"Hi, I’m terrible at perspective. Not with life, but with buildings and materials. So forgive me if I get buildings wrong, I hope I make up for it by getting my perspective on mankind right."
As a general rule, the depictions of the size, age, or other aspects of characters and objects in fiction are not particularly consistent. This is thanks in large part due to the fact that people without the right training often have a difficult time scaling how large some objects are relative to others, and considering how difficult it is to gain this kind of depth perception, it's somewhat understandable that many artists just do the best they can and don't do the research.
Clever writers will often recognize these limitations by deliberately avoiding clearly classifying character's traits like age
, height, power, or minor biographical information — these technical features seldom relate directly to the narrative so they can often get away with it. Unfortunately, if someone else involved with the production wants to use these statistics for some other facet like merchandise, they can end up being defined inaccurately anyway. For some fans this can turn into Serious Business
Contradictions arising from the implications of this trope can get involved in pretty much any facet of fiction involving math
, from Dawson Casting
to bizarre tiers of superpowers
. Sorting algorithm tropes can mitigate this to a large extent, as it avoids measuring anything objectively by instead only measuring things relative to other fictional objects. Even then, size and height is a consistent problem area, as most mundane objects do have general sizes, even if the writers forget this.
Your Size May Vary
is a subtrope. Bizarrchitecture
is what happens when an artist deliberately invokes this trope to create an eerie, otherworldly effect as opposed to an Off Model
See also Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale
, for the omnishambles created when this trope interacts with the already-unfathomable distances involved in space travel.
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Anime & Manga
- Hikaru in Magic Knight Rayearth was given a precise height of five feet (1m50). Presumably other characters are roughly equated with her, though because of the art style many of the taller characters seem to be unusually tall applying this across the board — she's about waist height to her potential boyfriend.
- Sailor Moon's author gave only its main character a specific height from which the others are mostly extrapolated. This became tricky as more characters were introduced, since Huge Schoolgirl Makoto was no longer the tallest character but was certainly not over six feet tall. Both the dubs tends to shy away from addressing this directly, while the Live-Action Adaptation simply regresses it back to her original pseudo-Yankee design. Indeed, barring direct translations from merchandise, the issue of relative heights was mostly avoided, possibly because the perception of "tall" varies widely across the world. On the flip side, Usagi herself is sufficiently short that adaptations sometimes have to ignore it.
- Averted in Blame!, where the author studied architecture for years before creating his manga, and is famous for taking incredible pains to make everything to scale.
- Katsuhiro Otomo similarly has a near-anal-retentive attention to visual detail.
- Astro Boy is usually stated to be nine. He looks six — apparently Tobio Tenma was a late bloomer. (This may be related to the astonishingly variable sizes in Tezuka works — height is just not a good way to determine "adult" and "child" with him.) Despite being made of metal, he's also apparently very light — it's most noticeable in the movie, where the rather spindly Tenma can lift him without apparent effort. Tezuka actually explains this discrepency in one of the intro comics he did for the collected editions. Apparently he did try making Astro look a bit older for a little while, but found the kiddier looking version was more popular.
- In Elfen Lied, Lucy's vectors have time and time been said to only extend two meters. It was even used as a plot point once. However on a few occasions they've extended a few more meters then they should.
- One Piece is known for some crazy character designs and adult humans have been known to range anywhere from realistic heights to over twenty feet tall. Though while the consistency may vary in specific cases, when you see a character who is twice as tall as Luffy, an average young adult, the official height for said character usually turns out to be ten feet tall.
- Compare Chiriko (4'11") and Miaka (roughly 5'2") from Fushigi Yuugi. You don't need real life comparison to see the error.
- Eyeshield 21 relies a lot on skewed, inconsistent perspective as depiction of the characters is based on their emotional state.
- The first time the Deimon meets Taiyou, the Sphinx players look like 10 feet tall monster (Murata even lampshades this). This is because the Devilbats are intimidated by the heavier, stronger, and more experienced players. By the time the two teams meet again, the Sphinx are perceived for what they really are: unusually large and strong, but still human.
- Similarly, Mamori seems tall because she's viewed as a mature mother figure. Ikkyu is perceived as quite short because he's the Butt Monkey of the Nagas. Height in Eyeshield seems to be indicated more by personality and perception rather then what's realistic.
