No Flow in CGI

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The Force, or extra strength hair spray? You decide.

In old or low-budget CGI, the characters will never wear loose garments, have long hair or include anything that might flow or rustle in wind or when moving. This was the case because early CGI software and hardware limitations made anything other than clunky, Uncanny Valley inspiring graphics impossible. These technical limits and costs are slowly being pushed back, but it's still hard and costly to simulate.

To circumvent these limitations, authors and graphic artists got creative and made a few concessions and stylistic choices. Here's a small list:

  • Girls and women would have short hair and wear skintight gear. When they did have long hair, it would be done up in buns or heavily "moussed", becoming an immobile block.
  • Films or TV episodes or entire series would take place in settings whose inhabitants naturally lacked loose garments and billowing hair. For example, being plastic toys, computer programs, vegetables, or fish.
  • All loose fabrics will be inert, either by being drawn taut or by never having a breeze/character move them.

Averting this trope is something of a Holy Grail for CGI animators, which can lead to being averted too hard. A lot of instances of flowing hair or gowns end up flowing too much, taking attention from anything else in the scene, like Dr. Ross' hair in Final Fantasy the Spirits Within, or Nariko's in Heavenly Sword. When flowing is done right, it either is unambiguously the centerpiece of the scene, or doesn't call attention to itself but rather reinforces a viewer's immersion. This trope is why A Space Marine Is You is still so extremely prevalent: It's easier to model and animate a bald guy (or better yet, always helmeted) wearing an armored spacesuit than it is trying to create an Elegant Gothic Lolita from Harajuku. Just imagine the processing power required to handle the delicate and intricate clothes that flow in a Dramatic Wind... or when running and fighting.

Although to be fair, in real life a lot of people's hair barely moves. In CGI, a "good" movie has the characters medium-length hair moving as if it's submersed in water. In real life, it would barely move at all, even long hair comes nowhere near close to it, becoming a case of Reality Is Unrealistic. For an approach to averting this trope, see Jiggle Physics.

Examples of No Flow in CGI include:

