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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.

A few weeks ago, I was approached on YouTube by Pacdude Games, who suggested collaborating to update his Countdown presentation package, for streams and such. This sounded exciting and I’ve always liked his work, so I said yes.

Thankfully, the majority of visual work had already been done, as I tackled the current Countdown set way back in January. This project was mostly tidying the set up, and placing cameras for rendering the clock sequence in a fashion that is somewhat faithful to the programme – making sure there is space in the lower third for the different puzzles which, helpfully, are not uniform. Also added was a retexturing for the crucial conundrum, which can now adopt mood lighting resembling that seen on the show.

This was good fun, and Cory’s coding has turned these elements into something I could only dream of creating. It’s always satisfying to see graphics actually being used.

Here’s the first Countdown Throwdown stream. It’s a good laugh! Hopefully there will be more. You can also find Pacdude Games here.

It’s decidedly less spiky than my last typographical effort, but not completely without a point – well, one hopes.

This was another speedy task, with only a couple of hours to make an alphabet. Don’t let my enthusiasm fool you; it remains a fun and invigorating challenge. With those time constraints in mind, I tried to stay simple and decided to create letters on a 3×3 grid, connecting pieces together. I set myself one rule: that each character should be diverse enough to accommodate at least one of each piece – a straight, a slant and a curve.

The result is a hybrid face of both smooth and rigid forms, and hopefully that’s enough to carry it. The systematic nature meant that the project lent itself to the iterative process, with pieces being substituted in and out and creating recognisable variants. Then, it was just a case of choosing my favourite. But I could have sat switching parts for much longer than I did. As fun as that would be, having the time limit makes everything more immediate, quite literally.

As my favourite school calculator used to say, it’s hip2b₂.

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…

Back to lettering. The old faithful.

It’s somewhat traditional at this stage for me to moan about not having done much lately, but this seems to have been a particularly long dry spell, with nothing really working out for what felt like months. I feel weird when not creating anything – it’s unnerving. Last week, though, something fun and game show-y came along, which was nice – but that’s another post for another time. Tick tock.

Getting rather desperate, I turned back to my rope letters from 2019 and decided to try and convert them to barbed wire. It turned out to be reassuringly simple, just requiring adjustments to the spline rotation and the addition of the “barbs”.

Though I started in 3D, I found myself moving to 2D aswell. A very quick attempt at making a barbed wire brush in Illustrator yielded these developments. It seems to have become more scraggy than I originally intended; almost like thread, or lightning on the black background. But still, fun to explore and yes, something has emerged at long last.

And that’s a suitably inviting message on which to end.

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!

I was asked to take one of my Countdown set models and animate the classic opening camera shot, where it would pan from the audience around to the set. Always one to give the people what they want, I went ahead and did it, with the 1994 model. And, always one to go overboard, I included an old attempt at reimagining the show’s opening titles from the same era. The fact that they aren’t finished, I fear, tells you all you need know. Title sequences are harder than they look! But I thought I’d just include the last few seconds to feed into this new render.

Countdown used to get new titles every few years, but the current set have been around for almost ten years, likely for budget reasons. I would say they’re due a refresh, so if anyone out there is adept with animation and fancies a project, why not have a go?

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!

Back to MagicaVoxel once more, and, this time, I set out to create a wooden shack or log cabin sort of dwelling. I think we can all agree that I nailed that.

But who’s to turn down a church build if your mind is just going that way? Divine intervention.

I wasn’t using any particular example as reference here, instead just riffing off my ingrained memories of the countless churches dotted around here (though avoiding the characteristic round tower yet again). I could see this overlooking a village green or hiding behind some trees down a quiet country lane.

It’s a bit on the lanky side, but never mind about that! I like how the tower came out – initially I wasn’t going to attempt the flint stonework and just leave the facade as solid colours, but I think the extrusion and the resulting texture has really lifted the model so I’m glad to have persevered (and boy did it take some time!). It’s nice to see that, even going way beyond the single block, MagicaVoxel holds up and still performs well, even on my ancient setup.

I would have liked to have added more greenery; it does look a little bare on that front but my voxel trees thus far have been, well, dreadful. Definitely something that warrants a focus all of its own.

But this is certainly a step up from my first church attempt, just before Christmas, and I’m happy to be tackling larger scenes with this fun program. I’m sure the log cabin will turn up some other time; when I want to build another church, most likely.