A Celebration of Video Game Animation

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This year's E3, or Electronic Entertainment Expo, wrapped up yesterday. The event offered an opportunity for game developers to show off their upcoming titles, recent technology breakthroughs, and so much more. Fans descended in droves upon the convention, and millions more tuned in online. Interactive entertainment has grown into a massive industry, and forms one of the most visible components of the animation industry in general. With E3 so fresh in our minds, it's worth taking a look at video games and celebrate the unique qualities that make it such an important part of the animation field.

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For one thing, video games are most likely to be consumed by general audiences within the United States. Animated feature films and animated series are often discounted as primarily family-friendly media, or else as crude adult entertainment. There are precious few PG-13 or TV-14 productions in animation. However, people who might turn up their nose at animated films and series often are happy to play a video game.  It could be a complex historical simulator, or a simple puzzle game. It might require a top-notch PC, or it could run on your phone. It might take twenty hours to complete, or twenty minutes. People of all types and all ages find video games that they enjoy. It's boosted the domestic industry to a  worth of $18.4 billion as of 2017. That's over $18 billion of animated works reaching players just within the United States! Compare that to a domestic film industry worth of $38 billion in 2016. While that's higher, only a fraction of that includes animation.

The video game industry isn't just incredibly lucrative though. The structure of the industry also allows smaller publishers to compete with larger ones, especially when it comes to PCs. In all media industries, distribution can lead to gatekeeping. Movie theaters only have so many screens, and thus have to pick and choose which films will draw the biggest audiences. Television channels only have twenty-four hours to fit programming into. With video games though, there are very few restrictions about how many titles can be put into a digital store. Personal projects are free to compete beside the prestigious AAA titles, the "blockbusters" of the gaming world. Platforms such as Steam allow anyone to sell their work, and sites such as itch.io tout plenty of indie titles. Promotion may rely on social media, paid advertisements, or sheer word of mouth. Some of the most popular channels on YouTube, for example, feature people playing video games. Being featured in a video often drives up business for people who may not otherwise have the budget for a marketing campaign.

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Because the gates to success are so much more open, and because the audience is so wide, a spectacular variety of video games may emerge - and they have. You have the colorfully energetic Super Mario Odyssey which won over players last fall; you have the photorealistic Detroit: Become Human that's winning over players since this past May. All kinds of styles can be seen on display. There's even room for experimentation. Pop-culture sensation Undertale used a pixelated style that hearkened back to the old arcade games of the past. Last year's Cuphead caused a stir with its hand-drawn animation, an endeavor that its creators mortgaged their house to create — and a gamble that thankfully paid off. If you can think of a visual style, there's a game out there that uses it. And if you can't find it, you can make it.

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One of the most remarkable things about games though is the way that they blend art and science. Some of the first computer games were text based, essentially codes-for-fun. As computers became more and more powerful, text became replaced with visuals — and that's where animation began to get its foothold in a powerful new industry. Improved codes allowed for more intricate gameplay, and improved computer animation allowed for more immersive gameplay. The result has yet to be fully explored. Entire classes can be found that focus on the psychology behind video games, how they work, and how they can be made more fulfilling. Developers are always looking for ways to get players to keep coming back, through both artistic craft and scientific understanding.

Animation for interactive media is such a unique part of the industry, and it's a part of the industry that's growing more and more. Major studios are funneling hundreds of millions behind big-name projects, and individuals are putting out new work every day online. As technology grows, video game animation will grow with it, and we'll be here to see it. All eyes are already turning to E3 2019, to see the newest chapter unfold. 


Eric Miller Animation Studios is dedicated to crafting heartfelt stories and compelling visuals through 3D computer graphics, offering design and VFX for advertising, gaming, TV & film production.  We work with the best animation talent in the industry to deliver visually stunning imagery. Big or small, we can bring any character or story to life.