Films -- Animation

  • Also true to a limited extent in traditional animation. This is why Belle's hair was usually in a ponytail in Beauty and the Beast (though her dress twirls during the ballroom scene), and why flexible objects with elaborate surface patterns (like the flying carpet in Aladdin) were generally avoided before CGI.
  • In 2001's Final Fantasy the Spirits Within, 40% of the CGI effects were to make Aki's hair flow (and she definitely had a tendency to shake it around to let you know). Just about every other character has short hair at most.
  • Final Fantasy VII Advent Children has Sephiroth's hair and Red XIII's fur. While the former got more screen time as a key character, it was still stated to be very costly. Red XIII/Nanaki on the other hand got very little. Word of God also says that Cait Sith showed up riding Red XIII instead of his giant Moogle Doll thing because rendering that big thing (which was already established to be fur-covered as well) would have taken too much time out of other, more important parts of the game.
  • The Incredibles:
    • Violet's hair took a lot of work to animate properly. To the point where Pixar animators had to cut a scene showing the family hiding underwater because of how much effort it would take to properly animate her hair in those conditions.
    • Practically all characters have hair that is affected by wind, water and movement. Violet's is the most noticeable, but Dash's hair is definitely not static when he runs at high speed. Dash's hair was the most difficult of the lot of them; it had a general shape that it needed to keep, but it also needed to react to stimulus like his vast speed properly, without stretching -- much. It took over a year of work to get his hair right.
      • Helen's hair when they first land in the water after the plane gets blown up. Oy.
    • In the director's commentary on the DVD, they say that a relatively understated scene early in the movie caused lots of headaches. Mr. Incredible is examining his old costume and notices a rip from his fight with the robot (which prompts him to get a new costume, and it's that same rip that tips off his wife that he's being a superhero again, and...) Apparently, it is very, very hard to use CGI to animate someone sticking a hand through a hole in cloth.
    • Another simple scene was processor-intensive: when the costume is chucked in the garbage can at Edna's and slowly slides in from the edge; it was incredibly difficult to simulate.
  • One of the reasons Pixar stuck to making movies about plastic toys and bugs in the early days was because it avoided problems like this. Observe the difference in how dogs are modelled in Toy Story (static, plastic-looking) compared to Toy Story 2 (appropriately fuzzy). And even the characters that were supposed to look like plastic in the first Toy Story film had noticeably limited facial animation compared to the next two films.
  • By the time they produced Monsters, Inc. they'd developed software models that could make Sully's fur look fluffy, stiff, or windswept where necessary. But that bit of toilet paper stuck to a foot took the longest time to get right.
  • Most human females that appear in Pixar films normally wear either pants or tight clothing. An exception to this rule would be a female patient in the dentist's waiting room near the end of Finding Nemo, who is apparantly mistaken by both Nemo and the Tank Gang for Darla, especially in the fullscreen version where the exposed portion of said patient's legs are completely visible in all three of her appearances.
    • However the environment completely averts this with plants realistically moving with the flow.
  • Barbie as Rapunzel's braid looks okay, but when she wears her hair "loose" it looks like it's made of rubber. Semi-justifiable because it took Disney years and years to perfect the technology for their telling of the story.
  • Cars mostly exemplifies this trope; but there are some shots of flowing water, and the tearaways near the beginning of the movie produce various realistic flames which are especially impressive to anyone who knows how difficult realistic particle animation is.
  • Tangled did well enough at avoiding this to attract scientific attention, although the models involved are still being improved.
    • Averting this trope is the reason why this movie is the second most expensive film ever made. They did very well with the hair, clothes, and water... but the fire not so much.
  • In the commentary for Over the Hedge, they mention that the animators complained that there was a lot of hugging in the movie. Not because it was sappy, but because it was really hard to animate the fur in a hug.
  • You can see the technology improving in the Shrek movies. In the first movie, it took them a lot of effort to make Fiona's hair sway and Shrek is bald. The second movie used a new engine for handling hair, and they have lampshaded it by showing a scene where Prince Charming takes of his helmet to show his incredibly smooth and wavy hair. Shrek 3 added the ability to model longer flowing hair, and they used that to render the different hair styles of the princesses. In Shrek 4, there is a scene where Fiona appears as a warrior and you see her long curly hair swaying in the wind. Here's a video that shows the evolution of Fiona's hair.

Films -- Live-Action

  • The original King Kong averted this, though by accident. It was unavoidable that the hair on the Kong model would move around as the animators worked with it. However, on film, this works well, as it just looks like Kong's fur is moving in the wind.
  • This is invoked in Tron: Legacy, which is appropriate since it takes place inside a computer. Everyone has short hair, there's barely any loose fabric, and no real wind except when moving (and in most of those times they wear helmets or are inside vehicles).

