Friday, September 13, 2013

Pixel Art Lesson: hitogata's "Pixel Chibits COM: Rayne" (Banding, Palette Optimization, Smoothness)

Lorde doesn't have a ton of music out yet (fair 'nuf, the singer's 16!), but I like them! This song in particular is really great, it speaks to me, for me its about dreaming and talking of glory and having embracing that delusional feeling of success, and at the same time being connected to the truth that it's not really like that and that that's okay.  It's like feeling like the top of the world, even with little successes.
I know that feeling quite a bit. The Logbook Project here gives me that all the time, as does the support I hear for Avatar World.
Anyway, I'm really excited for Lorde's first studio album, Pure Heroine, which releases at the end of the month.

Let's begin with a bit of explanation.


Pixel Chibits COM: Rayne is a commisioned piece, ordered by Kavaros of her original character Rayne, and pixeled by Hitogata. At the request of both of them (hitogata for it being a commision, Kavaros for wanting to maintain control over her character's appearances, both super-valid reasons), I am not posting the original piece nor any of my edits/demonstrations, which means I'm not bringing the entire critique over here. You can read the complete thing, unabridged, at that link, and I really think you should, because this is one of my better works, up there with the Kits, FreshSheet, and Jiinchu posts. There are lots of images, like, at least ten, plus the original.
(oddly enough, hitogata doesn't seem to allow edits of her pieces, which I only learned afterward - and believe me, I looked for if there were any rules - though it seems an exception is being made as this was a teaching piece done specifically for her and not for general use. I gotta say, I'm weirded out by a no-edit policy. I'll respect it, but I simply don't understand it if proper credit is done, though I guess I could understand if it applied only to the commisions)

Let's nail this down right here though: Yes, I ranted angrily on Twitter about her and the piece the night before I actually decided to do a critique. It was 95% spite, mostly because this wasn't the first I'd seen her. Her work hits the front page of deviantArt's popular section all the time, and frankly it bothers me mostly because I don't think it's as good as other stuff that goes completely unrecognized. It's powered by popularity. I absolutely do not blame hitogata for this - as I said on Twitter, she made pieces and people liked them, she was commissioned based on the skill level she displayed, she created something she was satisfied with and delivered it. Every stage of that is 100% okay. It just bothers me that repeated appearances highlights how dA really is about super-members and popularity, rather than quality. Not a surprise, but when something popped onto the front page that I was pretty sure I could do better in an afternoon it triggered me.
And so I went berserk on Twitter before realizing I was being an ass about things rather than trying to be supportive and rectify the issue. And so, helpful and thorough critique

One more thing. If you saw me and Joe's conversation on Twitter, it was about asking permission to do these things (or doing it if they actually ask for help), as unsolicited help can be interpreted as an attack or be emotionally damaging, as art can be very personal. I take measures to work with this usually! The biggest thing is, most of the time, I do ask, or aim it at those who want help (as is usually true on PJ). Unfortunately, dA is somewhat special in this case. dA is just SO BIG that if I aim something at a super-member like hitogata, the odds of being overlooked are very, very high. It's really common for popular members to put up statements along the lines of "Due to an overloaded inbox, I can't respond to everyone's comments, but I do read them all!" which is fine, but makes questions hard. As an alternative, I do two things:
* I preface it with the statement that this is just my own thoughts, and that while it looks intensive, I only mean for it to be if they desire feedback on the work, and that if they are not looking for this sort of feedback that I am completely okay with them just ignoring it. And...
* I write in the most delicate, unoffensive, supportive way possible, trying my absolute best to talk about technique over spirit of the image, and generally just trying to put out a friendly and sensitive demeanor to minimize feelings of being struck out at. The overwhelming amount of text I write is tough to make seem light, but on the plus side, it's awful hard to not notice it when it shows up in your message center!
In this particular one, I missed one piece of sensitivity: from the sounds of her reply, hitogata isn't natively english-speaking. I fell back on jargon on occasion, especially "banding", which for a super-important concept to understand for pixel art is completely non-translatable. I meant to but forgot to link to the Jiinchu post as well, because that post gives a really great translatable (and visual) explanation of banding.

Now, here's a breakdown of what I talk about:
* Palette optimization, removing excessive colors, especially "invisible" colors.
* Contrast, both dealing with too much or too little. I also wrote a great couple lines about the balance between a pixel artist's color count and the amount of contrast.
Typically, the more colors you have, the less contrast you need between colors because you can use intermediaries instead of having to balance the colors (this is an oft-overlooked reason why high-quality retro pixel art is more difficult than it looks). Of course, as I was saying, we want to have as few colors as necessary to convey our image, so we have to strike a balance between having enough colors to produce the look we want, without going over the required number. That particular balance is one of the main ways that pixel art color theory is specialized over general art color theory (though almost all of that still applies as well!)
Lots of pixel art techniques revolve around this balance. Dithering as a smoothing technique exists to trick you into thinking there's less contrast between the smaller amount of colors. Anti-aliasing is for subtly lessening stark contrast at high-contrast transitions.
* I talk about banding. I talk about banding a bunch. Hitogata has a chronic banding issue so I focused on it a bit. It was also called out afterward as something she found helpful so I really hope it didn't have much translating issue.
* Consistency in shading, meaning shading to the same degree of detail across the image, which helps with image unification.
* Rigidity and linearity versus smooth curves.
* I show off my own edit and point out a couple specific spots to show how I would fix things. (you should check it out, I think it's a great-lookin' piece and I would show it off here if they were cool with it)

So you should, uh, check it out. Click that link up top!

Seeya folks!
End Recording,

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