Pixel Joint (randomblink): What was it that got you started into pixel art?
Ian MacLean (nvision): Hahah. Unemployment, actually.
PJ: Really? Explain...
IM: I couldn't find work as an illustrator for a while, and I just had a crappy part-time job as a stock boy...I started pixelling in my spare time.
PJ: So what software did you start with?
IM: I'm a big fan of oldschool games, especially Square RPGs, so I started making my own edits. Photoshop 6, since I already used it for other work
PJ: Do you feel that it was overkill for pixel art? Or do you still use it today?
IM: Actually, it was pretty retarded at first, since I didn't know that I had to turn anti-aliasing off on the pencil tool. It was pointed out that all of my sprites had hundreds of colours, and I quickly learned to use it properly. I'm still using it now...I like being able to edit things quickly, like with hue and saturation changes, and such.
PJ: I looked through your site a bit today and I was pretty amazed. Your stuff seems to go back and forth. What would you call your style?
IM: Heh, I don't think I can really pin it down...I tend to change it depending on the project I'm working on.
PJ: Yeah, I noticed that. From girls in baby doll dresses to world peace with an udder. It's amazing work though.
IM: I mostly perfer to work on realistic or western comic style, in regards to painting, and pixelling splash screens.
PJ: Now when you say Western Comic Style, what do you mean by that?
IM: Non-manga style...more American and European comic style. I think it's too easy to fall into "formulaic" drawing, when it comes to "anime" style. I do love the medium, though, I just don't practice it much myself.
PJ: You mentioned that you lurk on the PixelJoint site. Do you have any pixel-artists, either there or elsewhere, that you would say inspire you or make you wanna pixel some more?
IM: When I was first starting out, I read a lot of tutorials, so guys like Tsugumo and st0ven inspired me at that stage. I worked with a lot of good artists for a while, when I was with my former company...guys like Sals (Adam Tierney), FryChiko (Peter Carwright), and a few others...there was always kind fo a silent competition going, to keep improving.
PJ: What would you say was the toughest aspect of pixel art when you were just starting out?
IM: Learning the limitations of all the different platforms...especially working in mobile games, where there are hundreds of different devices, and no real standardization. that, and figuring out how to properly use AA and selout.
PJ: Do you have a favorite platform?
IM: I like working on the Ericsson K700, and Nokia 60 Series for phones, since they have less restrictions than most of the others, and also on handheld consoles like GBA and DS. Some restriction is good, though, since it challenges you, like with limited colour counts and tile size limits.
PJ: Outside of pixel art, do you have any artistic influences in the world of regular art?
IM: Plenty! I love Caravaggio, Alphonse Mucha, Frank Frazetta, and Mike Mignola...those are my biggest influences, i think. Oh, also Gil Elvgren...he drew pin-ups like no other! Anything with dark, dramatically lit imagery, or beautiful women piques my interest, really.
PJ: I've read your 'bios', both the fictional and non-fictional, but I have yet to see anything that tells of your start in the pixel 'industry'. So how DID you get into making pixel art games and art for a living?
IM: I started doing projects on GameDev.net, just small volunteer jobs, to learn how the process worked. Eventually I started working on a larger project called Seda: X2 (which is actually in the midst of negotiations with EA, publishing work from the game on a book on design). I learned a lot about animation and tiling backgrounds and such on that project. And I built up a lot of confidence, so I started posting my work on the old Pixellation boards. I started getting emails to work on some paying gigs, and just built it up from there.
PJ: Do you remember your first paying gig in pixel art?
IM: Oh yeah, it was working on an RPG Maker version of an Ultima 7 fan game. I made about two-dozen character sprite sets for it, and started working on a bunch of additional story based animations (original anims that would only be used during cut scenes and such).
PJ: Can you tell us how much you charged for this workload at the time?
IM: The guy I was working with got in a car wreck, though, and had to stop work on the project because he had to buy a new car. I think the agreement was about $500 (CDN) for 6 characters. It worked out to about $10/hr, I think, but I worked at it in chunks.
PJ: Is there any one piece you would consider crucial to having in your portfolio? Or should you just do as much as you can?
IM: I don't think any one really stands out amongst the rest. I wanted more to show a good variety of quality images to kind of show the range of work I can do. I do think having screenshots or mockups is essential for finding gfx work, though. Also, having a few animated pieces really helps. I was working as a Lead Artist for a while, and I had to look at quite a few artists' portfolios. If any of them didn't show competent animation, they usually got moved to the rejection folder.
PJ: Do you have a list of games/projects you have worked on in the past?
IM: Yeah, most of the games aren't available in North America, unfortunately, but there are quite a few. These are a few of my favourites: Belly of the Beast (for Gyrox UK), Volvo Ocean Race (for Celander & Co.), Azdo's Adventures, Vigor Mortis, and X-99 (for MaxArtists), and MotorDuels (for DeepMist Studios). Also, there was a wicked game I was working on, call X-99, but I never got to finish that one, before I quit at MaxArtists (I still might make it, though, since I own the rights to the gfx).
PJ: Is there any chance that you would have a sprite sheet I could see?
IM: [Hero sprite sheet graphic] That one had to be doubled, because the platform didn't support real-time flipping of the sprites.
PJ: I'm amazed... For some reason, I had always assumed that each sprite on that sheet would be labelled. Something like...
RUN :: STEP 2
RUN :: STEP 3
IM: Heheh, that would be easier, but the extra space would take up much more memory...we'd usually write up an accompanying art document, with a table and coordinates describing the animations, and frames to include. [Player animation graphic] That's what it looks like in motion.
PJ: That is bloody cool!
IM: Very limited frame animation, though.
PJ: Are there any personal pet projects you have? Like your own idea for a game?
IM: I have a couple on the go...one is an RPG, in a similar style to FF6, but based on a comic I published, but never finished (because of financial reasons). I've been adapting the script to a game format, and I've done some character sprites as well.
The other is a top-down zelda-eque adventure game, that I'm making with a programmer in the States. We've already got the core game working in J2ME, so you can walk around, go in a dungeon and kill some bouncing skull and such.
I'd like to make a more full-featured version for Palm and PocketPC once this version is done. It would be easier to distribute and also have much more memory available for a longer story and better gameplay.
Those are early shots.
PJ: Why don't you update your site more? Too busy?
IM: Heheh, that's basically it. We were discussing that fact at a recent IGDA meeting. Everyone who was working had way out of date content on their sites.
PJ: I just googled IGDA (never heard of them before). Wow!
IM: Yeah, it's a pretty good organiztion. Good resource for people starting out.
PJ: I'm joining as we speak. Have a great day and keep pixelling...