A “walk cycle” is the part of video game animation that covers the most basic, default movement of your character. It’s maybe the thing you see the most in a game alongside a HUD, and as such might also be something you take for granted! Today, let’s not take them for granted.
Louis Brooks has a Tumblr called Walk Cycles, where he isolates and pays tribute to some classic walk cycles by rotoscoping them, drawing them out of their environment and letting us focus on nothing but the shuffling of shoulders and the placement of one foot after the other.
“I like ‘acting’ in games. If a game will let me, I’ll walk whenever it’s appropriate for the character,” Brooks—a market researcher by day and also a podcast host—says. “I love when games are built to give you the space to truly ‘roleplay’ as the character you are stuck playing as. Red Dead 2 is a great recent example of this. Slowly plodding around that camp, taking a sip of coffee while listening to Dutch yammer on. It feels so good to pretend, to be a character in someone else’s scene.”
“That game is begging you to walk everywhere, as soon as you start sprinting around all over the place the facade kind of falls away. Animation is a huge part of all that.”
To create his images, Brooks captures a few seconds’ worth of gameplay footage, then cuts it down to a single animation cycle. “From there I import that into Photoshop or Procreate, which breaks it down into frames. Most of the time I’m capturing at either 30 or 60 fps, so I usually cut it down to 15 frames. This gives it more of that ‘animated/sketchbook’ feel, and saves me a heck load of time!”
“That being said, with a fast moving character like Venom Snake or Sekiro, I’ll bump it up to 30 fps or it loses all the detail. Then it’s just tracing each frame and colouring inside the lines (mostly). I try to keep the colour scheme similar but not identical. Often I’ve simplified the detail on the character (weapons, pockets, buckles...) to save time and just keep it clean, so I try to reduce the amount of colours used to 3-5.”
In terms of what makes a good walk cycle, one worth highlighting, Brooks says he’s always looking for a game that really revels in the way it lets a character walk around. “The push and pull between ‘is accurate/is purposeful/is fun’ is in every walk cycle and I love examining that. I think the games I choose to animate exhibit a healthy combination of those characteristics.”
“Also, not to sound too corny, but I do just genuinely like highlighting the work people put into this stuff. So many details get put into games that go missed. It’s nice putting my teeny, tiny, spotlight on one of those details. Walk cycles are big details too! I want a blog for every interesting craft in games. Maybe there already is...”
You can see a lot more of these tributes at Walk Cycles.