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Pixel Practise

The best tattoo there was…

and the best tattoo there ever will be.

Well well, here’s something I never expected to happen. A few weeks ago, I was asked if a couple of my custom WrestleFest character designs could potentially be used for a tattoo – Bret and Owen Hart, to be precise. Of course, I said yes; it’s beyond flattering that somebody wanted my art to be quite literally a part of them.

And sure enough, earlier today I received this:

How cool is that!? My thanks to Ajay for being mad enough to want this and for going through with it. I still can’t quite believe it!

Working on another Pixel Dailies prompt, “computer icons”, again with a 32×32 pixel restriction, I ended up going back to the days of Windows 95 and its incredibly familiar (at least for those of a certain age) teal desktop.

What if contemporaneous TV shows were available to stream? One-off streams had already been done by this point, but can’t you just imagine the quality of an on-demand catch-up service in 1995, and on a dial-up connection? As nightmarish as it would inevitably have been, some would doubtless be waxing nostalgic about it today! But let’s suspend our disbelief and imagine that technology allowed it at a passable standard…

I had a bit of a think of what shows I remember from that time; I was only three years old when Windows 95 was released, so, besides a couple of personal favourites, I’ve gone with shows that I remember my parents watching. Brookside and Coronation Street narrowly missed out. The icons don’t look too out of place, so I’m counting this as a win.

Pixel Dailies on Twitter got all seasonal recently, prompting followers to create a “set of ghosts”, with a 32×32 pixel restriction for each piece. Here is what I came up with in response to said prompt – significantly enlarged, obviously. The small size was an interesting challenge; I thought about going all Pac-Man and cutesy but, seemingly, everyone else beat me to it. So, I used a brightness jitter on my pixel brush to create a reasonably spontaneous noise effect which I thought would work on small spectral spookies. I’ll let you be the judge. See it with your own eyes.

Where ghosts are concerned, I’m a bit of a sceptic I’m afraid. Those “paranormal investigation” shows do not help the cause, with the likes of Most Haunted eliciting more hilarity than concern (I’ll never forget that Mary loves Dick). But who isn’t fascinated by a good ghost story, especially at this time of year? I remember people saying the middle school toilets were haunted, which – shock horror – led to a few people claiming they saw a man by the washbasins. One said he looked scruffy and “like he was from the 1800s”. Perhaps it was the caretaker? I never went in, not because I was scared or anything, of course not. And there was another time where our dog became agitated, barking at seemingly nothing, and then refused to walk past the spot where this bizarre turn occurred. Who knows what he might have seen? Bad dream or something more?

I’m sure it’s nothing…

Would you enter a dungeon to play a game devised by these two?

I hear that the new The Crystal Maze has been axed by Channel 4 after only three series. I must confess I stopped watching it about five episodes in, feeling it was not made for me. It doesn’t sound like it ever improved, and indeed the trajectory of viewing figures suggested it wasn’t made for lots of other people also. Going celebrity only for its final run was the final straw. It’s a frustrating misfire; the first episode back in 2017 drew one of the biggest audiences of the year for Channel 4 and the opportunity for something special was obviously there. Oh well! At least we still have the original series, and that was actually quite good.

With that mindset, you can understand why, on hearing of its termination, I produced this. Here’s a pixel art portrait of our mellifluous maître-d to the Crystal Maze, Richard O’Brien and his Mumsey (Sandra Caron) from days of yore. The style is loosely based on the RetroMania characters I worked on. Neither look particularly like their real-life counterpart – I’ve tried Richard several times in pixel and have yet to perfect his unique visage – but the “eclectic” outfits were fun to work on. I wouldn’t want to complete a sprite sheet of either, though!

On a completely unrelated note: did you know it’s once again possible to access the Classic Editor, free of blocks? Maybe it has always been there, I’m not sure, but I thought if anybody out there is still annoyed by them then you might want to know. In your admin, go to Posts and note the ‘Screen Options’ tab in the top-right corner. Change to Classic View. You’ll then get the little ‘Add New’ button with the drop-down menu which allows you to select the Classic Editor. Hooray!

Ditherless is, of course, a small village in central Norfolk.

(Gotcha! It’s not really.)

But rejoice, for here is the “quaint cottage” I mentioned in my previous post – I think it’s rather quaint enough, don’t you? This was attempted in a similarly simple way as those trees, trying to avoid dithering and instead simply layering colour to suggest shades and highlights. It still took a few hours, but far fewer than it might had I been hatching and checkerboarding all over the place to capture variation in tone, like I have in previous pixel parties. There’s nothing to say I won’t revert to those methods in the future – or perhaps adopt a mixture of the two – as always, it depends on the subject. But it’s interesting to note how they inform the overall style.