Video Games

  • A particularly glaring example would be Ezio's cape from Assassin's Creed II and Assassin's Creed Brotherhood. When Ezio walking around or even jogging, his cape has a pretty realistic flow, but when he's running or on horseback, the cape becomes stiff as a damned board.
  • Even though there is little flow, there are ways to fake it, at least in the PlayStation/Nintendo 64/Sega Saturn era. If something was supposed to flow, like a dress, the designers would at least have it warp a little to show some animation, like Zelda's dresses in Ocarina of Time.
  • In Dungeons & Dragons: Scourge of Worlds, a CGI choose-your-path DVD adventure, which used the iconic 3rd Edition D&D characters, all the characters used were fairly straight interpretations of their original artwork, with the exception of Mialee, the elf wizard. The reason? Her original design had a huge mop of hair that extended to her knees. The CGI version had a small knot that extended off the back of her head.
  • EverQuest II averts this extremely well if an option is enabled—however, like the rest of the engine, this is not efficient and requires high-end hardware to enable unless you want your framerate to drop through the floor. With the option disabled, clothing just kind of wraps around the body.
  • Very common with mods for The Sims 2. Though creators of mods have improved tremendously since the old days, it's not uncommon for it to appear that the sims are using industrial strength hairspray and way too much starch in their laundry. Also, a lot of custom content creators try to fix this and end up with the hair having a gap under the neck, skirts with black areas under them, and even feet bending at the ankle(usually with high heels that are higher than what is usual in the game).
  • According to developers, some of the character design changes in Castlevania Judgment were made due to this trope. One often-cited example is Shanoa's short hair and church hood, which was much less well received than her long flowing hair from Order of Ecclesia.
  • In the original Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (which has sprite-based graphics), Maria Renard wears a dress and her hair down. In the 2.5D remake in Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles, her Ayami Kojima redesign features pants and a ponytail, presumably because of this trope.
    • And in the original Rondo, Richter is wearing a long trenchcoat with a flowing bandanna, and his appearance in Symphony of the Night shows him with back-length hair and an even longer coat. In DXC he looks like a reject for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as a result of this cost-cutting.
  • The reason we never get a 3D Alucard based on Ayami Kojima's design is because it would be really, really hard to make a 3D animation as magnificent as his Castlevania: Symphony of the Night sprite. His running animation started with about 15 frames, as he lunged into his run. Then looped another 15 for the running itself, complete with his long hair flowing and his cape flapping.
  • Lara's trademark ponytail in the original Tomb Raider was absent outside FMVs. From TR2 onward, however, her ponytail was present and had its very own physics engine, making it blow in wind (at different degrees depending on her surroundings!) collide with Lara's body and even float on the surface of water. Nowadays the physics are a bit dodgy due to the different engine—one could play a Drinking Game and take a sip every time Lara's hair goes straight through her neck.
  • Primal did something similar with Jen's distinctive pigtails, as well as with one or two other characters, most of whom suffered from the 'hair through the neck' problem.
  • Metal Gear Solid
    • The same happened to Solid Snake in the original Metal Gear Solid for PSX, whose design includes a long, flowing bandanna. It slowed the engine down so much, though, that the ends were eventually cut off. In Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, the bandanna tails follow his motions almost perfectly and even flutter noisily when he opens a door to the storm on the deck outside, and was exaggerated by the tails on the Infinity Bandanna being as long as Snake is tall, giving an impression a little like a ninja scarf.
    • Snake's skintight outfit might be an example of this trope, though, since the original plan was to put him in combat fatigues, but they didn't have the technology at the time to realistically move them in the wind of the storm Snake's part of the game was set in. It worked out well enough, though. Stupid, sexy Snake...
    • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty also averts this with Raiden's hair, though it doen't seem to have much weight so it looks a bit unrealistic.
    • In Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater Snake's clothes react convincingly well to wind etc.
  • MLB: The Show 07 on the Play Station 3 demonstrates why this trope exists. The game tries to model wind effects on flags and player jerseys, but it only contributes to an Uncanny Valley feeling.
  • Super Mario Bros
    • In New Super Mario Bros. Wii, a second Toad (officially known as "Blue Toad") was used as the fourth playable character instead of Princess Peach in order to avoid programming the physics for her dress, as well as to have every character play the same way.
    • The Mario series' relationship with this trope pre-dates three-dimensional graphics: Mario's trademark cap was added because the developers didn't want to have to animate hair. The mustaches were also a result of not wanting to animate a face.
      • Animate nothing. The mustaches were so you could tell there was a face to begin with.
    • This was also played straight with the original version of Bowser, who was actually depicted without hair in that game. However, he did have hair in the SNES remake.