- Over the course of the twenty episodes of the Tenchi Muyo! OVA series, the Masaki house goes through at least four distinct versions. Most of the changes are due to remodelling (or complete rebuilding), but episode 3 reveals that the earliest version of the house is impossible: the lounge doesn't fit inside the exterior walls, the kitchen has exterior windows where there should be an interior wall, and so on. One scene requires Aeka's bedroom to be on the second floor of one side of the house, facing the lake, while a second scene, only minutes after the first, requires it to be on the third floor of the opposite side of the house, in a location that doesn't exist at that point in the story and facing a direction that makes nonsense of the earlier scene, while Sasami is seen standing in a corridor that doesn't exist prior to episode 7. Different animators may have been working from different floor plans. Or maybe Yog-Sothoth was the architect. Considering that there are 3 gods in residence, this might be entirely justified.
- Persona 4: The Animation does this quite a bit, but one of the more noticeable examples comes in episode 6. At one point, when Naoto Shirogane and Kanji Tatsumi are talking together, Naoto looks like the top of her head reaches Kanji's chest. In a shot a few seconds later, she looks like she's only up to Kanji's waist. If that wasn't enough discrepancy, later when they're walking together, she's roughly at Kanji's shoulder.
- In Gundam Wing, the Shenlong Gundam has an extending dragon claw for a right arm; while it has a very obvious overall length, in several episodes it extends well beyond that. The Mid-Season Upgrade version from Endless Waltz gets a Hand Wave solution, having the claw be mounted on a "chain" of segmented red boxes that apparently fold into each other when not in use.
- In G Gundam, Neo Russia's Argo is a large man. However, he's still within a realistic human height. But in his introductory scene, he is shown to be easily twice the size of Domon. Episodes after that have him appear his regular height. Similarly, the Greek Gundam fighter's introductory episode exaggerates his size as well, even beyond Argo! Later episodes reveal he is in fact a giant of a man, but still smaller than his intro scene depicted.
- An interesting art mistake occurred in The Ultimates 3, in which Wolverine was drawn as smaller than the male Ultimate members. While his main universe version is supposed to be small, in the Ultimate Universe he was officially stated to be 1.81 (a skoch under six feet) meters tall from the very start. As this was one of many errors which saw the 616 versions of the characters transposed onto the Ultimate universe versions in one way, shape or form, it's possible that this one is down to research failure on the part of the artist and / or writer.
Films — Animation
- According to the filmakers, the balloons holding up Carl's house in Up were rendered bigger in long shots for the sake of visibility.
- Tangled: One of the many magical abilities of Rapunzel's hair appears to be changing its size as necessary. At times it's long enough to stretch the length of the tower or be used to swing across long distances, and at other times is short enough to tie into a floor-length braid or is just the right length to wrap herself in. It's also never too heavy for her to carry, but again, it's magical.
Films — Live-Action
- The alien mothership in Close Encounters of the Third Kind appears to change scale from one shot to the next — in its first full reveal it appears several times larger than the mountain it's supposed to be landing in front of. (It also famously casts a dark shadow despite being festooned with lights.)
- The 2009 Star Trek film upscaled the Enterprise from the original series design to nearly twice as long. This was largely because they wanted to keep an extremely oversized shuttlebay (the original carried 2 while the new version had at least 10). The Abrams Enterprise was designed to be only moderately bigger than the original (280 meters to 360 tip of the saucer section to end of the nacelle) but the official statement now is 700 meters, about the same size as the Sovereign class Enterpise-E. This has resulted in conflicting size comparisons between shots.
- In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier for a scene involving the characters climbing a vertical shaft they wanted it to seem like a genuinely MASSIVE tunnel. Official schematics list a Constitution class ships like the Enterprise as having around 24-25 decks (some areas in engineering aren't officially classified as Decks), but "Deck 79" appeared and fans were appropriately curious.
- Some believe that a ship travelling at warp magnifies its visual appearance several times over, which is why the Klingon ship seems to be half the size of the sun in The Voyage Home
- The original King Kong was taller in the city than on Skull Island. The life-size hand and head replicas were also not to the same scale.
- J. K. Rowling is known for this. Hogwarts's shifting floor plan was developed so that she could Hand Wave discrepancies, such as Dumbledore's office being on the second floor in book two and on the seventh floor (down the hall from the Room of Requirement) from book five onward. But of course, A Wizard Did It. Similarly, the Burrow is said to actually look like it's probably propped up by magic, the Room of Requirement grows as required, and many confined spaces, like the flying Ford Anglia and the tent from the Quidditch World Cup, are Bigger on the Inside.
- May have been inspired by Unseen University, where in The Last Continent a map made of the university was described as "would probably be accurate for the next few days, and looked like a chrysanthemum in the act of exploding".
