PixelJoint is very proud to feature Adarias the youngest pixel artist to be featured by PixelJoint so far. He is proof that age has nothing to do with pixel art prowess. The following conversation was held over a few weeks time via PMs. Some time lags occasionally happened because my pony, Pixiedust, requires so much of my attention. Originally I intended to have an informal conversation in very general terms with Adarias but the subject of color quickly overtook us and because Adarias has so much to share with us and his take on things are so thorough, I focused on this topic for the most part. Enjoy the wisdom he provides.
Jalonso: Hi Adarias. Where does the Adarias handle come from?
Adarias: Hah, Adarias was an old character I used to draw a bit when I was in 6th or 7th grade. He was a king, so he became my handle on Age of Empires multiplayer, and from there it just stuck. I've tried to shift over to NdChristie, but this has been shot down by friends ^^
Jalonso: Well, I'm sure to many, whatever you call yourself, you'll always be the mighty Adarias.
In doing some research on you I discovered you attend the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design and even won a design scholarship during High School from RISD. How important is a formal art education for pixelart/gameart?
Adarias: heh, well I wouldn't go so far as to say I attend RISD, although I've certainly taken a number of classes there. For college I actually favored the New School University, studying simultaneously for a BA in writing at Eugene Lang and a BFA in drawing and painting from Parsons. I do though plan to attend RISD for my MA in education five years from now once these two degrees are completed.
As far as the importance of a formal education, I think it goes without saying that everything you learn in school will help you with your art regardless of media (except of course learning where the parties are...but heh, you never know - maybe you'll find inspiration there, too). Pixel art is a thing that can be self-taught, and many people have natural talent, but the benefit of a formal education is as strong for pixel and game art as it is for any other field (i.e. very good to have).
jalonso note: omg, he rags on RISD because he attends Parsons, o.O
*goes and sulks while thinking of next question
Jalonso: Very true, education is a good thing! RISD AND Parsons, impressive.
So, tell me what is your pixelling environment like (i.e, hardware, software, peripherals, etc.)
Adarias: Well, I do all of my pixelwork from my laptop now, using IDraw3, which is a great old program that a few people might know around here, and a stylus (my laptop uses an integrated touchscreen). It's a little inaccurate at times, so I almost always work at 12x zoom (which is large enough that I can guarantee the stylus will actually get the pixel I point to). It took a while to get used to not using the mouse, but once I purchased one, I realized just how much I'd grown to love my touchscreen :D.
Jalonso: Yup, tablets are awesome. So you pixel using touchscreen o.O, how does that even work for pixelling?
Adarias: Well, because it's too unreliable to use loosely, it actually forces you like the old days to stop and think about every placed color because they are nearly all separate taps except for the occasional free shapes (that usually have to be refined anyway). It's very different from how I used to work with a mouse where every click/drag created whole shapes and regions. It's cool because Idraw, like some other programs, also has 1000 history states, so undoing all those clicks is never an issue (grr, MSpaint and its 4 history states!!)
Jalonso: So Idraw is a new thing for you, and MSpaint is still your workhorse program? The reason I ask is because I often hear from PJ members who use MSpaint refer to it like its an inferior program or something. Since you do work on commercial projects, if you do so in Paint I think may be of interest to others.
Adarias: Actually, I've always worked primarily in Idraw since I got started pixelling, though I went on a bit of a break when I moved because I couldn't find the link to download >.<
MSpaint is a perfectly capable program for quick or extended work, but that by no means makes it convenient. The palette control is sorely missed when I put things together >.<. Still, I did a recent mockup piece for EA Mobile that was executed almost entirely in Paint (with some alpha done in Photoshop) and it went very smoothly. It's not that Paint can't do things that other things can, you just have to do them all by hand (slowly).
Jalonso: I can't even imagine using Paint solely for commercial projects and commissions. I hope that last sentence was innocent and I read it wrong, you mean 'tricks' to meet deadlines or speed the process but not chitty cheating cheats? On the subject of commercial works. You work professionally and wonder how you deal with the projects that go nowhere. The clients/employers who rob you. The disrespect that we lowly pixelartists all suffer from occasionally?
Adarias: By tricks, I mean pixel-pure tricks to speed work, such as binding colors, selection masks, animation previews...the type of thing that Idraw and Cosimgo have.
I do take a lot of non-professional work that I almost always get stiffed on (for various reasons, usually one or more necessary members of the team disappears and people stop answering my emails), but I consider it practice. I've only been stiffed once by a name, and of course that was JAMDAT while it was being absorbed into EA (you can talk to happip about that one, he was stiffed for work on the same project). In general though the disrespect is kept to a minimum (or at least what a New Yorker like me considers a minimum :P) Since my first job at Wendy's I've preferred working for companies. It's a good thing to know that the people who hire you know what they are doing and that the financial end is reliable. Working for individuals or small guys is easier, but much more frustrating.
