|EMBEDDING DISABLED BY REQUEST :( Click for video|
It basically represents everything that Sonic should always have been about, but has never quite achieved in 3D: enjoyment of space. It's essentially a minute-and-a-half of Sonic just running through nicely rendered, but plain environments, and yet somehow it's more entertaining than three different American Saturday morning cartoons and a three-season anime. The fantastically executed animation and appealing model are part of it, but I think more fundamentally it's because of the sheer joy taken in moving the character around an environment.
I've been meaning to write this post for ages, but I kept just getting lost taking screenshots of the video, because it's so overwhelmingly rich and there's so much for me to say about it. It's hard for me to think of a way to structure a post about it, so I think it best to start off slow: let's look just at the first shot in really hardcore detail.
We start off looking just at a background.
Suddenly, a cloud of dust streaks in from the right.
Sonic emerges from the dustcloud...
The camera catches up to Sonic, tracking him in a really extreme top-down view.
Sonic accelerates, and leaves the frame again.
Anyway, as Sonic runs underneath the camera, it attempts to follow him. This leads to a really wacky move as we see his trail of footprints upside down, and then the camera slowly rights itself.
Sonic appears in frame again here, but very small and only briefly. What we really see is the massive dust cloud that forms in a gourgeous back-and-forth pattern as he boosts away again.
This is all one continuous cut, and lasts about 11 seconds. We've already had very strong contrasts in timing and framing, extremely cool use of the camera, and some very nice animation. All of these have been used to emphasis a sense of space, and speed. The rest of the opening is a tour-de-force of these techniques, and tons of other little flashes of brilliance.
The camera's static while that happens, but moves down and left, following the dust cloud as it travels the same direction, and allowing our eyes to catch up to it.
Next we get our first proper mid-shot. I guess the middle of the first scene counts, but that was all a big crazy camera move.
We whip across from this static and very distinctly organised shot to...
This dust that suddenly pops up after he's gone past is another one of those little punctuation marks I mentioned earlier. The rocks falling off the right cliff edge in the earlier set of screens also follow the camera down in a pleasing fashion. Just a little extra guide to help our eyes go in the right direction.
This next part's really delicious, though.
And doesn't he look appealing in these frames? This part reminds me of the fact that every one of these frames was produced by an actual human being, not a computer. Even if you're an apathetic, underpaid member of the Korean animation slave trade you're still a person, not a computer. Even the shoddiest of hand-drawn in-betweens has more personality than goddamn digital motion blur.
This is a good juncture to comment on how well-timed the animation is to the music. So much so that I'm inclined to believe they were produced concurrently in a back-and-forth process, rather than just storyboarding to a set track (this is a fantastic way to work, by the way, if you can do it). From the wooshing sound effect and right-to-left panning snare rush at the beginning as Sonic first enters the frame, to the way that each line of the first verse is timed to a moment in the animation ("TEN TEN" for the two mountains, "NINE NINE" for the two rainbows). This whole rapid tracking shot is accompanied by a distinct part of the track, where soft synth pads come in under the vocals. It's a clear build up to something.
Doesn't matter though because the next bit is sweet as hell.
And look how gourgeous the splashes are! The lack of black outlines makes the water feel really fresh and clear, and even the reflection is animated properly. And even though it's fairly complex animation, it's not like Disney's hyper-detailed realistic water. It's stylised and simplified, but still feels genuinely wet, just through simple techniques and skilled movement.
This shot really teases us. We don't even get a dust cloud, all we see is some rustling in the trees before a tiny dot races over the hill and suddenly he's in our face again.
The legs are on a different cycle from before, too. Now it's four-frames: two-looped rubber-band, zig-sag, two-looped rubber-band, three-looped rubber-band (third to last screenshot shows what I mean). They really go all over the place but it looks neeeat.
The song continues to build towards the chorus, and we get more and more of the character moving into and out of the shot.
Did you spot the flash frames of Sonic drilling through the rock first time through? My mate Andy didn't. But even if you don't, they're suitably emphatic for the climax of the song (and the cheesy lyrics even fit!)
The view is once again pulled out here but the movement of the tiny Sonic zipping around this mountain is really slick and satisfying. The bit where he leaps off the little outcrop on the right onto the main body is especially bejujular.
Can you tell I'm running out of synonyms for "good"?
This right here is just some super awesome animation. Really pushing the stylised legs. It's almost a shame it's so brief, stills barely do it justice. I like how after looping so quickly around the rock Sonic does just one extra spin in mid-air. Whenever animating something rotating, it's always a good idea to add just one more spin.
These red sparks are an excellent detail to emphasise how much the chain is straining against the weight of an entire planet (and itself, probably).
Most extreme camera move yet? I like the streaky background as the camera pans around, too.
As Sonic goes into a spin here he flashes out of the compact ball for the odd frame or two and we see his face. Nice little detail!
More stars! It's not always apparent, but they seem to always between circular and triangular arrangements on alternate frames. I don't know why, but it's always fun to discover whatever little systems the animator came up with for what he was doing.
As Sonic rolls down the hill, he does a little hop partway. This adds a point of interest to the action and stops it being all one smooth motion. It also reminds me of a peculiarity in the Game Gear version of Sonic 1 where if you rolled down a hill fast enough, Sonic would do a hop right at the bottom.
The last shot is the icing on the cake. There's three seperate backgrounds, but on continuous sequence of animation.
There's a little splash on the surface of the water...
...and then a barely visible dot shoots up...
|Spot the pixel.|
It quickly turns into Sonic.
And as his face fills the screen, there's a hidden cut (well, it's actually a cross-fade of about 6 frames, which is a pity because I don't think they needed it!)
Then, as he enters the cloud cover...
...and emerges from it, we get a full sense of scale.
And finally disappears for the last time.
All throughout, while there's constantly rich and interesting animation, there's a strong emphasis on bringing the character into and out of the frame (both in terms of depth and literally being inside or outside our view). The idea is that all the space that exists is free for him to exist in. Unlike the side-scrolling 2D games, he's not limited to a flat plane at a constant distance from the camera: he can literally go anywhere and travel in any direction, whether it's ten miles from us, right up close, in the center of our view, or off the screen.
This is also used structurally, to an extent.
|A graph of Sonic's distance from the camera.|
This is, to me, what Sonic as a character should be about. All attempts to have him engage with other characters have been, to me, mediocre at best. No extraneous friends, no talking, no drama, just action and space and FUN. My god, doesn't it look like Sonic's having a good time flipping around rocks and rolling over hills and running on water and shit? Why can't any of the 3D games be that satisfying? CAN they be that satisfying? Of course, you couldn't ever make a cartoon or comic series out of Sonic running around, but maybe that's a sign that the whole idea is flawed. Sonic's a videogame character. If it weren't for the constant troubles his games have been having for the past decade, maybe more people would accept that and we'd have less fanart of Sonic pregnant with Shadow's child (I did actually find this on Deviantart but I can't bear to actually post it).
This masterpiece, according to the credits, was directed by Yukio Kaizawa, and the lead animator was Hisashi Eguchi.
Here's a little animation I did sort of inspired by this.
I drew from a few different sources: the way he distorts when he revs up is from Sonic Advance; the little white streak that spins around is from Sonic Spinball; the dust cloud is partially ripped from Sonic 2. I don't feel I quite got the model down right (I was sort of aiming for an in-between of many things), but I still think it looks nice.