- In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the USS Defiant was designed to be a small, dedicated warship when The Federation generally avoided such titles. In general the actual measurements should allow it to fit inside the saucer section of the TOS Enterprise, and while it is always portrayed as being rather small at other times it would barely fit inside the TNG Galaxy Class saucer section. The problem was worse in the days of physical models, which were never built on the same scale and so had to rely on composite shots and forced perspective tricks. At other times it's done for dramatic effect, as the arrival of the Enterprise-E in Star Trek: First Contact either makes the Defiant really small or the Ent-E very large to highlight the scene as a Gunship Rescue. Ex Astris Scientia has an article about several problems with the Defiant including contradictory sizes.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation was notorious for changing the apparent and/or relative size of ships from episode to episode. This was primarily because of two things: First, they actually had two models of the ship built, which were different sizes (and shapes) and they reused stock footage like mad. Second, because of the motion control done ships were composited together anyway, so they were free to scale them as much as they felt they could get away with. The other problem is that there are no reference points in space. As a result Klingon ships of the exact same type ranged from a few times larger than shuttles to a few times larger than the Enterprise itself (though they're canonically half its size) depending on where they were relative to the camera.
- The opening titles to Star Trek: Voyager include a sequence where Voyager is seen reflected off a gas giant's rings. The Voyager would need to be several thousand kilometers in length for this to occur. Even if it wasn't a gas giant, it would need to be much, much larger than its canonical length.
- The interior of Starbug on Red Dwarf gradually gets larger throughout the series, with more rooms appearing between series five and six, and a even more major change in series seven, even though the crew were supposedly trapped on the same ship the whole time. This is handwaved by Kryten as a "dimensional anomaly". In reality the show got a bigger budget and could have more lavish sets. Of course some fans complained that this rather spoiled the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in space aboard a tiny junker of a spaceship trying to find the lost mothership.
- The Battlestar Galactica movie The Plan does this to the Cylon baseships. At one point there is a fleet of them surrounding Caprica, and the camera is moving through space, causing both the ships and the planet itself to change appearance due to parallax. It basically makes the basestars look like they're a few hundred kilometers across. The shifting camera even causes one of the baseships to rise from over the planet's limb (meaning it was on the other side of the planet), and its shape can still be discerned. In fact, by comparing the size of the baseship to a raider, and then a raider to a person, a Colonial human must be somewhere around the size of a football field. A pretty clear example of Scifi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale.
- Packaging for Transformers toys has numerical stats referring to a character's abilities (Optimus Prime and Megatron being top tier) which might have worked until they were all artificially inflated, as no fan wanted to see his particular favorite with a poor score. Particularly hilarious when a character had his offensive capabilities talked up in his profile, eloquently describing his devastating weaponry and incredible combat power... only to reveal that his "Firepower" rating was four out of ten. And a few of the toys from Animated include extra weapons that the writers didn't know about, that end up worked in later (Lugnut's Mace, Soundwave's guitar that becomes Laserbeak, etc). There's also a press release that said Lugnut could fire napalm from his mouth which hasn't shown up anywhere else.
- This is a particular issue in the original cartoon and many comic series based off of the property. Characters will change size depending on how new they are (larger and more intimidating when introduced, shrunk down once someone else is). To say nothing of the toys themselves (Deluxe class figures are roughly 6 inches, so a Bumblebee and Optimus Prime toy would be about the same size). It's so bad that the Transformers Wiki's page on Scale is in the category "Things that don't exist".
- This applies to many figurines in general, specifically ones having to do with video games. The disproportionate sizing is similar to Super Smash Bros. sizing.
- Supposedly in Bully, Petey Kowlaski is short for a boy of 15. This would not be a problem if Jimmy and Gary weren't so (relatively speaking) close to his height. Either Jimmy and Gary are short too or the female students at the school are about 6'5" each. Girls do tend to be taller than boys at that age, earlier puberty making them grow sooner but not as much. Probably not that tall, though.
- Final Fantasy characters are often cited by official supplementary material as having ages which seem absurdly young compared to their in-game sprites and portraits, not to mention their roles in the story.
- Perhaps the most egregious example being the Mysidian Half-Identical Twins Palom and Porom from Final Fantasy IV, whose age is cited as 5. For what it's worth, the GBA remake did make their portraits look younger (probably no younger than 7-8, though).
- Another egregious example is Quistis Trepe in Final Fantasy VIII, a Garden instructor who the manual identifies as being the same age as most of her students, which may make the school's hesitancy at her competence a little more understandable. For once, this is somewhat plot-relevant. We even get to see it when the characters travel to Trabia Garden and they remember that almost all of them grew up in the same orphanage, Quistis included. Quistis is one year older than most of the key characters and graduated in the previous class. So the Garden was indeed a little hesitant, but not about her abilities (which were quite ample, thank you) — it was mostly about her inexperience.
