pixelart tutorial

Some pixel art thoughts...

So I’ve been receiving messages and asks here and on my other blog (the Wishgranter) from some artists trying their hand at pixel art for the first time. BIG DISCLAIMER : I’m by no means an expert in the medium but I’ve been studying and working on pixel art for some time and I thought I would share some things I’ve learnt for other beginners. I will be using the following image (with permission) as an example to give tips - done by @yatagansaber​ and sent to me for feedback.

First of all, for me what defines an image as pixel art is not it’s small resolution or the fact that you can see individual pixels, but it’s the way that it’s made. The art of ‘pixel pushing’ differs from other digital mediums by the fact that each pixel - or at least most pixels - in the image are hand placed by the artist and have a purpose.

What I mean is that regardless of the size of the canvas, the artist probably went in at some point with the 1px brush and hand placed most individual pixels. For me, I usually start with a larger brush to define forms but then I switch to 1px brush very early in the process all the way to the end.

Point no. 1: Canvas size
So for this case, the canvas here is pretty large and the artist is going for an armor clad character which means the canvas was probably going to get larger. So here I would strongly suggest going for a much smaller canvas especially since the artist is just starting out with pixelart and it is much easier to grasp the concept on a smaller canvas. I usually start with a 60x60 canvas and then adjust as I go, but I very rarely go over 100x100. In pixelart you will not be blending with giant brushes, so for the big flat areas you will either end up with a single flat color or do a lot of dithering which might take away from the final image.

Point no 2: Defining curves

Define your curves better. When working with pixelart, curves need to be defined properly or it will end up looking very jaggy in the end. Referencing the image, The neck area of the armor for example could be defined better to have a more presentable effect. Focus on having the lines gradually decreasing in pixel width alone the curve of the object you’re drawing.

Point no 3: Coherent Light sources

More of a general art tip. The image doesn’t seem to have a coherent light source. On the shoulder pad to the left it seems to indicate a top left art source while the neck area completely ignores that light source and indicates one to the top right. Another light source is indicated to the bottom right in the torso area. Although having multiple light sources is totally acceptable it needs to be done coherently. Artists usually stick to one main light source and maybe some back lighting for effect.

Point no 4: Light and Forms

Also a general art tip. Make sure you use lighting to define your forms. The lighting on the shoulder pad seems to suggest a flat, sharp surface while the general form seems to suggest a cylindrical object. This very important as it will help the viewer understand what they are seeing. To help with this, try to find references and see how the lighting hits specific objects.

Point no 5: Contrast

When drawing metal objects such as armor you must think about it as a very reflective surface. The light source should be much brighter and stronger then the rest of the palette to create a good contrast. Again, this isn’t exclusive to pixel art, but to art in general. The best way to get used to these things is to watch a lot of real life references and other artist’s work.

Point no 6: Color Palettes

Choose a more interesting color palette. When drawing pixelart you’re not going for realism, and even in real life, it’s very rare to see something being completely one color. Don’t simply stick to one color and increasing/decreasing brightness. Try messing around with hue variation and saturation as well to create a much more pleasant image. For this case I didn’t have time to create a new color palette so I simply added some hints of color to the shades. Ideally before starting a new piece you decide on a color ramp with different hues and stick with it till the end.

Final Thoughts

So after applying those points (except the canvas size point) to the armor piece I ended up with the result below:

It’s obviously nowhere close to being perfect since I do not have the time to keep pushing it to a good finish but it should give a good idea of how those several little points can help make your pixelart look better.

That’s all I got for now. I hope this can help someone out there with their art! All feedback appreciated and feel free to ask me anything.

Improve your pixel art sprites!

Introduction

In this tutorial, I will explain you how to use a couple techniques I used to improve Planet Centauri’s sprites before implementing them into the game (or before animating them).
Some of the rules shown here are very easy to use, and/or are purely  methodical;
so even if you aren’t very skilled, follow those simple guidelines to make your sprites cleaner.


Colors

A lot of basic mistakes will ruin the quality of your art.
Thankfully, they’re also generally quite easy to fix with some experience, and
by paying attention.


Too many colors

Pixel art is all about constraints. When two colors are very close, merge them into an intermediate one, so you see if it improves the result.
Using a small palette will help you improving your skills much more easily, and will make creating sprites also easier.
It also will make it easier to identify unwanted artifacts (i.e. misplaced pixels).


