- 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.
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Films — Live-Action
- Luke Skywalker and the other X-Wing pilots do a good bit of this in Star Wars. 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 they are completely motionless while idling, 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 zero-gravity set (which was in the Vomit Comet, an airplane being flown in a ballistic trajectory) being buffeted by the atmosphere; when other scenes were later filmed in normal gravity back on the ground, the actors bobbed to match the zero-gravity footage.
- Harry Potter:
- Peeves 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.
- A notable aversion in The Stormlight Archive. When in human form, Syl never bobs in midair, instead walking as if along an invisible floor. Kaladin notes that she always acts like whatever form she's taking; as a leaf she blows along with the wind, so on and so forth.
- Final Fantasy: Sometimes seen with flying enemies or party members under the influence of the "Float" spell. Specifically:
- Final Fantasy VI: Party members affected by Float bob; flying enemies do not, presumably due to graphical limitations when dealing with large, high-quality enemy sprites (most do not animate in any significant way when attacking, either).
- Final Fantasy VII: Thanks to the graphical upgrade, many flying enemies such as Bombs (floating fire-elemental orbs with faces) now bob.
- Final Fantasy IX: Flying enemies mostly bob; Floating party members, interestingly enough, don't, acting as though they were standing on an invisible platform about four feet off the ground.
- Lt. Magnezone and several other fliers and levitators in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games.
- 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 gravity 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).
- In the Glider series, the player's glider will bob up and down at the top of updrafts, as an entirely natural consequence of the Vent Physics.
- Rosalina of Super Mario Bros. is constantly under the effect of Power Floats, which makes her bob around a little when standing, or rather floating in place in all of her appearances.
- In the Touhou fighting games, characters who hover will usually bob up and down, such as Patchouli and Cirno in their standing idle pose, as well as almost all characters in Hopeless Masquerade and Urban Legend in Limbo, where combat happens in midair.
- 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.
- The Powerpuff Girls are the queens of this trope: not only do they perform Midair Bobbing, they do it in unison.
- Fairy Godparents in The Fairly Oddparents all bob like this. And they all do insync, as if floating on the same invisible plain.
- And so do some of their buildings.
- As do both Starfire and Raven from Teen Titans. But mostly Starfire.
- The hoverbikes in The Venture Bros..
- Happens in the episode of Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers where they launch into space on a spaceship. This one is particularly silly; while whatever Applied Phlebotinum is used in the other examples may produce Midair Bobbing, physical weightlessness definitely doesn't.
- All over the place in the DCAU. Occasionally averted, which tends to look weird.
- Happens in The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes! when Iron Man flies into space to search for Big Bad Kang's ship. Of course, this was right after coming to a stop without benefit of retro-rockets.
- The pilots of Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines bob in the air, whether they are flying or their planes are stationary.
- Billy does this in Dude, That's My Ghost!, due to being, well, a ghost.
- 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.