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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.

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.

Well, not quite starting blocks. But the recent penchant for pixels had me thinking once again about ephtracy’s MagicaVoxel, which has been sitting around on my machine for years now and, besides a piece or two here and there, hasn’t been put to particularly good use. My excuses are that I found the interface a little daunting and the camera seemed to do its own thing – usually not what I needed it to be doing. Well, I thought it was about time I came face to face with this old nemesis and settled the score once and for all.

I was going to make something.

Really, I was just being a drama queen for a change. It’s nowhere near as scary a program as I had told myself it was – actually, it’s rather fun and therapeutic once you get your head around the camera. Time disappears just as it does with 2D pixel art, or sticking Lego blocks together. I just started doodling really, thinking of Lego playsets, and coming up with some sort of ruined monument:

It’s not going to win any awards, but the lessons learnt in that session were very valuable indeed. And I actually wanted to make something else, rather than hit close and throw the PC in the bin so that’s a big hurdle cleared. Hence, the next two hours were spent modelling something on a larger scale; a ruined church, a not uncommon sight around these parts:

This one was lots of fun, and I think captures some of that toylike charm.

Yes, it does take a bit of getting used to, and I still have a great deal to learn, but MagicaVoxel is quite an enjoyable experience once you get going, and hopefully I’ll be using it more from now on. I’m sure if you use it more than once every two years you’ll pick it up even quicker than I did. And it’s free, which is always nice.

sonic-loading-01Sonic on the Spectrum. Can you imagine the fun as our spiny hero spins through the labyrinthine zones at supersonic speeds, navigating loop-the-loops and seeing off hordes of robotic obstacles en route to thwarting Robotnik’s latest sinister scheme? (and yes, I do still call him that because that’s his name!!!) Can you imagine the fun, all packed onto one super cool blue cassette?

No, me neither.

But I’ve been on something of a Sonic nostalgia hit lately – it happens every once in a while. I tried to make a 3D model of Dr. Robotnik, with hilarious results – I shan’t be uploading that any time soon. Hence, we have a Sonic loading screen, Spectrum style. I realise now that I did something similar back in November with André the Giant’s mug, but this time I used a full colour pallette. Well, full colour as far as the Spectrum is concerned. That’s fifteen colours. And I didn’t even use them all.

My biggest failing here was going in all leisurely and not really bothering about one of the Spectrum’s biggest artistic challenges: colour clash. The Spectrum cannot handle more than two colours in the same 8×8 pixel tile, of which the game screen is made up; should that occur, the more prominent colour will take precedence. While generally easy to avoid in still images (if you’re more awake than I clearly was, anyway), it can rear its head frequently during gameplay, with anything animated changing colour depending on which part of the background it’s up against.

Anyway, I decided I should probably sort it out, and so I turned to the handy Image2ZXSpec application to convert my finished drawing to Spectrum mode, and spent a while whittling the clashes down. If you’re really bored, you can play spot the difference with the top and bottom and see what I had to change. It’s still not perfect, but I think it’s about as good as it can get without starting again. Still a really fun process though. I always seem to enjoy working to the constraints of this machine, and I am not surprised to see many others are to this day creating similar things.

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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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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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Insert coin here! We’re off to the amusement arcades – well, kind of – and looking at some characters for 1991’s WWF WrestleFest – a game of sheer beauty, far better than anything a home console at the time could muster. I’m charmed every time by the aesthetics of this game; each character so perfectly elevated and toylike, the saturation mirroring the character of the WWF at the time. It’s as if you’re commanding action figures. The simple but frantically challenging gameplay doesn’t hurt its appeal, either. It’s both a regret and a mercy that I didn’t get to button mash on this for real, as I’m sure it’d have eaten all of my pocket money!

The game is still widely acclaimed and enjoyed even to this day. With that, I was inspired to have a go at making some sprites of competitors who didn’t make the cut for WrestleFest – perhaps they weren’t prominent enough in 1991, or they weren’t even a wrestler at the time. Some may (hopefully!) look familiar from last year’s series of portraits! Entirely faithful or not, these were a fun departure from what I’ve been doing of late, and it’s always fun to get under the skin of an old video game.

Of course, the next step is creating a map of sprites for each one so that some sort of animation is possible. That sounds quite a big job, and I’m not sure I’ve the motivation to do that just yet – maybe one day!