Jalonso: That's a great attitude (considering all work as practice), kudos. Of the many things to admire in your work one in particular fascinates me more than the others. From your oldest pixel to your newest, there is a certain quality to your color choices that is consistent and confident. Your palettes are very strong, bold and well chosen. How do you go about making decisions on color palettes?
Adarias: Well essentially what it comes down to is, what colors does the piece need to have? then, as I go, how far can I get with those (until of course I need to add more shades) thats when the mixing occurs. Once I get about halfway through then I ask myself, what colors are missing here? usually it's blue, coincidentally, and that gets added as an accent. Color combinations that I like are usually over-activated (supersaturated colors of different hues or shades beside each other), and this is not always perceived as helpful. There are usually issues of readability and general "OMG, IT BURNZ" comments. What can I say though, I do enjoy an obnoxious palette :D. I should point out that this is unique to a certain branch of my work. When doing decorative, meditative, or figurative pieces I tend to stick to very calm, descriptive palettes that take the same things into consideration, but often observe them with a softness not found in most of my pixels or more conceptual paintings.
Jalonso: In looking through your gallery, neutralizing colors play a very important part in your work. While I think most, at least me, use grays to neutralize you seem to gravitate to blue. Can you explain the process?
Adarias: The important thing about neutralizing colors is that the added color (should) be the exact opposite hue as the color it is meant to kill. If you only use gray to neutralize, you won't ever achieve gray unless the piece is 100% gray. Neutralizing colors must be far enough away that they balance TO gray. If your second color is exactly opposite from the other, it should occupy 50% of the space (equal parts) because neutral gray will be exactly halfway. I made this quick visual to explain this.
Of course, if one or the other is highly saturated, you need far less of it (because it will dominate). Because computers are what they are, the fact that it says colors are opposite hue and same saturation doesn't mean it's telling the truth. From different angles these will turn all sorts of colors and are best seen on a perfectly calibrated CRT monitor. Of course you don't always want flat gray, and I certainly don't measure. Typically I just want to reduce contrast while increasing excitement. I often go overboard on this :). A good example of when I kept things under control is the bronze bust piece, which contains only 4 shades that could be considered bronzy, and relies on the other 11 colors to make the piece. Because the bronzes were left and the other colors generally warm, instead of canceling out the color completely, I felt it created very active piece that is not nearly so saturated as most metal renderings. (Bronze pixel is shown above).
Lately, blue has been my color of choice for taking down while activating, although you can see that this blue is not the only color that may be used. It's great for midtones or shadows, but sometimes it just doesn't belong. Occasionally, you will see reds in my shadows (to keep the sense of light/heat), or teals (which are calmer than blues), and lavenders mix into my highlights sometimes to make them a little less BAM (this is particularly true of soft objects like cloth, hair, and skin).
There are other applications of this thought too: Triadic blending (where the color wheel is split 3 ways instead of 2). The bronze bust is another good example of this, where green and purple move around orange. This is another example of where practice plays an important role in pixel art. All of these concepts come straight out of experimenting with paint. My weakness for burning colors comes too from traditional paint too - paint is pigment, not light, and therefore wont 'burn' the way my pixel colors often do. Tetradic blending works theoretically, though often if I use more than 3 of the 6 generalized colors (primaries and secondaries), I'm using too many colors to count.
Jalonso: Is what you're saying is that the main colors in a given pixel are chosen in a more random method and whatever you need a neutralizer is added to make a cohesive palette as needed based on the lighting and overall mood of a pixel?
Adarias: While I might not go as far as to say random, a few colors are chosen really because I want them there. Typically I begin with a black sketch over gray and fill the areas with the 'obvious' colors, usually on the lighter side of mid-tones, and I end with adding colors that I feel complete the piece, but more often than not the ones in between are more what I think is going to look nice. This may not sound as interesting as the semi-scientific way of deciding the others, but really, if you avoid spontaneity completely, you start to lose the art in your math. I've heard people say that good artists know when to break the rules, but my personal methods are more reminding myself when to use them. I like let others decide if that is good or bad :P.
Jalonso: Your use of color in the Bronze bust is a great visual example of this because its so easy to understand the concept you describe. I think the Pirate Warrior is also an excellent example of this in a more subtle way. Speaking of which, the lineart for that pops up every so often. I wonder if color is what draws so many to use that lineart. What's more important to you, color choices or lineart?
Adarias: This is a question that comes up all the time, and despite my love of color, I must say that the forms are far more important than color choices. The reason is that good colors with bad forms makes bad images, while good forms with bad color make for images that could be better. The human eye is just so biased with shape. I shouldn't be so definitive in my answer, but I think it's the truth. Luckily, these skills are developed though practice, so most artists are not so far behind themselves in one or the other.