    • Starting in Melee, the Super Smash Bros. series has a few features that blow in the wind (Link's cap, the Fire Emblem characters' capes, the princesses' skirts, etc.). It's obvious that they didn't put much effort into this, though—the capes frequently clip, and Peach and Zelda's hair act as single cohesive units. Notably, you can remove these objects in Debug Mode—including the skirts.
  • In City of Heroes, only one character, Ghost Widow, has flowing hair. The developers stated this would be a huge performance bottleneck if they extended it to everyone else. Even still, her hair is a bit too elastic for its own good. Also played straight with every piece of clothing or equipment (most noticeably in the robes), besides the capes. The capes, which are the source of Ghost Widow's hair physics, work nicely, since they flow and move rather nicely, but the elasticity is still there. Especially noticeable when using travel powers, since any quick movement makes the cape double in size temporarily. Champions Online uses basically the same physics, too.
  • Mortal Kombat
    • Made painfully clear in Mortal Kombat 4 with Sonya's frozen ponytail. Later games, made for more powerful systems, managed to avert this: almost everyone has some part of their hair or clothes that flaps freely (in fact, Goro and Kintaro has front flaps added to their Loin Cloths in later games for probably this exact reason). They do occasionally clip inside the character models, though.
    • Inverted with Shang Tsung: Much like he did in the first game, he was originally intended to have long flowing hair in Mortal Kombat 3, which used live-action motion captured actors for the character sprites, but it apparently caused problems, so he had a ponytail instead. In Deadly Alliance, his first appearance in 3D rendering, he had...long flowing hair. Admittedly, this was at the point where technology could accomodate for this, since he wasn't in 4.
  • Inverted with H-Game developer Illusion, since it devotes a lot (and with good reason) of its developing efforts on giving compelling animation to the games' girls, especially to their hair. To the point that it's jarring when its compared to the flat-boxed environments.
  • Guild Wars plays this straight with most of the outfits for the player characters, with the exception of the capes that signal the player's guild which have realistic cloth simulation animation. The longer female styles and accessories in later campaigns (see Dervishes and Ritualists) do move, with the exception of that one high-ponytail look used by Necromancers and Rangers. But the Dervish skirts can be cone-like and a particular (across-the-board) curled, bouncy ponytail has hilarious effects when dancing.
  • Squall's fur collar in Final Fantasy VIII was added expressly to challenge the animators by keeping them from following the trope.
  • Hair in Mass Effect has all of the bob and flow of a concrete sculpture. This is hilariously evident with Miranda in the sequel; Unlike the military-haired characters of the rest of the game, Miranda has long, flowing, elbow-length hair, but it's as stiff as a brick. It does kind of move, but only around the shoulders. The age of the Unreal 3 engine is becoming increasingly evident: see the "tears" characters would cry, which ranged from a pool below their eyes to two slicks running down their cheeks. No animations in between—it's quite a surprise to see someone suddenly look like they've been crying for ten minutes. It's especially jarring next to all the genuinely good graphics the game features, including stunning backgrounds.
  • Dragon Age suffers from the same problem, made worse by the possibility to give long beards to the characters. They are all the same length and attached to a hard point a bit above the solar plexus of the model. This leads to a lot of clipping, with the tips plunging into heavy armour, or the beard stretching elastically between chin and torso whenever a character turns their head during dialogue.
  • As of Dragon Age II it seems BioWare has started to address this having hair move subtlety during conversation, cutscenes or when just running about. Now if they could just sort out those beards...
  • In Half-Life 2, Alyx's hair is very short and Dr. Mossman's is pulled into a tight bun.
  • By Left 4 Dead, Valve was comfortable giving Zoe a ponytail and bangs. Although they did a pretty good job animating the *Ahem* Boomers large bodies...
  • And now several of the unlockable items in Team Fortress 2 also have jigglebones—which essentially allow them to simulate the inertia produced by the movements of whichever character is carrying or wearing them. Which seems to have hit a wall and bounced back. The Christmas tree hat and the rubber ball they created for an anniversary patch in 2010 (which appears in BLU's spawn when the server is in "party mode") both wobble and spaz out even when they are sitting perfectly still with no physics being applied to them.
  • In Oblivion and Fallout 3 (which both run on the Gambryo engine), hair is kept above the neck short, even for female characters, to avert this trope. The PC versions allow for mods, and longer hair—but the hair doesn't move at all. When the player drops into a crouch for sneaking, the hair clips through the character's body.
    • Skyrim however has a problem with flowing clothes. This is most noticable on the Nightingale Armor, where the cape seems to be anchored at the hip, causing it to unnaturally bend with the PC's body movements rather than actual flow. Similarly any dress or robe in the game will cling onto the legs of the wearer as they walk, rather than realistically wave.
