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Mid-Air Bobbing
Objects and people that hover in the air will always, always bob up and down, as if floating on some invisible surface of water. This is typically because being perfectly motionless gives the unpleasant impression of being "stuck" in the air. The floating is often accompanied with a whoosh sound, for no other reason than the Rule of Cool.

The most egregious instances of this trope are when objects in zero gravity behave like this - bobbing up and down despite the fact that 'down' doesn't exist here. This conclusively proves that Space Is an Ocean.

Selective Gravity causes many items in video games to do that.

Justification usually invokes one of the following:
  • It is possible that the bobbing is merely the character performing drift correction. Satellites in orbit, for a real life example, have thrusters to keep them from drifting out of the required orbit all the time.
  • In real life, of course, few things float in midair, and those that do (such as tethered or semi-deflated helium balloons) tend to bob in all but the stillest air — or to be surrounded (as a hummingbird or helicopter) by a blur of corrective motion. And, of course, things floating on water bob up and down too. So this trope seems to derive from carrying learned expectations about the natural behaviour of objects over into extrapolations about unnatural behaviour.
  • In animated cartoons, especially lower budget ones, midair bobbing serves the pragmatic purpose of establishing that a character or object is supposed to be in the air, and isn't just misaligned with the background.

Examples:

Anime
  • Urd in Ah! My Goddess likes to do this when "sitting" rather than sitting on furniture. She takes after Hild, who probably expends less energy at it than you would on breathing, being the equal and opposite number of that verse's God.

Film
  • Luke Skywalker and the other X-Wing pilots do a good bit of this in Star Wars. You can see it, for example, in this Youtube clip. It's only when they do a close-up cockpit shot of one of the X-Wing pilots. Everybody just kind of...bobs. Very odd, especially since the X-Wings themselves certainly aren't bobbing around in the longer shots. The speeders largely subvert this however in that when they are idling they are completely motionless and often don't even react when someone is mounting/dismounting/operating them (aside from Luke's speeder in ANH, but that is mentioned on screen to be a bit of a cheapo/junker.)
  • In Apollo 13, the bobbing was due to the set (which was in the Vomit Comet) being buffeted by the atmosphere.

Literature
  • Peeves in Harry Potter bobs most likely not due to the qualities of floating, but due to the fact that he has the energy and attention span of a ritalin deprived ADHD 6 year old on a sugar rush.
    • Many other things float without this quality. Snape (when being levitated by Sirius) does bob, but that's more due to Sirius's lack of fine control.

Video Games
  • Anyone affected by the "Float" spell in any given Final Fantasy game will hover above the ground for a while. Flying enemies also did this in IV through VI.
  • Lt. Magnezone and several other fliers and levitators in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games.
  • Any powerup, item, or other object that floats in a videogame (especially a newer one) will bob up and down, often also slowly spinning as if on an invisible store window display.
  • The player in Descent. Since you're in a spaceship, it's presumably drift correction.
  • The Allied Rocketeers in Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 do this.
  • Happens in City of Heroes when the hover power is engaged and the hero isn't otherwise moving. The official website header makes it even more obvious.
  • Giving an enemy in an RPG Maker game the 'flying' attribute will cause it to midair bob in battle.
  • In Halo, the thrones of the Prophets and Rtas 'Vadum (aka Half-Jaw) both behave this way.
  • Watch the ships in Wipeout HD when at a standstill. As one would reasonably expect from machines designed to perform best at very high speeds, the ships appear to be performing drift correction to avoid shifting sideways as well as bobbing naturally with air currents, especially close to the ground, and when they move faster, they stop doing this-presumably due to their shapes enacting aerodynamic stability on the ships, allowing them to fly without wiggling everywhere.
  • The fire pets from the "Firemaker's Curse" quest in RuneScape do this.
  • All "Flying" characters in Marvel Avengers Alliance do this for their idle animation.
  • Several characters in Cave Story bob while flying, such as bats (which serve the purpose as obstacles, especially at the beginning when player has no weapons) and Misery (who bobs for no other reason than because not bobbing looks weird).
  • Some arcade air combat games and even a few flight simulators will mimic this effect, with the plane rocking slightly from side, to make the plane seem more natural when flying instead of stiffly moving forward in level flight.

Web Original
  • In one Strong Bad email, Bubs is shown to have once possessed the power of flight. Bubs bobs.
  • A pantomimed version of this is used in Holy Musical B@man! to indicate when Superman is flying. Well, in addition to being lifted from behind by a taller cast member and making whooshing noises like a five-year-old. In a stage musical about superheroes, Coconut Superpowers like this are to be expected and actually add a lot to the charm.

Western Animation

Real Life
  • There is a similar phenomenon in aerospace called a "pogo oscillation", a reference to the bouncing motion of a pogo stick. It results when a problem with the fuel system causes fluctuations in the fuel flow rate, causing likewise fluctuations in engine thrust output, causing likewise fluctuations in acceleration. This fluctuation in acceleration worsens the fluctuations in the fuel flow rate, forming a vicious circle that eventually leads to a structural failure in the vehicle and, in some cases, complete and total vehicle disintegration.
  • Many aircraft, especially when flying in formation, will do this to a degree. It is usually caused by the pilot (or the in-flight computer) making constant adjustments to the aircraft's control surfaces to stay on course or in formation.

Levels Take FlightIndex in the SkyMidair Motion Shot
Marked ChangeSpectacleMonumental Damage
Made of IronRule of PerceptionMind-Control Eyes

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