I wouldn’t mind a cottage like this, just saying.

I was messing around with a pretty pixel landscape which didn’t get very far, so I decided to start all over again. Taking on board the lessons learnt from an earlier exercise, I just focused on a single element to begin with, seeing where that took me. It was greenery, again, but not confined to conifers this time, I can coniferm.

Attempting to cut corners actually seemed to pay off; I created a round scatter brush and started layering up colour very quickly, trying not to overthink. I like how they came out: fluffy, with a more painterly, dreamy quality than I’m used to. This might be the key to some bigger and better pixel landscapes as the style probably lends itself to a larger scale.

The quaint cottage I originally planned for the scene didn’t materialise – not this time – but last night I didn’t even get past the hedgerow, so I’m branding this a success, whether ya like it or not!

I don’t know where this came from, but I am certainly not opposed to happy accidents or a modicum of inspiration coming from seemingly nothing, which certainly appeared to be the case here. Indeed, that may be abundantly clear to you already.

On a vein not too far removed from my recent posts, I was simply playing with blocks of colour – green blocks of colour this time around. I just started copying and pasting, layering them beside one another, and then it hit me. Conifers. I love conifers and their sturdy, jagged charm, and wanted to see if I could abstract one in pixel using these strips of colour in different ways.

It was more fun than it may look, actually, trying to capture the different species and their marked variation in shape, some slender, some rather rotund. As you can see, I did start to lose some of that abstraction as I went on, experimenting with levels of detail. But I took these and used them as a template for the landscape, which isn’t anything amazing but I’m quite liking how the conifers came out, and the way the different patterns and styles overlap.

Good little experiment though, and much like my recent designs a reminder that sometimes dialling down and focusing on something simple can kickstart productivity. If you have a problem, well, call the copse.

I’ve done lots of pixel art, to the extent that it now seems to have become that thing that I do. While it’s pretty restrictive in some ways – not in a negative way, either – it’s not often that I’ve gone down to the extremes of just two colours with the medium. This grimy urban scene is not so much 8-bit as 1-bit.

With the liberation of not having to worry about selecting colours or palettes, it was an altogether enjoyable exercise, as indeed most design exercises are; the less preliminary panic, the better. The only frustrations came in the nighttime conversion, with the street lights not coming out particularly well. But I do enjoy the side-by-side visual.

This being said, I did use the darkest and lightest colours from the legendary Game Boy here, as well as its screen dimensions. Hopefully my attempts at dithering would give a satisfying result were it to be shown on the handheld.

It rather forces a more stylised approach this way, and I like that. I need that! I’m intrigued to try it again and see how I could get on with a more rural setting. If anything good comes of it, you’ll be the first to know!

I’m surely not alone when I say that music has got me through these crazy times. Old constants have been called upon just that little bit more during lockdown, to the extent that I’ve started to worry if the neighbours hate hearing the same songs over and over. Not that it’s enough to make me actually stop, mind you.

Of course, there are new – and ‘old new’ – earworms popping up all the time. I happened to catch a classic Top of the Pops on BBC Four – they’ve been showing them for about a decade now, starting from 1976 and running from there. They’re now up to late 1990. On said episode, the number one was The Beautiful South with A Little Time and, well, it’s been hard to escape since. I’m not surprised it did well at the time. Anyway, this is why we have this pixel portrait of Briana Corrigan. What a voice! And a feisty lyric, which might explain my colour choices.

Now maybe I’ve done this, I’ll be able to move on. But I doubt it.

I thought the scanlines and EGA palette would give it a suitably 1990 feel. I had been looking for an excuse to use the palette for a while now, and you can probably see why, but nothing has been happening at all lately on the productivity front, until Briana. So, thanks Briana.

Back when I was picked up to work on RetroMania Wrestling, I thought I’d better start practising pixel art. I even devoted an entire category to it on here, as those were the days when I would actually post semi-regularly.

This compelled me to go back to the very process which got me the job – where I took sprites from WrestleFest and tried to turn them into people who weren’t featured in the original game. So, to round things off, here are a selection of practise runs ranging from 2018 to just a few months ago. It was quite fun trying to capture the various likenesses and outrageous costumes – one thing that has dawned on me is that whilst pixel art might look simple on the surface, there’s actually scope for a lot of detail.

As I’ve said before with these, they are NOT RetroMania sprites, sorry if you find this and it gets your hopes up. Most of these guys are off the table for the game, unfortunately. It’s just for practise.

One month on from release, it seems like the game has gone down pretty well, with an 88% positive rating on Steam and various 4-star reviews elsewhere. Yay! I’m excited to see where it goes from here.

Thanks to John Blaze for the much needed inspiration with these and, indeed, for recommending me for the RetroMania job in the first place.