Cuphead: Inspiration from the Inkwell

Canada, 2020

Object On display
Photograph by Egmont Contreras

The charming and cheeky animated characters of Studio MDHR’s Cuphead videogame spring into action in this contemporary incarnation of the popular 19th-century invention, the zoetrope. Designed specifically for ACMI by Studio MDHR, this zoetrope spins and uses strobe lighting to create the illusion of 90 individual characters magically coming to life. Watch as Cuphead, Mugman, Ms Chalice, King Dice and the Devil all animate before your eyes in a series of poses representing the way Cuphead mixes classic animation with modern digital gaming.

Heavily inspired by the classic cartoons of the 1930s – particularly Fleischer Studios and Walt Disney – Studio MDHR used hand-drawn cel animation, watercolour backgrounds and original jazz recordings to create the world of Cuphead – one of the most successful run-and-gun videogames in recent memory.

Curator Notes

Studio MDHR’s videogame Cuphead invites players into a world of old-school nostalgia. Utilising 2D side-scroller and run-and-gun gameplay to emulate such classics as Mega Man and the Contra series, the game’s aesthetics are inspired by surrealist cartoons of the 1930s. Enemies players encounter include a towering cigar with a sinister grin, giant angry flowers, fireflies and of course, the malevolent ruler of Inkwell Hell himself, the Devil.

To achieve this iconic style authentically Studio MDHR relied on a rubbery bouncy animation style known as ‘rubber-hose animation’. Characters were often drawn with long flowing curves and elastic limbs, having no articulation at their wrists or elbows. Bill Nolan first created and perfected the style in the mid-1920s with his re-design of Felix the Cat. Considered the world’s first animated star, Felix made his debut in the animated short 'Feline Follies' in 1919. Debate still surrounds who originally created Felix, Australian-born animator and studio head Pat Sullivan or in-house animator Otto Messmer. Originally looking quite angular, Nolan’s softer, curvier Felix began to appear in the mid-1920s. Not only did the rubber-hose style lend itself to wildly imaginative storylines but it was faster and easier for animators to draw.

– Curator Chelsey O'Brien

Real 2D animation on paper isn’t as easy. And it isn’t being taught in a ton of schools like it was 20 or 30 years ago. So, it’s a dying art.

Cuphead lead artist Chad Moldenhauer

Get a sense of the beautiful animation in this trailer for the launch of the Cuphead game

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In ACMI's collection

On display until

16 February 2031

ACMI: Gallery 1



Studio MDHR



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Collection metadata

ACMI Identifier


Curatorial section

The Story of the Moving Image → Moving Pictures → MI-02. Play and Illusion

Object Types

3D Object

Exhibition Prop


3D printed zoetrope


361275 times

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