom fighter. They are all drawn extremmmmmmely well. Drawing is an area where alot of animators these days are falling behind. Part of it is because of the nature of computer animation where you don't have to draw anything. Every animator I know says that they think drawing is important, but honestly, alot of them don't draw very well, yet they are able to hold down jobs doing computer animation. Of course the ones that draw better tend to be better at computer animation as well. Still, it's very sad to me to see how far standards for drawing have fallen in the last decade. I'm sure anyone who watched that trailer for the new Speed Racer cartoon can commiserate with this sentiment.
12.) Appeal: This is the most abstract and subjective concept out of all the principles. Basically appeal means that there is something interesting in the animation that captures your attention. I personally love love love all the Darkstalkers characters. From their basic designs to their animations and the way their personalities are conveyed through their animations, i love these characters dearly. To me they are every bit as interesting as classic Warner Bros or Disney characters. Capcom really truly excels at making appealing characters. Think about how little story they put directly into their games, and yet think about the empire of lore that has been extrapolated from them. People love their characters. How else would Darkstalkers and Street Fighter remain so popular decades later with no new games?
Once upon a time Capcom was able to make videogame characters that people could instantly identify with. No need for complex overwrought back stories and cinematics, you just saw the character and instantly understood who they were. That's not to say that they didn't have confusing back stories, just that you had to like the character first before wanting to find out anything about them.
These games were like great rock albums, and the characters were all the different tracks and you didn't mind listening to them over and over again, cos you could always find something new to like. The games and the characters that populated them were inspired. The graphics weren't just technologically impressive, they were INTERESTING.
The games were so interesting that little communities formed around them all over the world, communities that survive to this day online. This forum wouldn't exist without Capcom games. Heck, I met most of my best friends in college through a common love of Capcom fighters (this proved to be a far better barometer of compatibility than musical tastes or ethnicity or other means of identification). A big part of it was we enjoyed the gameplay so much, but an even bigger part was the art and the great characters.
Morrigan instantly reads as a succubus. She's sexy and deadly. She's wearing very little, yet she doesn't look as slutty or floozyish as most girl characters. She's respectable and strong. She's sexy but not whorish. That is so hard to balance!
Then there's her other half Lillith. Who knew that morrigan could be even sexier and more dangerous by taking away her breasts? She had this deeply disturbing balance of cute and sexiness about her. I'd never seen a character like that before.
Dimitri instantly reads as cocky and arrogant and vicious. He fights in a muthaflippin' skin tight tuxedo with riding pants and cape, what a jerk! but he still looks awesome!
Lei Lei is an adorable Chinese hopping ghost!
Donovan is stern and stoic, but hides deep emotions. How did I know this as a child without knowing his backstory? Cos i just felt it! He looked SO COOL, but his face is like a mask, his expression hardly changes. And it's not overly obvious. You feel it before you recognize it.
Phobos is a robot shaped like early Jomon pottery! He's so mysterious and ancient feeling. He captures the feeling of early civilization art, which is just barely representational. It works so well with his character.
And Pyron, he's not just another generic demon guy, he's an allmighty alien made out of plasma that's based off of biblical descriptions of god and angels appearing as pillars of fire and flaming wheels. These passages have even been interpreted by some kooks as descriptions of contact with UFOs, hence Pyron is an alien. Isn't that awesome? He's not just demonic, he's glorious.
I could go on and on about every single character, but I think i've said enough. I'm more interested in knowing who your favorite characters are and why.
[this message was edited by Nobinobita on Sat 26 Apr 10:24]
| "Re(3):Re(10):Animation Analysis of Vampire Se" , posted Tue 29 Apr 06:23|
In most fighting games however (barring some 3D ones), regular jumping works in almost total violation of these animation principles. But then, if you made it behave naturally, it'd be such a sluggish motion that it'd damage the gameplay.
The jumping in SFIV still looks weird to me, though, mainly because of the speed of the jumps (and not for any of the animation principles).
Jumping in 2d games isn't perfect, but there is consideration for it in the animation. Most characters tend to have a bent legged default stance to begin with, and there is usually a push off frame as a jump begins.
This works even better if they character is already crouching, or walking.
And in SF3 and some other games, if you want to do a high jump/super jump you have to press down up forcing the character into a crouch, which works as an anticipation pose:
It's quick, its not perfect, but its not altogether unrealistic either.
If you watch NBA players jump, they usually just push off into the air without bending down first.