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Midair Bobbing

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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. 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. 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 bob 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 this, where the bobbing (usually combined with spinning) helps catch the player's eye to the collectible.

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.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • 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.
  • Some of the character from Anpanman that fly would often bob up and down when hovering.
  • In Slayers, characters have a variety of methods of flight, but in the anime, where the human characters tend to leave the ground for specific directional movement (using "Ray Wing" or the oddly named "Levitation"), Xellos just kind of relaxes in the air a lot, and bobs while he does so. He's perfectly capable of not bobbing — sitting or standing perfectly still in the air — so unless it's merely an affordance to viewers, it's because he enjoys it.
  • Kizunatchi of Tamagotchi bobs up and down most of the time whenever she is flying.

    Asian Animation 
  • The animated version of Blazing Teens features Spirits that come from the kids' yo-yos when they do the sleeper trick with them, all of which can fly through the air and move up and down slightly as they do so.
  • In Colorful Crayon, Funny, a floating fairy with a flower-like head, bobs in the air.
  • In the Simple Samosa episode "Patang Hurdang", Dhokla is literally turned into a hot air balloon and can clearly be seen bobbing up and down in the air as he floats.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Wreck-It Ralph, at the Bad-Anon meeting, Clyde the Ghost floats up-and-down or left-and-right (above a chair) with the typical pace for his game.
  • In Turning Red, in human form, Sun Yee's robes undulate as if in a gentle wind which achieves this effect in another way. This is played straight with her panda form though.

    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.
  • Doctor Strange: When the Ancient One is dying and her spirit leaves her body, Strange follows her in astral form. As they have a heart-to-heart final conversation while the world around them is slowed down, they are still waving a little on the spot to remind the audience that they are disembodied spirits.

  • Harry Potter:
    • Peeves bobs most likely not due to the qualities of floating, but due to the fact that he has a lot of energy and a short attention span.
    • 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.
  • Deconstructed in Magic 2.0. Martin’s first attempt at flight is a crude version of this via constantly resetting his position to a point in midair, so it’s less like ‘bobbing’ and more like ‘rapid stuttering in midair’. This gives him motion sickness and he eventually learns to fly without doing this.

  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • Giving an enemy in an RPG Maker game the 'flying' attribute will cause it to midair bob in battle.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • The Allied Rocketeers in Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 do this.
  • The player in Descent. Since you're in a spaceship, it's presumably drift correction.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Hoverdines in Ground Control do this, even though one would imagine the Order soldiers inside them probably get seasick from all the bobbing.
  • In Halo, the gravity thrones of the Prophets and Rtas 'Vadum both behave this way.
  • In both Heretic and Hexen, if the player character takes off in flight with the Wings of Wrath but stands still, he will bob slightly up and down. This effect is absent when you start moving in any direction.note 
  • All "Flying" characters in Marvel: Avengers Alliance do this for their idle animation.
  • Lt. Magnezone and several other fliers and levitators in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games.
  • In several Puyo Puyo games, cutscenes that feature Yu and Rei the ghosts have their sprites constantly in motion to indicate they're floating.
  • In Quake III: Arena and its Spiritual Successor OpenArena, most of the pickups, including ammo packs, powerups, weapons, and even the flags in Capture the Flag (and in the case of the latter also the Domination/Double Domination control points), perform a bobbing motion.
  • The fire pets from the "Firemaker's Curse" quest in RuneScape do this.
  • 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 Terraria, the Money Trough, an airborne version of the Piggy Bank storage item, remains in one spot in the air when summoned, slowly bobbing up and down.
  • In the Touhou Project 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 Touhou Shinkirou ~ Hopeless Masquerade and Touhou Shinpiroku ~ Urban Legend in Limbo, where combat happens in midair.
  • 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.

    Web Original 
  • AstroLOLogy features Libra, who floats in the air unlike the other characters and can be seen bobbing up and down slightly.
  • In one Strong Bad email, Bubs is shown to have once possessed the power of flight. Bubs bobs.

    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.


Video Example(s):


Milla Vodello

Milla Vodello, the Mental Minx, is an expert at Levitation.

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Main / LevitatingLotusPosition

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