Thursday, 9 October 2008

The Animation of Earthworm Jim

So my last blog turned into a personal account of my discovery of animation and music. This one will now be what the last one was supposed to be: dedicated to the animation behind the brilliant character of Earthworm Jim - from the video game to the series of the same name.

Character design is the big thing that stands out about Earthworm Jim. As far as original ideas go, this program is leaps and bounds ahead of some of its other counterparts. Once again through my research I have managed to trace Doug TeNapel, the creator of Earthworm Jim, back to having worked with John. K of Ren & Stimpy fame. What a bleedin' shocker! Either the animation industry in the 90's had nobody else working in it or I have just fallen very lucky in all of my favourite animators - or perhaps it is just the way my taste has taken me. But through John. K I found the creator of Cow & Chicken, David Feiss and now I gone back to another cartoon character from my youth I find that it was created by somebody else who has worked on a Ren & Stimpy product - though slightly different this time is that it is a video game.

I always loved the animation on the SEGA Mega Drive because everything was hand drawn, not like games these days where everything is computer generated and then textured. So let me take you through some of the smooth animation in this game. Through my amazing skills and powers I have managed to search the internet and find several gif. files to help me as we go through this great bit of character animation.

A big thankyou to Gif Man 3000 and his 700 year old Geocities page for providing these .gifs. If you ever visit this blog and do not want me to use these .gif files please just let me know and I will remove them!

Earthworm Jim is probably the dumbest character you'll ever meet and if you leave him standing doing nothing for more than 5 seconds he starts mucking about - I think that is why I releate to him. Here he is flexing is muscles whilst he waits for me to pick up the controller.

Here is one of my favourite pieces of animation in the game. Because Jim is actually just a worm, his head can come out of his suit. So it is almost like the suit has a mind of its own and very often it does, especially in the cartoon series. The smoothness of the animation is fantastic, even though the frame rate of the Mega Drive wasn't great, you still clearly see everything that is going on, which can only be credited to the animatior on the game knowing the system and how to use it properly. And its just such a great idea to have your lead character using his own body as a skipping rope.

Here we see Jim getting molested by one of the enemies in the game. This is a great piece of comic animation. One of my favourite thing about ALL of the animation in Earthworm Jim is the liberty taken with the characters form. There is no static build, not one pose that says 'ordinary'. Each piece of animation is carefully considered and the way the animator is willing to bend and break the character shows he/she really knows their classic animation, because they bring it into a modern medium like video gaming so well.

Earthworm Jim was put out in 1994. You didn't really see much 3D work back then, but in Earthworm Jim, the fridge at the beginning, his rocketship and many other small elements were in 3D animation. I remember at young age been amazed by seeing that and only now, slightly older, did I notice this piece of animation. Jim isn't in 3D, but the animator goes out their way by adding a slight twisting movement as Jim hands from things (By his own head :D). Not only is the recurring idea of Jim using his body like worm very funny indeed, but the character actually twists as he is hanging, making him appear solid in state. This is only a tiny bit of animation, but he really does help bring the character to life and help make him appear 'real'.

Everything was smooth in Earthworm Jim, even the jumping. The gameplay left a little to be desired, but the animation always shone through for me. I love how the animator subtily squishes the character up before the jump in just one frame. You bearly see it, but then the way the top of his head is looser and lighter than the rest and follows along behind the jump gives the character weight and life.

Again we see the use of the head here, this time as whip action. Indiana Jones eat your heart out. I would love to see Harrison Ford try to rip himself out of his costume and use his own body to traverse a large crevass. That has to be the most disgusting thing anybody has ever said...


Here I wanted to show Jim jumping onto his Pocket Rocket....but the .gif won't load, which is frustrating. It is the animation with the green background on this website: http://www.geocities.com/gif_man3000/earthwormjim.html

One of the reasons I played this game so much as a kid was to get to the end of the levels and play the fun chase sections where you get to ride the Pocket Rocket. Now I get to the end of the level to see this great bit of animation. The way he tears the Rocket out of his Pocket is hilarious. His hand goes across his body getting bigger to add perspective and then out pops the rocket. Then after jumping on it and the Rocket accepts the weight of Jim with a coy little bounce, the way the Rocket moves back and then shoots off out of shot by stretching the image and pointing the motion out towards the audience with a little turn at the end is fantastic. This piece of animation makes me giggle everytime I see it. The timing is brilliant and you really get a sense that the Pocket Rocket is really powerful. A great bit of cartoonery....its such a shame the .gif won't load so I have had to put a screenshot in instead.

These are just a small amount of the animations to be found in this fantastic video game. I think the Mega Drive and video gaming in the 90's in general really provided a pedastal for animators who wanted to do something a little different with their work. Other great titles like Boogerman, Nutz the Squirrel and Dynamite Eddy really showed that a lot of fun could be had with in-game animation. But none did it quite as well as Earthworm Jim.

Update:
See Mike Dietz, Animation Director on Earthworm Jim and many other fantastic video games here: http://www.slappypictures.blogspot.com/ And see the post after this one to see my update after I found out who the 'Earthworm Jim Animator' actually was!

1 comment:

edward18 said...

Earthworm Jim is my all-time favorite video game (specifically the Sega CD version). The animation, even today, is incredible and it truly is an art.

If you haven't already you should check out The Making of Earthworm Jim on youtube.