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I am working on a 2D platformer with 3D characters where the design/intention is somewhat similar to Kirby:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MuhLDoNobPw

Specifically, Kirby does not look good exactly from side on so just like in the original NES game they keep him somewhat angled towards the screen at all times:

enter image description here

The potential challenge with such a design in 3D is that then when the character "walks", if you animate it accurately, it would be as if they are walking into the camera and off the platform towards you. Yet they obviously cannot do that as it is a 2D platform, so thus it is as if 30-60% of their walking (anything in the direction of the camera) just "slides" under their feet and does not manifest as anything productive. This creates an image almost like they are walking on ice or not truly connected to the ground.

I am new to this situation so I'm not sure if this is something others think about or have debated. It seems to me from the new Kirby platformers (eg. video above) that is what is happening - ie. It looks like they are animated with a "normal" walk cycle but then simply sliding left and right (since they are all slightly angled but can't walk into the camera).

The only other solution would be to animate them almost doing a sideways shuffle like this:

enter image description here

That might work for funny characters and cartoony goons but if your main character is humanoid to any extent I think this will perhaps be even weirder looking.

So it seems to me the three options are:

  1. Let the characters stand perfectly sideways so they can walk perfectly in either direction, but then you'll almost never see their full faces which is bad for cartoony characters like Kirby.

  2. Let the characters stand on a 3/4 angle and give them a "natural" walk cycle so their feet just slide a bit on the ground to lock to 2D motion.

  3. Let the characters stand on a 3/4 angle and give them a sideways shuffle.

I'm just wondering if this is a topic that is ever discussed or contemplated in game development and what people usually do or think about it. It's the first time I'm thinking about this but I imagine many people have thought about the same issue before. Is there a name for any of this stuff as well?

Thanks.

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    \$\begingroup\$ See The Animation of Mega Man \$\endgroup\$
    – Theraot
    Mar 9, 2022 at 9:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Platformers need very fast animation transitions anyway to not feel unresponsive, so I would not worry too much about the transition between walk and idle mentioned in point 2. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philipp
    Mar 9, 2022 at 11:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ When I think of this, I think of how Super Smash Brothers Ultimate manages it. Most characters are angled slightly towards the camera on either direction, but will move naturally when they walk/run. Theraot's link gives a good example of it too. \$\endgroup\$
    – Steven
    Mar 9, 2022 at 14:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Theraot, that seems like a great resource for answering this question. Think you could summarize its key points in an Answer? \$\endgroup\$
    – DMGregory
    Mar 10, 2022 at 11:37

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It is possible to create animations that make sense in a 3D space. However, it is a different challenge to create animations that look good from every angle, than making animations that look good from a particular one.


I want to highlight a few things that remain important regardless if you are doing 2D or 3D:

  • You want easy to read poses. And that means proper use of negative space.

  • You want to be aware of feet sliding on the ground, because it as it affect the feel of the motion.

  • You want proper use of exaggeration. In particular if your character takes small space in the screen, big motions will be easier to understand.

And I'll also remind you to use references for your animation. And to remind you that you can iterate on your animations.


Please look at the animation of Kirby in 2D games. He always had some feet slide. I believe this is part of the character, not an artifact of the animation.

For a good contrast to Kirby, consider Sonic. Original Sonic also had some feet slide while speeding up, but there it conveys that he was putting effort in accelerating but his feet take a moment to gain traction. Sonic is also a good contrast to Kirby on how it translates to 3D. For that I recommend having a look at the animation of Sonic Generations. In particular, I want to point out that Sonic looks to the side while running, which I believe works better for Sonic than looking slightly to camera.

Now, you mention a less cartoony more humanoid character. Consider the characters in the Castlevania series. In 2D they have the head held steady to the side, with virtually no face features. Some have the torso fully sideways, but most swing their torso so you see both their back and chest at different points of their walk cycle. (Except in Allucard and Soma Cruz - and I'm not sure if somebody else - they have a clear 3/4 angle, they seems a little - put glasses - unnatural). And we can see in The Dracula X Chronicles and in Grimoire of Souls that this style translates well to 3D.

Another character that makes for a good case study is Mega Man. While sticking to 3D side view, we have seen him in 3D looking to the side in Mega Man Powered Up, and we have seen him take something closer to a 3/4 view in Mega Man 11 (and with no feet slide). However, I believe the best adaptation is the one for Smash Bros.


The Smash Bros series has excellent examples of faithfully recreating 2D animations in 3D.

Masahiro Sakurai explain in the GDC talk "Development - SUPER SMASH BROS. BRAWL" (Audio at GDCVault (English)) that he documented the poses of the characters from their source material as reference, and created a design document with photos of articulated toys making the poses he wanted, along with their times for the animation. Sometimes he changes poses to work better in the game (e.g. switching what leg was in front). That design document is what the animators used to create the initial animations, over which they iterated to reach the final animations.

Be aware that some of the characters had official 3D models that they had to stick to in Smash Bros - to some degree, I don't know how much freedom they had, or how easy/hard was to get changes approved. But that does not apply for characters that are previously only seen in 2D. So they had more freedom with those.

The resulting animations are not a representation of how a real person would move, the path between poses is not always the most realistic (In fact, some animations results in the models self-intersecting, but it is rarely noticiable), and does not look good from every angle… But they are a representation of how the characters move in their games, they recreate the poses very well, and they look good from the angle they have to look good.

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