Pixel Practice: More Tools, More Pixels_part1.png

The following images were each created using a canvas of 32×32 pixels, a notable step up from the 8×8 dimensions of the first set:

pattern

This first image is a geometric pattern created using GIMP’s pencil tool. Its main feature and the focus behind its design is the incorporation of straight lines. I started with the X-shape (six lines), modified how they intersected, then worked outward one quadrant at a time.

These four images are the result of an exercise in using layers. The first image is the base layer, and the other three are modifications created in separate layers of the same file. When exporting the images, I toggled the visibility of the layers so that only two were visible at a time, i.e. the base layer and one of the others.

These four images mark a departure from the pencil tool in favor of the paintbrush and airbrush tools. Unlike the pencil’s “hard edge,” these tools have “soft edges.” Their colors are a mix of two or three hues, and areas of color painted with them blend together rather than appear visually distinct. You can understand, then, how useful they are for creating something like fire, the theme of these images.

The hardest part of the first, second, and fourth images was capturing the shape of fire. Even after studying several reference images, it took me a number of attempts before I was satisfied. The left-most image was made using the brush and was the first of these I created. It was also the most frustrating as a result. Beginning with the second image (my favorite), I learned my lesson and used more than one tool. It was not only easier, but the final results looked objectively better. In this image, a candle, I used the airbrush to create the flame and the brush to create the base. That the result ended up looking semi-photo-realistic was a happy accident.

For the third image, I decided to take a more abstract approach. I knew I wanted to create lava, but I wasn’t sure how well I’d actually be able to do that, so I opted instead to use the brush to create streaks over the background to simulate rock, and then I changed the color to create rivulets of lava, thus dividing the rock into “plates.” To make them look more like lava, I added small amounts of yellow in some areas before going over it all with white using the airbrush, which I thought would help simulate a glow.

The last image is somewhat macabre, but at this point, I was out of ideas for fire-related imagery. I used the brush to create a “stake,” used the pencil to create a stick figure “victim” and a rudimentary restraint (I couldn’t add detail without compromising the appearance of the figure), then switched the airbrush and painted fire over them, starting with red and moving to yellow before finishing with white. The effect, I hope, emulates looking through the flames to the stake and victim within.

Pixel Practice.png

I used to be able to draw fairly well. Next to reading books and writing stories, it was my favorite way to treat the chronic disease of ennui that plagued me throughout my formative years. My ability to draw things that existed in the world around me was average at best, but I was more drawn (sorry) to the myriad of objects and creatures that swirled around in my head. Many, I called or associated with demons, vile things that pulsed and slithered across sheets of notebook paper, their domains bordering the word oceans that were my class notes. By the time they occupied sheets of their own, techniques like highlighting and shading made them seem more real, although their monochromatic skin kept them in the realm of fantasy. I used a pencil exclusively, believing that introducing color to my creations would ruin them somehow. The pencil thus became a subconscious self-imposed limitation that, looking back, I think made each piece I drew better because conveying certain effects and features required more thought and inspired more creativity.

First Foray

It would then surprise no one to know that I have long been fascinated by pixel art and the games that use them. Pixel art has been periodically criticized as being overused, particularly in “indie” games, but that criticism’s about as valuable to developers and the industry as that directed toward the game engine in which a game is made (i.e. not at all, especially if it comes from people who have no desire to make their own games). The specific tools used should not matter if those tools are used well. They should only matter to consumers if and when that use inspires them to experiment with and explore their own ideas.

On that note, I thought GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) was as good an option as any for learning how to make pixel art. It helped that it was already on my computer. The impetus for actually doing so came rather recently in the form of a course taught by Michael Bridges, the instructor whose Blender course gave me some direction in creating the Amami black rabbit. I had always considered pixel art, like I did 3D modeling a year ago, daunting for various reasons, so I was confident that I now had the means to be able to change my perspective in relatively short order.

Initially, two restrictions were placed on created images: they had to be eight pixels in height and width and only use black and white. Then, the concepts of hue, saturation, and value were introduced, and the images progressed to grayscale. The use of color was last.

Rather than a bunch of unrelated icons, this initial set as well as most that followed were considered “visual stories,” each icon representing a word or set of words that together formed a coherent idea or adhered to a theme. This one was “Person Loves Bowling.”

While creating the grayscale set (“Man Walks Dog in Park”), I realized that if the images were placed side by side, they could form a single image as long as their backgrounds were the same color, so I exploited this in the creation of each by making a note of pixel placement and color in progressive images.

The color set (“Astronaut Travels in Rocket to Outer Space”) focused on using lighter shades in certain areas of the image to create the impression of light shining onto those areas. Although employed in the first, second, and fourth images, I think it’s more evident in the first and fourth than it is in the second. In the third image, which depicts the Earth, my intent was to create a gradient sort of effect that depicted the atmosphere’s distinct layers.

Fruits of My Labor

For this final set, I was given no direction other than to make 16 and to use what had been learned so far. I think it’s clear enough, but in case it isn’t, I spent more time on some of these than I did on others. It’s more difficult than it sounds to make 16 8×8 images that resemble real-world objects. I’m not using that an excuse for them taking two days (although I could), since I became interested in finding out just how much detail I could cram into 64 pixels. That’s how I ended up with the first image in the first row and the first and third images in the third row. For those unable to discern the objects represented in these images, I have courteously listed them below:

First Row

  • Aerial view of a step pyramid
  • Bananas
  • Baby Bottle
  • Cactus

Second Row

  • Candle
  • Diamond
  • Cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album
  • GameDev.TV logo

Third Row

  • Hamburger (grayscale)
  • Pencil
  • Final render of that rabbit project I mentioned – Fun fact: it was the first image I made in what would be this set.
  • The Eye of Sauron – I haven’t seen the movies and am only so far as book two of The Fellowship of the Ring as of this post, so I don’t actually know who he is yet or what the significance is of this giant flaming eye. I’ve read The Hobbit, though, so it’s not like I’m not trying to get familiar with Middle-earth.

Fourth Row

  • Screw – I’ve been on a Castlevania kick since the Netflix series debuted, and I started making pixel art just before finishing Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. I mention that only because I originally intended to make the Oak Stake from Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, but I discovered that the sprites in that game are 9 by 9 rather than 8 by 8, so I just used the stake as “inspiration.”
  • Scythe
  • Toothbrush and Toothpaste
  • Umbrella