Junction Point's "Epic Mickey" is coming along swimmingly and is likely be one of the best 3rd party Wii games ever released. I had a brief walkthrough of some of the game's intro levels today and the mix of platforming, puzzle mechanics and morality choices (a staple of the game's creator, Warren Spector) are looking exceedingly sharp. But something caught my eye while I was playing through the preview build: Mickey's ears.
Check out that image up top. Notice how, even when Mickey is facing in different directions, both of his ears are always visible. If they were actual mouse ears, looking at them when in profile would show one but hide the other. But in "Epic Mickey" you see both. All the time. It's a little trippy, but it's actually a huge part of the Mickey Mouse brand. Check out these 2D drawings of the Mouse and you'll see what I mean.
Two ears always showing, no matter what. That's actually pretty easy to pull off on a 2D drawing, but in "Epic Mickey" it's way more impressive. Because the 3D camera is constantly moving, the placement of Mickey's ears needs to adjust on the fly to make sure he looks like his 2D self at all times. Tricky business, indeed.
"We did some tests with Mickey without ears that were facing the camera and it just didn't hold up," said John Ford, one of the animators at Junction Point, "so we decided to go with the facing ears. We had some really smart programmers write code that would always make sure that, no matter which way Mickey was facing, you would have ears that not only faced the camera correctly but also oriented correctly on his head."
The end result is that Mickey always looks like Mickey, even if his ears don't quite act how you'd expect them to. For example, rotating the camera slowly around Micky will cause his ears to orbit around the top of his head like twin moons during an eclipse. And yet, it works for Mickey Mouse, and without that extra programming and animation effort, a certain amount of the Mickey magic would be lost.