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Pixel Practise

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Yes, it’s getting toward that time again, and yes, it does seem to get here faster and faster with each year. To ‘celebrate’ the return of the C-word, here’s a pixel card from last year featuring a rather festive edit of Jake “The Snake” Roberts from WWF WrestleFest, who appears to have a sackful of treats for us all. Yes, I’m sure he does. It absolutely won’t be a python or cobra or anything remotely sinister. It’s Christmas – he says so, and we can trust him.

And so I set about trying to think something up for this year’s e-card – something quick, preferably, as the time may or may not be my own. Right now, Chri$tmas just feels a tad inconvenient. I guess I’ll have to keep my fingers crossed for the elusive snowfall, or just dig out my reindeer pyjamas and the Carpenters’ Christmas Portrait to try and gain some vague semblance of festivity. Ah well, I suppose there’s still a way to go, yet, and I do normally cave in a week or so before the main event. We’ll see. Just don’t tell Jake that I don’t really think it’s Christmas yet…

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Trees! Trees! Teresa Green! Or not as the case may be, sorry Tess. The above was something of a detour from my standard pixel practice; I tried to go wild with nature by creating a spooky tree with blocks of pixels, which I’d previously put together using a selection of shades. It seemed like a clever idea at the time. As you can see, it didn’t go that well, so that was something of a “one and done” exercise.

I started thinking back to old tree pieces I’d done and furthermore to artists who’d made interesting interpretations of them. Of course I found my way back to Piet Mondrian, my old GCSE Art bae. Always a joy. I went a step further with the reduction, however, sticking to my favoured black-and-white style to begin with.

pixeltree-2bThese were such fun, actually, and I like them all the more for their imperfections. I did attempt some later on using sharp lines, but they didn’t appeal nearly so much.

Branching back to my glitch stuff a couple of months back, I felt it was now time for Photoshop to take over. I drew a very rough impression of some leaves over the grid, and then pixellated it, resulting in a glitchy mess. Cue play, and we ended up with these intreeguing puppies:

And then I recoloured one to reflect autumn. Tis the season, after all, close bosom-friend of the maturing sun.

pixeltree-2fThe main take-aways from this post are: wasn’t Mondrian a legend, and; isn’t Photoshop also a legend? These are also uber-abstract for Mr. Literal over here, too, so I’m taking this as a victree one way or another.

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He’ll probably take a while to load.

Here we have a Spectrum-inspired pixel portrait of André the Giant, who is something of a regular on this blog. Inspiration came from two places: A generous helping of Skittles, and watching a review of the Spectrum’s typically awful adaptation of The Krypton Factor. Standard, I’m sure you’ll agree. I saw the portraits of the contestants in all their pixel glory and thought it’d be fun to try a similar thing with André.

Nostalgia Nerd is heartily recommended.

As it was, I ended up working on this for almost four hours, until after 4 o’clock this morning. I’m not going to complain. Motivation is not my strong point, so if the time flies by like that – which it most definitely did – then it can’t be that bad. It was really enjoyable, actually, and quite a happy result, similar to my stippling experiments from a few years ago. You can tell I started in the eye/nose T-zone and worked outwards, because it gets tidier the further we go from there. Some of the positioning and gradients could be better, particularly around the jawline, but I’ll take this as an impulse punt. Skittles or not, I will look into doing more of this.

At one point I just casually duplicated the marks layer and nudged it slightly, and was intrigued by the effect. Here are some alternates, positioned to the right, beneath, and another with a drop shadow effect; of course with nearest neighbour interpolation the aesthetic is locked to sharp pixels, so, even if less effective, they keep an authentic look.

I’ve probably shared this before, but it never gets old: here’s a clip of André at WrestleMania IV, mocking Hulk Hogan and showing Bob Uecker who’s boss.

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Having done a few pure pixel pictures lately, I ventured into three dimensions to look at transferring objects into the pixel realm; reducing resolutions, avoiding anti-aliasing and trying to create as authentic a visual as I can.

Cheating, essentially.

I began playing with some simple shapes and animations, limiting colour.

