Today, we are going to explore an art that
was born with old-school videogames. An art that will challenge your patience and your
meticulousness. Yes, I am talking of pixel art.
If pixel art has a unique look, the drawing process is still pretty close to regular drawing
and painting. Your knowledge of the principles of design, color, light but also shapes all
apply to this medium. The workflow to produce a character or any scene will still be the
same as with painting: We start with a sketch, or a blocking.
We then add shadows and lights. And we refine the piece with more strokes
and using compositing techniques. Pixel art does have some particularities.
As we draw using those small squares that make up our screens, the pixels, we face some
constraints. How can we draw curves using squares? Here’s the first issue we are going
to face. Another difficulty resides in the low resolution of pixel art assets. How can
we create the illusion of volume on a tiny canvas?
A good mastery of silhouettes and the ability to come up with subtle color nuances is essential
in order to make quality pixel art. You’ll also need to be very patient! Yet, there are
some useful techniques that are going to facilitate our discovery of the world of pixel art. We
are going to see some of them in this video. Number one: Contours.
Coming up with great silhouettes is hard in pixel art. Most notably, it is no easy task
to keep track of the big picture when we draw little squares one by one. Because of that,
it is critical to always keep a copy of our canvas at a 100% zoom level. That way, even
when we zoom in, we can still keep an eye on the final result. Most image-editing software
possess a navigator that can play this role. Others also allow us to duplicate the active
document. In order to get clean outlines, and to create
the illusion of curves, we have to use patterns. We could almost talk about routines here.
We move 2 pixels to the right, one up, we repeat that, then one to the right, one up,
etc. If we reuse these patterns throughout our
pixel art, we breathe some unity in it in terms of form. And if you recall, that is
actually an application of one of our fundamental principles of design: repetition. There is
no math formula that will cover all your needs in terms of drawing patterns. You will have
to experiment and practice pixel art to find the schemes that are going to fit your needs.
Number 2: alpha lock.
Once we have established our base shapes, just as with painting, we can lock our layers’
alpha. Aseprite has an option to paint in such a way that transparent pixels are not
affected. On Photoshop, as we have seen in one of the first how to game art, it is possible
to freeze a layer’s alpha using the / key. We can also proceed in another way: using
the magic wand tool. We first select a color or a set of colors, and we can then paint
inside the selection. Number 3: antialiasing.
With pixel art, the shapes that we initially draw are going to be crenellated. If we want
to refine our final sprites’ shading, we can use transition colors. We have to apply
them to a few carefully picked pixels to emulate some form of antialiasing. We use this technique
whenever the transition between 2 color zones is too abrupt. I personally prefer to work
inside the darkest color of the 2. As you can see, if we use antialiasing on the brighter
color, this tends to blur the edge and make the transition zone look heavier.
The simplest way to use this technique is to place one transition pixel at the end of
every straight-line that makes up our entire shape.
Number 4: using filters. Pixel art requires a great time investment.
Traditionally, it is all done by hand. Just as with painting, there is effectively no
secret to polish a piece: it has to be done by hand. However, it is possible to use filters
and even some other tools to work faster. Aseprite possesses 2 interesting types of
filters: the first one produces a contour around an existing shape. It is very handy
if we want to stroke our character once it’s done. This can give it an interesting style.
The 2nd filter I want to talk about is the sharpen filter. It generates lighter or darker
colors along the edges of a color island. It offers a quick way to accentuate the separation
between 2 colors and to pop its edges. This filter also works well with selection tools.
Number 5: tinting shadows. Whenever I work on a new set of graphic elements
for a game, I often design them as if they were lit by a white light. In other words,
I use local colors in order to do my assets’ blocking. Once a graphic element is close
to being done, I can always unify its shadows by tinting them with blue, purple, orange…
all that thanks to gradient mapping. On Photoshop, gradient mapping is accessible
as an adjustment layer. You just have to add the effect as a layer, to open this layer’s
properties and to make sure that it only affects the shadows of underlying elements. If we
put the gradient map at the top of our layer stack, we can globally affect the shadow colors
of our whole creation. Number 6: some general tips.
It is always hard to see the mistakes we make when we are drawing. We have seen that it’s
interesting to always keep a copy of our document at a 100% zoom level. But there is more! There
are some other tricks we can use to bring our piece’s issues out.
For example, we can change the document’s background color from time to time. This alters
the relationship between our characters colors and, obviously, the canvas’ hue. That way,
we can both better see how our colors work in a general context and how our colors relate
to one another. This also affects our perception of the silhouette of our drawing.
There’s another essential trick for every visual artists: symmetry. It is easier to
see if we haven’t drawn something straight or if some parts of our creations are deformed
if we turn our painting around. It is a simple technique, but a very efficient one.
That’s it for this video! In the past How to Game Art, we focused on general techniques,
so I thought that pixel art could make some fresh content for you. It is an art that requires
a bit of patience, a lot of patience… But also some patience! We’ll get back to it
in the future. Pixel art is very interesting for those of you who don’t have a graphic
tablet. You can do pixel art just with a mouse and a cheap computer.
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watching. Be creative, have fun… until next time!