I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: animating dances sequences is hard. It takes a lot of time, patience, and drawings. References shots need to be carefully studied. The character’s moves need to match the beat of the music. And if you real want your dance animation to sell, it has to be carefully drawn frame by frame. Shortcuts should be minimized in order to avoid jerky movements.
Let’s compare and contrast this season’s Servamp’s ending theme to last year’s best ending sequence, Blood Blockade Battlefront.
Right from the start, we see some jerky movement. Character’s don’t move much beyond the small space they’re occupying and most characters use limited movement. When we hit the chorus, the jerky movements become more obvious. Clothes and accessories aren’t moving along with the character like they should, and by the time we reach the villain of the series…You can just tell that the animators just gave up on him. What even is that? What is he doing? Can that even be considered dancing anymore? I know his outfit can be a little hard to work with, but come on. Then at the very need, Kuro does a brief “meow” gesture before poofing into his cat form and then he just…lays there to the side. He’s just…He just stays like that until Mahiru passes by and the previously nigh dead-looking kitten climbs up his shoulder. What makes this whole sequence even worse is that some of the characters clearly look off model, particularly that last bit with Kuro. This is especially bad because an opening and ending sequence is the last place you’ll want to have animation issues. The viewers see these sequences before and after every episode, so it’s not a mistake that’s easily forgotten. At the very least, at least the song’s pretty catchy.
Now, Blood Blockade Battlefront (which I’ll abbreviate to BBB from now on because it’s just so dang long) had a similar idea, but was much better executed. When the characters dance, they move fluidly. They aren’t just kicking up their legs and flailing their arms, they’re actually dancing. There’s twirling, there’s jumping, there’s somersaults, there’s clapping, and not a single off model face to be seen. What further sells BBB’s ending sequence is that we don’t just see characters dancing. We see brief flashes to Leonardo’s past, quick flashes of foreshadowing images, and character interaction within the cast. It tells as much of a story as any opening theme. Oh, and the song? Catchy as heck. Good luck trying to get that out of your head.
Other techniques often used to shorten the amount of time and effort to animate dance sequences include 3D, motion capture, and rotoscope.
While 3D can be incorporated with 2D dance moves to an extent, which I mentioned previously on this post, if not handled well enough, the transition from 2D to 3D can be quite jarring. An example of this technique being used acceptably can be viewed in the previous post that I’ve linked. A less than acceptable example, which has that somewhat jarring transition I mentioned earlier, would be the ending theme for the third season of Uta no Prince-sama. What makes this dance sequence less passable than the previous ones is the way that the models look. They don’t blend as well as the 3D models used in Love Live, and the transition from 2D to 3D is much more obvious, especially in that final group shot. I couldn’t find a link on Youtube to use as an example, and that may be for the best.
Motion capture is used less often than 3D because of how much more difficult it is to blend 3D models with the 2D environment. In the video below, unlike the examples that used 3D techniques, there’s absolutely no 2D animation implemented. It’s 3D all the way, which makes the transition from 2D characters to 3D characters even more jarring. At the very least, the models move pretty smoothly, but still suffer from some uncanny valley issues.
Rotoscoping, while effective, often has animators having to compensate the original art style in its attempt to draw over the motion picture footage. The video below offers some fluid dance animation, however, the rotoscoping is fairly obvious in the way that characters faces are drawn, especially when compared to the way they’re drawn in previous opening sequences. However, if one prefers an easier method to animating whilst solely using 2D techniques, it’s definitely one worth looking into.
So the next time you see a fully 2D animated dance sequence that’s well-animated, appreciate the time and effort these animators took to bring those characters to life the old-fashioned way.