In 2014 I had no serious experience with pixel art, and no clue about animation. But when Luca shared with me the main concept for Wizards of Unica, I understood that’s the only way that game should have been.
Despite I’m a pro artist in both traditional and digital media, my only previous works in pixel art has been Vega and Sagat portraits when I was 9, made in Paint. And my only approach to animation has been a lovely week with RPG maker, as a teenager: a short story due to my zero code skills.
So, facing pixel art and animation I knew I should have to study a lot.
In this article I want to underline which steps helped me to improve me pixel art and animations skills, of course a never ending path, but which now brings me to satisfaction and no more frustration.
Keep it simple. For Wizards of Unica I had all my aesthetics ideas, and I knew my goal, but most of all I was aware my approach should have been simple, because the project was no budget (an hardcore hobby, but a hobby nonetheless), so to do not get stuck under an inhuman pile of work. Because of this I gave myself severe restrictions.
32×32. 8 colors. max 3 frames per cycle. Minimalism at its best, right? Inspired by Hyper Light Drifter and Sword & Sworcery I knew would have been possible to convey a great aesthetic even with a minimalistic style.
Keyframing. My first results with pixel art has been smart, and I loved it, but animation was frustrating me so badly. Even a simple 3 frames attack took me an entire afternoon…
I kept studying, focusing on keyframing so that with just 2 sprites I would have been able to describe a dynamic action, playing with frames duration, even if I had to renounce completely at fluidity. Te memo to keep it simple was valid on every variable, even frames duration: I just used 100, 200 or 500 ms. So that I did not have to make attempts with others.
Introduce little exceptions. After six months of drawing I introduced my first 64×64 monster. I was so proud of it! It was a real monster among the others 32×32, and I knew I was on the right path when I got hundreds of retweets! But how to animate such a big guy? I had to expand framing up to 4, and still the giant was looking stiff, so I understood I had no practice enough. I painted other 64×64 enemies, trying to get rid of stiffness, then I came back to 32×32.
Take a pause and simply draw. Because of my studio session and en plein air, I have to put WoU in pause from April to October: seven months of traditional drawings and watercolors. Every time I come back to pixel art Im always worried I lost my pixel skills, but that’s the opposite. All the traditional practice improve my abstraction ability which means of course, better pixel art. More, this long pause gives me fresh eyes on my whole work.
Daniele Lasalandra – Manarola, Italy. Watercolors on etching paper, 16×6 inches. 2017
Never stop to study. Because of this pause I have time to chill out with production and watch tutorials for animations and pixel art, and following amazing artists on Twitter. Some of them are present on Twitch showing for free their software and workflow, and to me this is the best way you can learn, much better than time lapse. The guys I own the most are Pedro Medeiros, and Adam Kling.
Upgrade your tools. This October, when I came back working to Wizards of Unica I knew I will have to finalize a lot of characters, and fix most of them. But if I really wanted to improve them I needed to improve my softwares too. Some of the pixel pros I know wrote enthusiastic reviews of Aseprite, and looking at their process I understood it could have been the right tool to rationalize my workflow. Damn, I was right!
Especially for the frames management and edit, and its pixelperfect feature, Aseprite gave me a production boost, and the chance to never get bothered by comunication’ failures with the software. Let me make this clear: I hate to change software. I’m not easy about change in general, and I prefer to keep my gears even if they obsolete just because at least I know them. Well, it took me just 3 days of practice to get into Aseprite and it is like I’m using it since 2000!
Expand your technique. Thanks to my new tool I found myself able to easily manage much more colors and frames, and faster than ever before. So I felt confident to switch up to max 5 frames for all kind of enemies, even the smaller, and add details using more colors. I reworked a couple of enemies because of some ludo-narrative dissonance, and I realized there was no comparison with older works.
Give yourself deadlines. Most of the enemies I did since 2014 were not completed. Some animations were missing, and so while completing them I take the ball to make some serious reworking. But because Luca and I want this game to be finish, I didn’t mean this task to consume precious time (almost all the 10 stages need to be drawn from scratches!!!) so I gave myself two weeks to rework the full rooster of 32 foes, and thanks to my experience, Aseprite and the fantastic artists who inspired me I’ve been able to achieve this goal!
If you like to know more about my pixelart I wrote an article about my personal pixelart philosophy related to paint master’s techniques, and you can also find intersting my previous condiserations about remaking art assets in Aseprite.
Thank you so much for you passion and support!
Daniele Lynx Lasalandra