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Hi Elliott, This is a great breakdown and very generous in sharing your process and insights, you came a long way from the vending machine days!
Are you planning on releasing the UE4 project to the public? Or only builds? I'd love to play around with it in the editor if possible!
Alexis Morille is mostly known for his short series of demakes: he recreates modern iconic games in pixel art stylistics. We’ve had a chance to talk with Alexis about his art and the way he perceives modern obsession with pixel art.
Sure, I’m Alexis Morille also know as @Mister _Hk_ , I’m 33 and living in Bordeaux, France. I’ve been working for 10 years as co-owner at Motion Twin making indie games mostly in Flash. It was an amazing experience which led me work on nearly every aspect of game production: from concept art, game design, visual development to UI/UX, business models and much more.
I’ve shipped around 30 games during those year, from small arcade oriented games to puzzling-rpg and other multi player oriented games.
I have recently quit Motion Twin and started working on my own projects while doing freelance. As I was trying to learn and upgrade my skills on various techniques , I felt in love with pixel art painting.
As an old time gamer, I’ve always loved the aesthetic and crisp gameplay deeply linked with the 2D games production, but I only start recently to try to improve my pixel style and techniques in order to produce illustrations and games.
Pillars of Pixel Art Design
Stylisation aims at translating a feeling more than a pure reality transcription.
Mosaic, Pointillism and other traditional techniques have always tried to represent the mass or shapes as sum of vibrant clusters. Those shapes and clusters are what our brain really focus on to interpret the world we see, I guess this why this digital art style feels somehow organic in the way it talks to our mind.
This is deeply opposed to the “line” approach which works great to fix life and define a clear design but tends to become static when animated. Animating full and untied is a pain but it’s also breaking the illusion created by the line approach.
Also pixels are also tightly linked to gameplay and gaming history, which make this style unique and evocative. This lead to suggested actions, the story telling is implied by the sprites and our common knowledge of it. (this dude is going to jump, that MUST be a bonus , this friend and foes). It’s a frame in time, not just a static vision of a scene.
The History of Demakes
I’ve started those demakes as ground analyses on iconic gamedesign and how to twist them a bit in order to be a proper 21th century pixel game.
This mokup was a proof of concept on how dark soul could translate into a tight beat them all game. Dark Souls gameplay is all about zoning, timing, anticipation and adaptation, this easily relate to Metroidvania genre with a pinch of Beat them all.
Universe wise this is a moody, silent, suggested narration. In this matter, It’s very close from old school game where you had to guess and untie the story through minimal booklet scenario and a few hints during your adventure. You have to use your imagination to fix the bounds of the realm, this force you to make this world your own.
This kind of universe doesn’t translate easily on tiles oriented style. Bare knuckles (Street of rage), Dragon’s crown or Scott Pilgrim vs the world shows that unique scenes and places helps creating moments even with generic trash mobs. So I’ve tried to show how a hand crafted rich background would helps feel the dramatic moment this iconic boss fight was
The Nature of Animation
Animating pixelart is mesmerizing, seeing those clusters dance and morph is somehow magic cause it brings life into something abstract such as a coloured square. The limitations of the style in term of resolution and colour quickly become natural and helps pushing the bounds.
My process is quite simple : I first make a rough pixel draft of the scene to fix the composition and palette, then start fixing my key frames as static layers, then create a few Video layers to work my in-betweens and finish by adding overlaps and FXs. I then spent a few time adjust colour keying and time shifts.
As a self taught animator, my epiphany was learning the 12 basic principles of animation by the old men. Those principles are golden and really helps creating lively animations.
Moder Pixel Art
I personally dig the new possibilities offered by 2D/3D mixed engine such as shaders, bump map or casted lights. When Pixelart is treated with respect and personality it could leads to great visuals and gameplay.
A few good examples include:
Super Time Force : the general art direction is awesome, SFX are stunning, Great use of additive blends and other next gen pixelart effects to achieve good readability and epicness.
Mercenary Kings : Metal slug is one of my favorite game, porting it into modern age gameplay and style was a fantastic idea from Trubute. the Character customization and weapon creation are great. Also feature Paul Robertson’s coolest animations.
Duelyst : Glauber Kotaki made an awesome art direction including modern palettes and sharp design without AA. The game features some of the best pixelart animation I’ve seen in a long time.
Dungeon of the Endless : Clever camera and casted light tricks. Great rogue like adaptation, it feels modern yet true to the genre.
Megasphere : This one man game made by Anton Kudin is awesome. It’s a physical base jump n shoot procedural game, yet it feels very well hand crafted. Best pixel particles around, great use of bump maps and awesome 80s fluo lights.
Pixelart is made of limitations, understanding those is the only way to produce great pixelart.
Colour limitations, sprites counts, resolution aren’t constraints any more, but Pixel perfect, multi ratio screens and modern gameplays are reality.
I do feel like every discipline, from science to cooking , need to be a balance between understanding the codes and dogmas and being able to innovate by breaking a few rules.
So yeah, having hight frame rates animations or huge sprites doesn’t feels like SNES anymore, but it does looks great.
For some of us pixelarted games where the first contact with computing, for some others it’s part of the pop culture and for the HD-kids it must feels like a chunk of history.
I really feel like pixelart is the 21th century mosaic: an iconic art style that relates every human to an evocative past.
This style could be used to produce game, illustration, sculpture, cloth, movie and much more. The quality of the result depends on the use of it more than the actual style.
Blending of Styles
We can definitely use the best of each world: Castlevania – symphony of the night is considered by many as one of the most beautiful pixelart game, yet the game features 3D backgrounds, bone animation, hardware rotations and lowpoly FXs.
We’ve also seen a lot of great DS and 3DS games made of both pixel art tiles and 3D pixel shaded character. The demo scene have always used pixel art and generated 3D graphics to create very unique creations.
The Future of Pixel Art
Pixels are trendy due to its popularity in indie games and geek culture. But fashion is a cycle and I’m sure the overused of pixels will eventually stop and be considered as a technique not just a style.
As a matter of acknowledgement by the traditional art community, I think we’re pretty close to it: the Art nouveau, pop art, graffiti, manga or Comics have all been misjudge by dusty elites as a production oriented and minor art style. Mucha and Warhol were doing advertisement long before being exposed. We now live in a world were Banksy is in gallery and Hayao Miyazaki is considered as a living god.
Let’s have faith in humanity!