  • Second Life partially avoids this with animated hair and skirts available as purchased items. It still has clipping issues, but it does look okay most of the time. The default avatar hair ("slider hair") does not flow at all, nor does default avatar skirts. Also, most hair is created with either toruses, which are easy to bend into locks, or sculpties, which are user-defined shapes. Neither of these support the "Flexible Path" option. Hair in Second Life thus ranges from very well-done hair that doesn't flow, to somewhat crappy-looking hair that flows properly.
  • Final Fantasy XIII happily averts this. Even Sazh, the most heavily-dressed character in the party and sporting a tight afro, has elements of his clothes and hair that blow in the breeze. This is because most of the many years it took to make the game were spent making the graphics engine deliver as realistic graphics as possible, at all times, without slowing down. It certainly shows.
  • In World of Warcraft, capes do flow, but not particularly well. It's especially obvious when the character has a tail, like the Tauren and the Draenei do. Then the cape sways in perfect sync with the tail, but doesn't fall properly at the end of the tail. They also don't wrap around or cover the body, but fall straight down the back like a towel tied around the neck. Capes also clip horribly while riding a raptor mount. Hair also deserves a mention, as aside from one or two pony-tails per race and gender, none of the hair in the game moves much regardless of length or style. The reason is, of course, that the capes and hairstyles aren't using any sort of physics, they're simply running through animations like the rest of the character model. The cape is attached to the characters at a fixed length and distance, more like a shell rather than flowing as in City of Heroes.
  • American McGee's Alice is a bit weird. Alice's hair is stiff as a board and can be seen cutting through her neck if you can twist her head right. Her apron ties, on the other hand, flap fairly convincingly whenever she runs or stands in a breeze. The sequel averts this trope by giving Alice's hair pretty complex animation.
  • In Rock Band, there are no guitar straps in the animations because of this. The guitars still act like the straps are there, just invisible. The mo-cap people wore guitar straps and nobody bothered to adjust the models for it. Also, at least one of the potential hair models for female rockers will give them pigtails made of concrete.
  • Played straight in Tales of Symphonia. Particularly jarring with Colette, whose elbow-length hair was rigid as a board.
  • In the Saints Row series, there is a wide variety of long hairstyles to choose from, ranging from corn rows to dreads to ponytails to straight, elbow-length hair. Every single one of these styles is as rigid and stiff as a plank of wood. It's particularly noticeable in a cutscene in the second game, where your character is thrown around during a fight with a rival gang leader—his/her hair sticks perfectly to him/her the whole time, no matter how long it is. Averted in the third game.
  • In Alan Wake, Alan's shirts and jacket behave very much like shirts and a jacket—the hood bobs around, coattails and lapels flow in the wind, and it bends realistically.
  • According to the folks at Double Fine, the original main character of Psychonauts, D'artanan, had a big, flowy hat that was "too awesome to animate".
  • BioWare's Neverwinter Nights is oddly selective about which items have "flow." Hair and loose sleeves, for example, will deform a bit while moving, but robes will remain stock still.
  • In God of War III, Hercules' loincloth sometimes clips through his legs, exposing his buttocks. On the other hand, Kratos' skirt generally flows pretty well.
  • Flower is all about averting this, despite not depicting any humans. Grass, flowers, petals in the breeze, and other objects all blow realistically in the player-controlled wind.
  • Most of the characters in Dead Space have short or no hair, except Kendra, whose long hair moves more like a piece of stiff fabric.
  • Dead or Alive: Assuming you can tear your eyes from the physics-insulting boobs, you may notice the terribly animated hair.
    • In Dimensions they use a different engine for handling long hair that stops it from clipping through the girl's shoulder every time she moves. Long, flowy dresses will still flow strangely at times, but I'm sure the male audience doesn't mind.
  • Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep had to remove the capes from the Key Blade armor seen in the teaser movies at the end of Kingdom Hearts II for the actual game because of the programing difficulty and lag involved in simulating proper cape movement in the multiplayer.
  • Mega Man X: Zero is struck pretty hard with this case in pretty much every 3D-appearance of him, especially in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom and Marvel vs. Capcom 3, where his hair acts as just a big bunch of yellow... something instead of, you know, hair.
  • Resident Evil has had a noticeable relationship with this since the very beginning. Chris and Jill's gear is skintight and all enemies have nothing to flow with them. For 4 games the only character who ever got a ponytail was Claire and every outfit was unusually formfitting. The first game to really get out of this was RE 4.
  • In Eternal Sonata, characters like Polka wear beautiful, bulky layered dresses which remain static and unmoving in all weather, and the characters run around with their arms at a perpetual 45-degree angle to avoid having to interact with the fabric.
  • Mostly straight in Prototype. Models are pretty static to the point where even chest-length hair appears stuck into place of female character models, making it look like rubber. Even the flow of Alex's jacket is scripted to animate only during certain actions.
  • The cancelled Gotham by Gaslight video game had some surprisingly great cape physics.

