Revitalizing an age-old technique in art and storytelling
Tina Nawrocki is one of the animators of Cuphead, one of the most amazing video games of this past decade. Cuphead is a run n gun video game with an art style inspired by the 1930s.
Developed by Studio MDHR, Cuphead’s illustration and animation are truly one of a kind. Each frame is carefully illustrated by hand to create authentic animation resembling the 1930s works like Betty Boop, Popeye, and Walt Disney shorts. Characters are hand-drawn, hand-inked, and scenes are brought to life with vibrant watercolors.
The art and animation of Cuphead are superb, it’s nothing short of outstanding. Various animators have been involved in the development of Cuphead. In the beginning and without any previous experience, co-founder of Studio MDHR, Chad Moldenhauer was responsible for illustration.
Noticing the need to expand, Studio MDHR recruited new employees to tackle the animation and take the development to new heights. Members of the animation department include Jake Clark and Tina Nawrocki.
The Animation Process
Tina studied illustration and design at Dawson College in Quebec and earned a degree in animation at Sheridan College in Ontario. After having worked for over seven companies in animation, Tina was contacted by Studio MDHR to help with animating. Hand-drawn animation is considered a dying art form, as there are only a few people who continue to do so.
Tina is enthusiastic, talented, and passionate about illustration and animation. Her illustrations show a range of emotions from being sweet to, psychotic; each being just as creative, and humorsome. Facial gestures and body expressions allow the enemies to feel alive even as 2D characters. Each frame shows fluid animation throughout gameplay, having a charming colorful personality. You can view Tina presenting her process through the following video.
By taking pictures of herself, Tina can capture realistic facial movements and translate them on paper. She also finds inspiration from researching history or other aspects of culture. Prior to researching and finding inspiration, the process begins by brainstorming and sketching out ideas with pencil and paper before finding references. Letting her imaginations flow on paper to refrain from contaminating her ideas.
All of the characters portrayed on screen have attractive idle positions and their body language communicates their anger or sorrow towards the player. After sending rough sketches and improving upon receiving feedback, she finishes the illustrations with visual effects, before handing them over to the ink department.
What I appreciate the most is the attention to detail and dynamism. Animations like enemy deaths are all unique. Death screens also show catchphrases of the enemies in their respective forms in the stage.
“The reward players get is the animation. Every single death is really satisfying once you get to it.” – Tina Nawrocki
I admire the team at Studio MDHR for staying true to the traditional 1930s art style. I’m delighted to know that the traditional process of animating is kept alive thanks to dedicated people such as Tina and the rest of Studio MDHR. I hope more people decide to take on the rewarding challenge of hand-drawn animation.
Cuphead is one of the gems of this past decade and generation. Through the determination and perseverance of the entire team at Studio MDHR, players around the world get to enjoy this labor of love. View Tina’s demo reel and a separate documentary about the development process below.
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