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Pixel art workflow

My pixel art workflow

This time around I thought I could share the process of creating backgrounds with you. Hopefully you might find it useful and you can a pick a trick or two to use in your own pixel art scenes!


Over the years, I have learned a lot about lighting, colours, layout, perspective and many, many more. By no means, I’m an expert in any of the fields, and I probably barely scratch the surface of the topics, but having a better understanding of art-related theories, helped me develop a more unique, and deliberate style for my pixel art.


Research

First off, I need to find a good idea of what it is that I want to be doing. I do a lot of research and gather as many references as I can. I try to understand what materials could be used in a scene, what objects, patterns, colours and unique features would help make the scene interesting. It also all depends whether accuracy of the scene is important or not. On top of real life references, I also try finding work from other artists that can inspire new approaches.


Layout

Once I have a clearer understanding of what I want to achieve, I then work on the layout of the scene. Depending on complexity or the angle, I sometimes create a quick, simple 3D model to help me get a better idea of the scene.


Is it cheating? Maybe, but this can save you a lot of time trying to figure out correct perspective, but more importantly it allows me to quickly test out various camera angles to see what perspective would best fit my requirements.

Having basic shapes in 3D lets you play around with camera, until you're happy with the layout. Even if it's just simple tweaks.

A 3D model vs the final art in a garden scene in Yes, Your Grace.

Mock-up

Depending whether I use 3D models or not, I firstly need to create a mock-up of all the walls and main objects that will be featured in the scene. This helps to establish the feel and gives me a general idea of how everything should be allocated.


Light + Colour

Once I have the layout figured out and I know what I'm going for, I decide on the light in the scene. What are the light sources? How would the light affect the objects? Is there something interesting I can add? What is the colour scheme for the scene?


Blending + Textures

As light and colours are decided, I then can finally move on to blending the colours together and start adding textures. I keep all the textures (dirt, patches in the wall, cracks) separate, which is a little bit excessive, but it allows me to tone down or bring out certain details later on. If the wall seems too busy, I can easily take away some of the dirt, for example.


This is the part I like to play around with various layers, shadows and BLENDING MODES! I often put a texture on top of walls, ceilings, or the assets laying around. Sometimes it can give me an idea of what could be improved, what colours could be changed or what light twist could go into the scene. This usually starts off very crazy, and later it’s a matter of toning everything down, just to give it a slight touch.


Details

As I work on the background, I finally get to the part where I can add some little details throughout the scene to make it richer and more interesting. This is where the research can become very useful, especially if you're trying to simulate certain time periods.


Assets

Once I'm happy with the lighting, textures and details, I can then move past the walls, floors and ceiling to try and populate the scene with assets that will sit on top of everything. These help the scene become more alive, and make it appear like people could actually live there. The research can prove useful once again, and help me establish the kind of items that would be found in the room. Are the assets for practical use? Are they purely decorative?


Highlights

Highlights are the final touches in the scene. At this stage everything is essentially done, and it’s the most fun and rewarding part of the development. This particular scene is during the broad day-light, so there isn't much to be had with the light. That's why highlights are not as prominent as they could have been if the scene was during the night. Still! I like to add a touch of that extra shine to objects, walls and columns, to make the scene look a little bit nicer!


All of this is very time consuming, and a background can usually take between 2 to 4 days to complete. Of course, a background painted in Photoshop is no good for a game, so then it needs to be implemented into (in my case) Unity. This is a tedious work that often consist of exporting all different layers separately, making sure it's all aligned in the engine and so on. To make the scene come to life even more, I would then add a few simple animations that could loop in the background.


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Best,

Rafal.

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