The lights are on
An In Depth Look at the Art and Animation
Disney Epic Mickey is months away from release, but the work
involved in its creation began years ago. Anyone who has perused the
November 2009 issue of Game Informer understands the project’s dramatic
scope and ambition. However, we can only fit so much information in the
magazine. In our first Inside the Game online feature, we follow the
art and animation development from concept to implementation to get a
better sense of how Mickey and his world came to life. Don’t miss your
first-ever chance to see early animation tests of Mickey and his
friends in action. The WorldCaption:
Even a small section or level takes many steps to emerge into gameplay.
In Epic Mickey, special 2D side-scrolling levels interconnect the
larger 3D areas. Every one of these 2D images is based on an old Disney
cartoon classic. This area was based on Clock Cleaners, a 1937 cartoon
starring Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. Using scenes from the original as
inspiration, the team creates a colored concept art piece to illustrate
the idea of the level. Designers work together with the artists to
shape the level, and indicate the motions of the many cogs, gears, and
platforms in the scene. With those directions in hand, the team can
implement a three-dimensional, functional version. Finally, Mickey can
jump into action and the level can begin being tested and modified. The
process of level creation begins as a collaborative project; as the
development team throws around ideas for game design and story the
artists begin work on concept art in earnest.“It starts on
paper with the general idea of the storyline that Warren [Spector] is
going for,” explains art director Lee Harker. “We read on paper the
general gist of what the level or the area is supposed to be, and we
just start firing off ideas all over the place. At that point Warren
will come by and we’ll review the work and talk about general direction
that we want to go for in each of these areas. Once we nail in on
something, it’s just a matter of refining it and refining it until we
have it just right.” Caption:
Concept art serves a far more important role than being inspirational
imagery or fodder for magazine articles. Good concept art can help
guide or inform the development of an entire stage of the game. From
early on, the game featured story elements that emerged from the
history of Mickey Mouse, which the art needed to reflect. “You’ve got
this wealth of subject matter out there that’s known all around the
world and respected by so many people. It’s just an honor to be able to
work with that, and it’s a big responsibility as well,” Harker admits.
“You’ve got to continue on top of all these great artists that have
come before you and build off of it.”
The Brave Little Tailor
types of blotlings show up throughout the game, but the spatters shown
here are the simplest and stupidest of the bunch. The artists have gone
to great lengths to create numerous versions so they remain fresh
whenever and wherever they show up in the game. Likewise, the animation
team has built a wealth of short but amusing motions and actions for
the little guys.With
a character like Mickey rigged up, the animators then have a “really
cool puppet to play with,” as Auburn describes it. They can begin
testing the character’s boundaries – how far can he stretch, what poses
can he take, what emotions can he project given his facial structure,
etc. With Epic Mickey, the animators have the advantage of decades of
Disney animation to inspire and direct their choices. Mickey’s
tradition also allows them to explore ideas that would be impossible in
a more realistic setting. Many studios would have a hard time depicting
a gritty space marine who can walk away from an anvil that drops on his
head, but the animation team on Epic Mickey has the tools to pull it
off, even if it mean days or even weeks of animation work to get the
squashed and stretched version of the character to appear correctly
after the anvil falls. Always Two Round Ears
development studios can ill afford having departments working in
isolation, and Junction Point is no exception. Throughout our visit, we
witnessed the iterative process that interconnects different sections.
The animators keep in constant contact with those implementing,
playing, and testing the game. The artists respond to needs for new
environments and characters as they emerge, requiring a constant effort
throughout the development cycle.
If this iterative process
succeeds, Epic Mickey could put the mouse back on the map. Modern 3D
techniques finally allow for the team at Junction Point to present a
Mickey Mouse game with the cartoon sensibilities that have been present
in his films for decades. Colorful, humorous characters fill the cast,
and the environments pull inspiration from classic Disney iconography.
Simultaneously, the game introduces a dark and twisted element to
Mickey’s world that stands in sharp contrast to his normal environs.
It’s a visual framework primed to catapult him back into stardom.
If the process behind the art and animation for Epic Mickey has captured your interest, you'll want to explore our two videos on the subject, Sketching Mickey: The Time Lapse Video, and our video montage of The Art of Epic Mickey. For more on the real-life story of Mickey Mouse, you might enjoy Rise of an Icon: A Pictorial History of Mickey Mouse. Or, for a menu of all our Epic Mickey coverage, visit our landing page for the game, and check out the November 2009 issue of Game Informer magazine.
Want to see everything in greater detail? Make sure and click on the images in the gallery below for full size versions of all the images from this article.
(Design and Layout By Meagan VanBurkleo)
Email the author Matt Miller, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.