So I found myself the other day at the YMCA, listening to some pretty heavy music, while enjoying the rare chance at viewing cable TV being fed to me through the harsh glow of an elliptical exercise machine LCD. I was watching SpongeBob SquarePants. Less rare than you might be prone to believe. Well knowing me maybe it’s easy to believe.
I was mesmerized, and slightly appalled, to find that Mr.SquarePant’s eyes, more specifically his pupils, were being represented incorrectly. With animation (typically, unless it’s Anime) there are two main ways pupils are drawn. Little solid circle (or simple shape), or a circle with a little chunk taken out. That chunk taken out? I’ve always understood it to be the highlight of the sun or light source. A small stab at being realistic.
In the case of Spongebob, his eyes had the highlights. This was an ‘altered reality’ sequence, so he didn’t have the trademark blue irises. And there were a couple of other characters that would come in to play. But when they did…
Oh but when they did, there was a big problem. The highlight was coming from the opposite direction. Implying that the primary light source, to them, was in the opposite direction. Like this:
Oh, the humanity! Why would the artists do this? For this simple reason: they were using the highlight as a pointer device. Implying which direction the character was looking, rather than being true to the visual physics and having the light source point the same way, like this…
Which is the more realistic representation of what we would see in the real world. This second drawing is of course “more correct”. But it’s not necessarily the best choice. For some reason we humans, after nearly 400 years of animation watching, have learned to create some other basic rules to help us be satisfied with what’s going on the screen, and thus, pay attention to the story, rather than be distracted by extraneous visual information.
Obviously failed for me a bit here.
If you want to hit a happy medium? Maybe go the expressive, Anime route and while you will add exaggeration (usually by the tonnes, and with shaky, eye moisture) you can get away with keeping the rendering closer to and more respectful of reality, and still offer queues for the viewer that help you figure out quickly which way a set of eyes are looking.
And remember how I mentioned above that in spite of the reality of things, how cartoon watchers and illustrators have made up some of their own rules (and short cuts) over the years? Well if you ever want your viewers to be sure of something, try this test. Can you guess which way each set of eyes below is looking?
Tomorrow I’m going to be people watching and see if I notice any dotted lines, out there in the wild :p
Here’s an encore link (embedded!) of that heavy music.