- This does become rather amusing when characters from varying games have to interact with each other in Dissidia: Final Fantasy. For example, Bartz from Final Fantasy V is officially older than Squall of Final Fantasy VIII but you wouldn't know it from seeing the two of them rendered side by side. Let's not even touch how Zidane's Genome heritage apparently means that he can't clear the five foot mark.
- Pokémon is probably one of the more extreme examples, concerning Pokédex information.
- A noteworthy example is the Rock Snake Pokémon Onix, which, although being 8.8 m long and made of boulders (the diameters of which range from Red's height to double his height), weighs only 210 kg (463 lbs).
- There's also Wailord, a whale blimp-like Pokémon that is 47 feet long yet only weighs about half a ton.
- In the anime, Ash once allowed a Hippopotas (a hippo-like Pokémon almost twice the length of Pikachu) to hitch a ride on his head, like Pikachu or Aipom usually does/did. Pikachu weighs about 13 lbs (5.8 kg). Hippopotas weighs over one hundred pounds (more than 45 kg).
- As does Cacnea (weighs in at about 113 lbs (51 kg), to be precise), yet in the anime, Gardenia was picking one up and swinging it around like it was nothing. Either she's much, much stronger than she looks, or it's a particularly small Cacnea. It's distinctly implied that the values given in the Pokédex are averages, not solid numbers. Though she is deceptively strong, Sapphire has been seen with her Aron on her shoulder. Aron weigh (on average) 132.3 lbs (60 kg).
- Spinda. The height of a five-year-old, the weight of a terrier.
- Most mons are seriously underweight for the volume. Depending on how you take the Wailord measures (height vs length) for example, they're either has about the same density as air at the heaviest, or a bit lighter then hydrogen. This may make some sense, as Wailord are based on beach balls. Onix are 8.8m (nearly 29 feet) giant stone snakes weighting about 210kgs (463 pounds). Rapidash weigh an average of 95kgs, while a real life light riding horse weights around 400-500kgs. Tauros is 88.4kg, while a real life bull weights around 500 to 1000kgs.
- The height of characters of the day is also in rather wild flux. If one considers Brock to be a slightly-less-than-average-sized young adult, every few episodes the cast runs into ten foot tall bearmen.
- Played very straight in the in-game battles. While they give a good example of which pokemon are bigger than the others, but not by how much. The smallest pokemon in existence, Joltik, is less than a centimeter, but is drawn bigger than a trainer character's head.
- A somewhat literal application of this trope: In an issue of Game Informer magazine, the creators of the newest Red Faction game have reported that due to the new, highly realistic physics engine used to show the effects of damaging things, and would allow the player to damage a building enough to topple it. It turned out that many of the buildings they'd designed have proven to be structurally unsound, and collapsed under their own weight shortly after being placed in the environment. Consequently, the devs have had to learn some architecture to continue work on the game.
- Cautionary tale: Bungie hired real architects to design the environments from Oni. One of the most-cited problems with the game's art direction was that the environments look samey and boring. Bungie had previously been known as very Game Mod-friendly, but the prospect of editing tools was made rather unlikely due to the fact that Oni's characters were made and animated with 3DS Max and its levels were built with AutoCad. Both are tools of the trade for their respective professions, and both cost thousands of dollars a copy.
- City of Heroes suffered from this pretty badly, since the default height in the incredibly robust character creator was nearly 6 feet, and went all the way up to 8 feet. As a result, characters of realistic height could be dwarfed by civilian NPCs, then there's the great big Super Soldier whom you kept hitting right in the crotch... and then let's not get started on the borderline Chaotic Architecture that were the indoor building maps. To make things worse, the game's own development team couldn't seem to make heads or tails of their own height system, routinely creating supposedly regular university professors who were nevertheless tall enough to give any NBA player an inferiority complex. Worse still was that even at "normal" size, most cars looked so small that a person would have to drive them with his head between his knees. On the other hand, aside from the wildly varying "normal" heights, there really weren't too many things "more giant" than they need to be when it comes to giant monsters.
- More a "game engine designers have no sense of scale" one: in Pangya, the hole elevation reading is frequently way too large given the visual evidence. Case in point: character standing in bunker just below the green with ball at her feet. Surface of green (and hence hole level) is just above waist height. Hole elevation reading? Two point one metres. Making Hana (a typical schoolgirl), just over eleven feet tall.