Web Animation

  • The Doctor Who webcast Dreamland falls squarely into this trope.
  • Played with in The Legend of Zelda: The Light Of Courage. Link and Zelda's hair and clothes are completely stiff, but Ganon's robe flows way too much, at one point even falling halfway off when he moves too fast. (This was actually a mistake, but they decided to Throw It In because it was funny.)
  • RWBY usually averts this trope, but sometimes its Off-Model moments can include failures to flow cloth and hair. After the change in animation engines between volumes 3 and 4, the Off-Model moments all but vanished, and both clothing and hair were handled far better.

Western Animation

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Not CGI, but Katara's "hair loopies" were opted for over long hair because they were easier to animate.
  • One of the trope's first widespread sights was in The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest. Whenever the characters entered the virtual Questworld, they would wear form-fitting armor instead of clothes, and due to the animation techniques, hair would look like a sculpted helmet, flow be damned.
  • Various shows by Mainframe Entertainment had to use this trope. ReBoot is set in a computer, so everyone wears skintight clothes. It wasn't until later seasons that female characters even had long hair.
  • Shadow Raiders is set in space, with aliens made of rock, magma, who are insects, reptiles or robots. So no-one even has hair, nor wear billowy clothes. Only the reptiles of Bone have moving membranes/ridges on their backs, which do move along with them. A few rare scenes features static fabrics in the throne room of planet Fire.
  • Beast Wars loves this trope. The big advantage to having a show with a cast composed of robots is that you do away with the issue of clothes and hair right from the get go. Of course the character models look like they're just composed of geometric shapes; they're all robots! Problems arise when you look at the animal alt-modes and the real-life animals they run across, fur and feathers might as well be sculpted on for all they move.
  • Veggie Tales characters were designed as vegetables because they were basically spheres with a few extra features. Easy to animate. At least that's how it began. While the later character designs are largely the same, the subtle details have changed quite a bit. Larry now looks more like an actual cucumber, with bumps and color striations. The animation has gotten more sophisticated, but why would the animators want to do something more complex when what we have now works so well? Giving Bob and Larry hands at this point would make about as much sense as putting a drop-tile ceiling on the Sistine Chapel.
  • In the Star Wars the Clone Wars CG theatrical film and animated series, the Jedi all wear gauntlets so the animators don't have to animate the flowing sleeves seen in the live-action movies. The Jedi robes also have no sleeves and are basically hooded cloaks. Finally, their hair looks like chiseled rock. Especially visible on Obi-Wan, whose rock beard has such a sharp edge to it he might be able to kill someone by chin-butting them. The animators thought that it was very difficult animating Ventress with her skirt on during fight scenes. Although as the series progresses new models for the characters have been introduced that do have flowing hair and clothes.
  • Usually played straight in Code Lyoko, especially in season 1. And a rare justified case, because they are actually in a virtual space, so the CGI, with or without flow, is what the characters actually see. The Lyoko Avatars have all blocky hair (including Yumi's, who are in a tight bun) and clingy clothes. By season 2, the animators try adding a little flow, like with the occasional Dramatic Wind, or Ulrich's hair ribbon flapping behind him when he's riding the Overbike. By season 4, Yumi have loose hair that certainly flow with her various acrobatics, though the clothes are even more skintight.