Gradients

If you are constructing a palette with gradients, avoid at any cost independent gradients (i.e. only dimmed/lighted base colors). Use gradients that depends on each other.

You can also try to use yellow-ish or cyan-ish saturated light colors, and blue-ish and purple-ish desaturated dark colors. However, avoid using an over-saturated or an under-saturated palette.
This usually ends up bad and breaks contrasts.
You should also use gradients with outspread tints to avoid washy color contrasts.

Remember never to use more colors than necessary, and use gradients with contrasted brightness.
Feel free to try using other generic palettes on your sprite to compare it with your palette so you can improve it.


Neighbor colors

Avoid as much as you can excessive contrasts between neighboring pixels.
For example, a black line over a white background usually won’t look natural.
A line that fits the background color well gives a realistic volume effect.

This is as true for outlines, which has to fit with both the inner color and the umbrage of the surface.

NB: Obviously, this doesn’t work with any graphic style.


Pillow shading

Pillow shading is a nasty effect that occurs when the light source comes from the front.

Avoid pillow shading, unless you really know what you’re doing.


Lines and curves

Perfect line: A line that has a constant vertical and horizontal step.

Perfect curve: A curve made of perfect lines which step always depends on the other parts of the curve.

Dirty line: A line that has at least one sub-segment with more than one adjacent pixel on one end.

As you may have noticed on the pictures above, dirty lines should be avoided.
You should use as much perfect lines and curves as possible.


Clusters

A cluster is a group, a pack of connected pixels with the same color.
Cluster shapes will greatly affect the final image.
Bony and crude clusters will give a sketchy aspect.
Round and straight lines are preferred so you get a precise, smooth and nice image.

Avoid lonely pixels. If one pixel is inside of a different color cluster without
any adjacent pixel with the same color, remove it.


Dithering et texturing

Contrary to popular belief, dithering isn’t as great as it seems. A lot of dithering between heavily contrasted colors will often give a dirty and noisy image.
It is also a very bad idea to use dithering when animating a sprite, because keeping coherent dithering will be awfully hard.

If you art style lets you do it, use texturing instead (the difference is that texturing does not induce color limitations).
But don’t forget, texturing means harder animation and worse clarity.
Again, it’s a matter of style.
If you want a cartoon-ish look, do not use dithering nor texturing.


Antialiasing

Antialiasing a technique that reduces the staircase effect (aliasing) which is clearly visible on two lines between two contrasted surfaces.

Internal AA

There are two use-cases for internal AA :
Simply separating two surfaces, and using lines or curves cutting through two different surfaces.

In the first case, you may just need to insert an intermediate color where aliasing is visible to reduce it (generally, when the curve abruptly changes).

In the second case, you may just need to add a small intermediate color cluster between every horizontal or vertical sub-segment.
Its size directly depends on the sub-segment size.


External AA

External AA suffers from an important restriction, unlike internal AA: The background color in a game will constantly change, so you need to have an effect that looks good on both dark and light backgrounds.

This rule is quite easy: You only apply the effect inside of the sprite.
The end of an outline that neighbors with the background should never be modified.

In this image, the internal AA effect applied on the outer part of the sprite unveils some nasty artifacts, while external AA, even if it isn’t as efficient, gives a great effect on any background type.


The end.

Something a little different today! Here’s the workflow that I go through with every animation for The Iron Oath. Total time spent for this attack was 10-12 hours.

If you like what you see, please check out our Kickstarter campaign which is currently 70% funded! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/312751524/the-iron-oath-dark-turn-based-tactical-rpg

youtube

Tutorial out on how I pull this Effect of in Photoshop!

youtube

Some guy asked for a video on how I (sometimes) do lowpoly texturing, so I tried making a little timelapse.
Messed up something in the settings (first time trying Blender for video editing) and made it way too fast.

Not sure how useful it is, but I might make a commented video later, and perhaps one on the making of the texture itself.

This is going to be a torso for the robot, of course, but it’s still WIP.

youtube
youtube

New aseprite Tutorial out, this time it’s all about the Animation Timeline and Tools you might want to know before going into Animation. 

youtube

New Pixel Art Tutorial!

How to figure out what size to make your Pixel Art