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Art Evolution

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On the left: 1978. On the right: today.
Maybe all of that dieting paid off.

Elan: But at least you got some snazzy new boots, and I got this clasp for my cloak!
Haley: [whispering] Pssst! Elan, it's an art upgrade, we're supposed to pretend we were always drawn this way.

When an artist begins drawing a series for the first time, chances are that the Art and character designs will be crude or basic due to lack of practice. As the artist gains expertise during the run of the series, there will be a gradual shift in the art as rough lines are smoothed out and designs refined. This evolution normally stops when they are satisfied with the art quality and it crystallizes into its final or "iconic" stage for the rest of the series. This is generally viewed as a cosmetic Retcon, the stylistic changes do not have an In-Universe explanation or justification for it (plastic surgery, repairs or upgrades).

First-time series for new animators are most susceptible to this, but arguably almost every animated and graphic series undergoes this to some degree as the animator finds out how best to make the characters look attractive while saving maximum time and money.


Art evolution will be most noticeable in evolving character designs, but more subtle things can change too, including better shading and more detailed backgrounds. Every long running series involving artwork tends to show the effect to a greater or lesser extent. This may or may not be caused by the fact that the show has been running for a long time, and may had multiple artists, and/or different animating equipment.

An art evolution, however, is not necessarily an upgrade. The changes may become worse if the animators become lazy or their budget is slashed, especially in long-running series which are more likely to have an Off-Model episode or two. Standardization of the art style can also result in a paradoxical effect, it results in cleaner designs and crisper animation but also loses the raw, experimental feel and the diversity it once had in favor of the handful of designs they know that works. In the end, artistic quality is highly subjective, which can lead to some fans becoming displeased with the new art style over the familiar old one, even as others praise it.


Very obvious in Webcomics, since the vast majority of webcomics are amateur work; it may be the artist's first sustained attempt at drawing at all. Professional artists often recommend such artists continue honing their style rather than becoming too comfortable too soon. Genuinely good artists tend to have fifty bad drawings for every good one, even if they hide them away from the comic's archives.

Not to be confused with Art Shift, which is a sudden, temporary change in artistic style as homage or parody. However, lampshadings of Art Evolution are often accomplished by means of an Art Shift. In a series with significant Art Evolution, the older style may reappear for a Retraux Flashback. Sudden Eye Colour occurs when a character goes from having generic "colourless" eyes to having a defined eye colour.

May cause Early Installment Weirdness. Also see Vocal Evolution, Costume Evolution, Special Effects Evolution, and Early Installment Character-Design Difference.

Example sub-pages:

Other examples:

  • Anton Thomas, cartographer of North America: Portrait of a Continent, found that his art has evolved significantly on that one project alone (which had taken a few years by that point) that the older parts of the map needed re-doing. Since it was partially done in pen, he had to use an X-Acto knife as an eraser. As his website's "Before" and "After" Pictures show, his outlines became softer and smoother, his coloring grew more vibrant, and certain details were re-drawn for greater accuracy.

    Asian Animation 
  • Season 2 of Hello Jadoo has more color, backgrounds and shadows but doesn't change much in character design, except the change from Four-Fingered Hands to regular five fingered ones.
  • The simple Flash animation in Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf has improved significantly over the years. Starting with The Little Detective, the characters have smaller horns, smaller noses, bigger eyes, and smoother lines. They are also more expressive.

  • Tamagotchi:
    • In Japan, the artwork for the characters used to be cruder and had black outlines. Beginning in 2004, the artwork looked better, but had blue outlines and several older characters who originally had black body parts had said parts recolored to match the new blue.
    • In the USA, the artwork looked even cruder than the original Japanese artwork, looking like it was colored in by a preschooler. In 2004, they later received the 2004 Japanese style, but later switched to the anime designs with the Tamagotchi Friends.

    Visual Novels 
  • The characters in Melody appear more realistic in the later chapters than in the earlier ones, especially Amy and Sophia.


Video Example(s):


South Park

The comparison of season 1 to season 17 of South Park

How well does it match the trope?

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Main / ArtEvolution

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