There are a great deal of instructional and forums on the web about the technical parts of pixel animation. Therefore, Jonathan Kim and Paul Robertson, animation authors for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game, give some general tips on how to make sprites stand out from the background and grab the attention of players.
1. Make your animation as expressive as you can
Kim believes that most animators who create 2D games don’t try hard. There are many reasons for this – tight deadlines, a limited budget, a desire to quickly finish one sprite and quickly do the next. But the result is always the same – dull poses and boring animation.
“Every time I try to paint the coolest and funniest picture I can imagine,” comments Robertson. – All the time I imagine how the audience reacts to my drawings, and if I drew something that is not interesting enough, then I continue to work – until I myself think that it finally turned out well. In fact, this advice applies to whatever art.”
Of course, it’s important not to overdo it and not overload the liveliness. Therefore, you call for someone nearby who can be shown the finished output and who can recommend you to slow down or, conversely, bring up the animation more expressively. Or you may ask for 2d art services from a professional studio.
2. Make the character look alive
In the process of working on animation, it is important to make sure that the character does not freeze and does not look as if it consists of separate pieces. Yet you are doing elementary animation – the figure’s breathing – it is not enough just to draw how the chest shifts and calm down.
It is necessary to confirm that the character is constantly in motion – even if he is standing still. Let the hero blink, move his hands a little, frown, sigh – in a word, he looks like he is alive.
“You have to animate the hair, draw up the folds of clothes developed in the air or during movement, make the character grimace and make all sorts of nice or comical movements. Do whatever it takes to personalize the creature,” adds Robinson.
3. Work on key phases and silhouette
Robertson advises paying particular attention to key phases. “The most significant are the expressive essential phases. It carries no weight if the animation is neat or not. If the key phases are inexpressive, then everything else looks shabby too,” comments Robertson.
He notes that many old school games have one- and two-phase animations, but the motion is still readable. Capcom’s Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix is a good example of such an animation. In this game, characters strike, draw their weapons, or completely change their appearance in just a couple of expressive phases.
4. Do not overuse additional phases
Artists periodically overdo it with additional phases and believe that they do not harm the animation. But this is not the case. It is better not to overload the animation, and limit the number of additional phases. If you want to make the movement more effective, it is better to resort to other techniques – “blur” (smear), for example. Otherwise, the expressiveness of the movement is lost.
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5. Don’t get hung up on details
Animators sometimes tend to place too much emphasis on the particulars of the drawing rather than the animation itself. Kim thinks this is wrong. “People are alike – hey, this effect is overkill. And I don’t tell them, guys, it’s you who are stuck on the details rather than evaluating the image as a whole,” the artist shares.
To learn more about good 2D animation, Robertson recommends playing old school games or observing cartoons frame by frame (especially old Disney or early Tom and Jerry episodes). You can also study “The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation” by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas.