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We’ve talked with Mark Knight about his work and the way he manages to capture complex games and films in tiny pixel art masterpieces.
I’m Mark Knight, I live in the coastal town of Grimsby, in the UK. I studied CAD at University, had a failed website startup and tried to get into remote freelance graphic design. I’m currently a minimum wage fish factory worker.
I was introduced to Hexels1 when I simply googled ‘isometric Graphics Software demo download’ to create a banner for my youtube channel. I found there was no ‘learning curve’ at all – it was so easy to use and let me do exactly what I wanted – a Minecraft style banner, with my name, which I still use today on all my channels.
My pictures gained traction with a series of images based upon the Silent Hill series of games. From there I have focused upon genre films and video games that I love. I choose scenes and situations that are not normally depicted in ‘fan art’. I’ll pick a scene that encapsulated the atmosphere of the film (or game) for me. I try to avoid the most recognizable scenes and I avoid hero poses. Many of my pictures have single digit views because, I think, the source material is not widely known or a bit niche.
The software is constantly evolving and often each new picture, or gif, I create features some new technique that was not possible until the most recent patch. Hexels seems to updated monthly with meaningful new, often requested, features. I have to mention that I only use ‘Trixels’ mode (for isometric style triangular grid sets) Hexels 2 features a full suite of other modes including pixel art mode for tradition 2D art and animation. Ive just started experimenting with importing isometric Trixels into pixel mode for a cool retro gamer style.
With Hexels 2 it helps if you have a basic knowledge of Photoshop. Layers and tools work the same way as do most keyboard shortcuts. Because Hexels uses a snap style grid movement I do not use a graphics tablet. I use a standard desktop office mouse and drag my pointer through the grid almost like creating a mosaic.
I try to ‘light’ my scenes quite realistically, or faithful to the source material (videogame or film), so a competent understanding of light and shadow help give the illusion of three dimensional shapes in my scenes. Because Hexels Trixel mode used to be triangles only I embraced the angular look of my character and scenes. I worked within those limitations and I think I’ve been a little spoiled, with each iteration of Hexels, by the amount of shape control that is on offer now to the point where I can create an image without any evidence of the Trixel look. I try to keep some areas of my newer pictures looking ‘jaggy’ and I may revert a little to that style, combined with pixel mode, in future.
I often create an ‘animated gif’ version of my images as they get more of a response than the static image. I keep them around 20 frames and try to create a loop. The only reason for this is to keep the exported gif under 3mb – a requirement for tumblr. I sometimes use traditional keyframe animation, within Hexels timeline mode, by drawing and modifying each individual cel. It was only after a great reading a ‘bouncing ball’ tutorial, by Ken Kopecky, that I learnt that I could animate by transforming a layer, at different points along the timeline, and have the software generate the ‘in between’ frames for ultra smooth movement. The animation suite has changed so much within the past 3 months to the point where it gives me the confidence to try something new each time. My most recent (Friday 13th) picture has a realistic water reflection effect that was very easy to create and took only a few minutes to set up the animation. I have been planning a short animated film entirely in Hexels and I may start that this year (if my outdated Mac mini can handle it).
Game Development with Hexels
Games cannot be made with Hexels but assets can be created, with Hexels, for use in game development. I am yet to ‘dabble’ in this area (although I’d love to give it a go). Hexels has always had export options for game assets. files can be exported as a sprite sheet (a single bitmap file containing multiple images for character animation such as walk,run,crouch,jump etc) which is the standard format for pixel art style games. Aside from .psd (photoshop and .png (image) I have no knowledge of the other export options svg, csv and xml. My understanding is that Hexels would be used alongside software such as ‘Gamemaker’. I know of a game, in development, called ‘Quench‘ that uses Hexels and, I think, ‘Monument Valley‘ used Hexels to some extent.
I usually create at least one new picture, and a ‘making of’ video, each week. I’m trying to build a portfolio with the hopes of attracting a commission or work or at least generating enough income, from my Youtube channel, for new hardware. I’m not sure what to make next but I’m in no way short of great games and movies to draw inspiration from. I have been planning to create an animated short film, entirely in Hexels, that I’ve had planned out for some years now, waiting for a medium that is workable. I’d like to vary my genres more by creating more colourful images. I have been focusing on characters more than architecture of late so that is an area to explore more. I’m currently engrossed in Resident Evil 7(PS4) so I may draw from that by recreating a scene from the demo (which is more widely know at the moment).