- In Metal Gear Solid 4, Snake's height and weight was given as 180cm and 63.8kg (5'11", one hundred and forty pounds), which would be pretty badly underweight even for a man who wasn't very toned and muscular. This is all the more egregious because his height and weight was given in (the otherwise completely implausible and insane) Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake as 178cm and 75kg(5'10", 165 lbs). It's a pretty sensible weight for an average man of 5'10", but not for a buff man. Muscle is much denser than fat, so muscular people tend to have a high body weight for their size. A more reasonable weight for someone as ripped as Snake would be in the range of 81-86 kg/180-190 lbs. Arnold Schwarzenegger during The Eighties weighed over 100 kg despite — indeed, because of — having very little fat but plenty of muscle.
- The Twisted Metal series has this in spades. The most notable instance is probably when Axel, a man on a platform stuck between two giant wheels, drives next to the "civilians" in the game, and appears about four or five times taller than they are. He, the motorbike guy, and other "small" vehicles are all as tall as most houses.
- In the Crusader games, the grenade launcher mounts a 10-round magazine. How big is each round? 9.2 centimeters long. No, it's not shoulder-mounted. No, the magazine is never rendered as sticking out. Of course, the game pretty much redefines Hyperspace Arsenal to begin with...
- Metroid: Samus is stated to be 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) and 198 pounds (90 kg) when not in her Power Armor, which is what you expect form a Super Soldier that has often towered above most people. This stayed the same until Other M where Samus is clearly shorter. Or everyone else is just really freaking huge.
- Mass Effect 2
- The Normandy SR-2 is a ship that is (judging by in-game descriptions) at least four decks tall, with the top deck (Command Centre and the cockpit) alone being noticeably several feet higher than any human character (including Commander Shepard). However, the ship is modeled to be much smaller during its appearances in the Suicide Mission. While the crashed ship looks relatively massive when the specialists first exit it, it becomes much smaller during the end run, when Shepard (and his team, if they survived) run towards the Normandy, which is hovering in mid-air. The ship itself is modeled to be just slightly larger (height-wise) than Joker, who is standing at the port airlock and is almost as tall as the ship itself. This is also prevalent during several other in-engine cutscenes where the main cast directly enter the Normandy itself.
- This also applied to the original Normandy from the original game; there doesn't seem to be enough vertical room for the lower decks where the cargo bay and tantalus drive core are for them to fit in it. Upon reflection, it's clear that the interior wasn't designed with the exterior in mind for both ships, to the point that most of the windows on the SR-2 are perfectly straight when the hull is in fact curved.
- In cutscenes the krogan are huge, towering over every other character. However, in the gameplay itself, everybody is the same height. The developers had to settle for this compromise, since larger krogan kept getting stuck in objects all the time in the playtesting.
- Freelancer: When flying in space, full-size planets are no larger than a few hundred meters in diameter.
- Don't ever try to reconcile the sizes of the vehicles, your character's size, the sizes of the buildings, and the sizes of the evacuees that emerge from the buildings in Blast Corps. It will only end in headaches and tears.
- Super Robot Wars does this on purpose through the use of Super-Deformed character sprites, thanks to the height discrepancy between some of the Humongous Mecha. For example, Z2: Hakai-hen has Votoms and Code Geass (with mecha that average 4 meters/13 feet) and Gurren Lagann (whose title mecha eventually reaches the size of a galaxy); imagining anything from the former damaging the latter would be impossible without the concession.
- With a handful of exceptions, all of the character sprites in the main Touhou games are roughly the same size, regardless of whether this really makes sense. The spinoffs also disagree with each other, but that's a different trope.
- Due to the clashing art styles, happens in Project × Zone. Lampshaded if you pair Bahn with Yuri and Estelle, Estelle mentions it's nice to rely on an older person, causing Yuri to point out that Bahn, a tower of muscle, is actually younger than them as he's a high school student.
- MegaTokyo kicks this trope to the curb. Before changing careers to "full-time comic artist", Fred "Piro" Gallagher was, by trade, an architectural draftsmen.
- The Life of Nob T. Mouse does this on purpose since it was originally supposed to look like a child had drawn it.
- The artist of El Goonish Shive has repeatedly mentioned in the comics' commentary the work he goes through to avert this. He's very meticulous about defining characters' heights and drawing them to scale.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender
- A commercial gave Cute Bruiser Toph, the shortest member of the main cast, an official height of 5'1". On this scale, background characters sharing the screen with her have been as tall as ten feet. The artbook however has Toph listed around a foot shorter then what the commercial stated.
- As acknowledged in the DVD Commentary, it's not consistent whether Sokka and Aang are skinny and scrawny or lean yet muscular.
- Candance from Phineasand Ferb is explicitly 5'8 but suffers from a noticeable case of Teens Are Short. She's either this trope or the adults are just abnormally tall in their world.