Jalonso: How important is color conservation in pixelart to you?
Adarias: Color conservation is a very important aspect of pixel art for a single reason - it keeps things organized. Pieces which take hundreds of colors often lack cohesiveness and the palettes are impossible to edit except with adjustment tools. By hand picking a few select shades you have much more control over your piece and much better chance to change it.
Jalonso: In your PJ gallery there isn't a single thing where the lineart is colored using a single color. This includes game sprites where lineart is often enhanced. You seem to use selout on occasion but often just change the colors to define, weight, lighting or merely to soften. How do you go about making these decisions and if possible explain the 'how'?
Adarias: Hmm, I guess the easiest way to answer that question is that I never thought about it at all. In my mind, a piece larger than 24x24pixels with jagged lines or flat colors is (most of the time) either unimportant (a single tile) or unfinished. I was introduced to video games with the NES, but the first games that I REALLY played were for the SNES (Chrono trigger, followed closely by Secret of Mana and Super Mario rpg - I loved rpgs when I was little). A quick look at those games can probably tell you what you need to know. Later, say middle school, I got into games like Final Fantasy Tactics, Xenogears, and Breath of Fire III. I was never familiar with flat shading styles until well after I began to produce my own pieces, and by that point I was hooked.
I know you'd like to think that I'm the focus here, but I think your work is worth discussing in that you work very well with flatter colors and a more.....pixelly approach. You let lines and shapes and pixels themselves speak in a very effective manner. I'm a bit of an outsider to pixelart in that I pixel as though it is an extension of other media, while artists like yourself really make this pixel thing it's own. Technically, it's essentially an extension of the thoughts behind AA except that when you have a line, oftentimes you reach less than a pixel. Mix that with the fact that I hate isolated pixels (I prefer to place contiguous shapes) and you pretty much have it. If that makes no sense I can elaborate :)
Jalonso: You gotta be kidding me! All your answers so far are so thorough this is reading more like a tutorial than a feature : / Btw, don't think it goes unnoticed that while you don't comment on others pixels often, when you do, your posts are so well defined and your point of view so clearly stated that even when the artist has a legitimate artistic choice your point is often equally valid. Anyhoo... Does color matter for animations? What's your process generally speaking when making groundwork decisions in your animations?
Adarias: When it comes to animation, the animation itself should come first. I'm no expert animator, so the moment I lose sight of my process, the whole image falls apart. I always begin with a wireframe animation (keyframes first, then tweens), then add volumes and make sure that all of the shapes look right. After that, I re-pixel on top of that to create a character, minding not to disturb any of the forms but also adjusting them slightly for the most attractive fits. Color comes in this stage when each frame is rendered separately, so it's much like still frames. It needs to be a little bit more formulaic on larger works (where every color has it's own space), but in a piece with a lot of subpixeling, colors tend to move around a lot based on what value I need for it's space. You'll notice of course that my animated pieces (and smaller characters in general) are considerably simpler in their coloration, this is just a necessity of time. Static art pieces can be played with far faster than animated ones.
Jalonso: With such an advanced color theory knowledge and applications do you ever fear that experimentation, exploration of color usage will cause stagnation in your work?
Adarias: Well, I don't know how advanced my knowledge of anything is, truth be told. There's plenty to explore and that seems like it would be the opposite of stagnation. To be honest though I spend less time experimenting than most would think, and you'll notice the trends and tricks in my work. This is not to be recommended artistically! (as each palette should be chosen for the piece being made....I have a 256c palette that seldom changes colors).
Jalonso: lol, you fool no one buddy, we can see your 'trends and tricks' clearly, it's learning them that has caused plenty a PJ member lost hours of sleep and frustration. Sooooooooooooooo, one last question. If you had a pony what would its name be?
Adarias: Kilroy. Kilroy. Kilroy.
Adarias it has been a true pleasure talking to you. You color our world.
*Nathan "Adarias" Christie was born in Rhode Island, USA, in the autumn of 1989. He is currently attending Parsons, the New School of Design for a Bachelors of Fine Arts (Fine Arts) and Eugene Lang College for a Bachelors of the Arts (Writing). He has been pixelling since high school and enjoys it as a hobby, though with the occasional employment opportunity. He has also been a student teacher and intern as well as a Wendy's crew member, and is currently seeking part-time employment. His dream is to eventually become a professor, publishing and showing work on the side. His current personal project, entitled "Transit" consists of nine oil paintings which are representational abstractions of his experiences riding the Metro North Railroad between New Haven and Grand Central stations and will be put online for viewing in March 2008.
He is also currently involved in a long term pixel-project with Fil Razorback called Partisan: Tactics Battles, a flash game which sports turn-based tactical battles on an isometric board. It is scheduled for completion around 2010 but some elements are available for viewing in his public gallery and on the blog, Partisan: Tactics Battles.