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Happy results, and certainly a time saver for designs like those above and below.

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And, having played around with hexagons, it was time for the obligatory detour to Blockbusters, which then spilled into other game shows for good measure. After all, what do pixels make?

Blockbusters is set to return on Comedy Central (yes, seriously) at some point this year. By my count, this will be the fifth time since the golden Bob era that this format has been dredged back up. Will it take off this time, I wonder? You have to admire the perseverance.

While there’s nothing especially ground-breaking here, it’s nice to have it confirmed that pixel art doesn’t have to be restricted to just Photoshop painting; the 3D alternative for reference is equally effective, and a handy cheat. Cheating is good when it saves you time!

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In looking at turning people into a bunch of pixels, I found my way to Batman rather quickly. More interesting than most people, right? Especially the Joker.

There are certainly plenty of old games from which to take inspiration. To that end, I should give sizable credit to the Batman Doom mod for the above, as my Joker sprites here are inspired by the model in that game – my attempt was to bring him into 1989, and the more chequered Jack Nicholson incarnation. That will always be the quintessential Joker look for me.

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And, to follow up, a modification in the style of the ZX Spectrum and the bloody frustrating Batman The Movie; somewhat surprisingly, the Joker himself is only ever seen in the final seconds of the game, where the player must thwart his attempt to get away in true Batman style: murder. Maybe this is how he might have looked with a prominent role? Or, maybe, he’d have looked a lot better than that. Ah well!

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“I’m Batman.”

“No, I’m Batman.”

You can’t have one without the other! Here’s Batman, in both classic and 1989 attire, achieved almost exclusively via pallette swap. This one is essentially another character for WrestleFest as it uses the same base, only I’ve had a go at beefing the thighs up somewhat. Perhaps the torso could do with similar treatment, especially on the Keaton side, but this was really experimenting with swapping colours.

Again, this was lots of fun. I may have a go at some of the other Bat nemeses in the future, and perhaps even Robin, though I’ll have to think of a different title for that one now.

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More practise with pixels! This time I went a tad more ambitious, with the previous industrial vein moving toward the coast.

The landscape with Happisburgh Lighthouse above was a blast! I started out studying the trees, and, when they turned out okay, the buzz started to kick in. I ended up completing the scene in a couple of hours. There’s still some more experimentation required I think, especially with the sky and clouds, whose gradients are perhaps a little too steep, but I think on the whole it looks alright.

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And here we have some imaginary gas platform, not an unfamiliar sight here on the coast, though indeed more imaginary than they used to be. This was mostly looking at light, reflection… reflected light. I think this exercise reinforced that, when working with a brush the size of a single pixel, patience is most definitely the key. I’ve been tempted by some examples of pallette cycling in old computer games. It should be a fun technique to explore – using it to suggest flowing water looks particularly beautiful. More to come, hopefully soon.

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Pixel art is going to be big for me in 2019. Just before Christmas, I was snapped up to work on a game firmly rooted in this retro aesthetic. My role there is mostly to create individual likenesses for the cast, but I thought it would be beneficial to take a step back and, in my free time, look at some broader arenas. Hopefully, I’ll pick up a few tricks along the way.

With the pylons going up on Sunday, I thought a general industrial theme was a good place to begin. The quick pipe lettering above was not only an excuse for more letters but a warm-up tiling exercise. Tiling allows for quick and clean creation of environments. Most platform games of old used this technique for their scenery.

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These crates and barrels were mostly studying texture and dithering.

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You can’t spell industrial without corrugated iron:

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If I’ve learnt one thing from my work so far, it’s that size really doesn’t matter. Working on a small grid of pixels can be just as time-consuming as the most detailed sketch – sometimes more so, as I start to panic about the sharpness of certain edges, the pallette, and whether I should introduce more colours or even reduce them. Hopefully these are the sort of hurdles that will be overcome with just making as much stuff as possible. Saying this about time, perhaps the two industrial stations below could have done with a little more TLC, but it’s a start:

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pixelpractise-industrial04Once the pixels start to look happy (and like things) it’s quite a lot of fun, and the time whizzes by. Like the web address says, onward I go!