Jinn (João Victor Gonçalves Costa) is a 21 year old computer graphics student from São Paulo, Brazil who joined Pixeljoint in August 2008. He is a book editor by day and a pixel artist in his free time; he began drawing on paper from early childhood, eventually migrating to digital drawing and pixel pushing.
Jal: How did you get started creating pixel art?
Jinn: Like many others, I began editing and copying existing sprites, mostly NES and SNES game assets. I was fascinated by these graphics and was drawn to them. I stumbled upon RPGMaker, a simple game creation tool for those who can't code their own games and found a passion for game development. It wasn't long before I had to explore creating my own game assets and sprites to fully express myself and my ideas. Although I did have an understanding of art history, traditional design theories, and some knowledge of color theory from college courses; I found that game art limitations and restrictions where very challenging! I began studying others’ work and with my own experimentation I started to develop my own techniques. Finding sites and joining communities, like Pixeljoint, helped me to gain confidence and knowledge; I found that I began to improve with every piece. Feedback from others helped me greatly, and still does.
Jal: Have you ever made a commercial game or worked professionally?
Jinn: Not a complete game yet, but I have a mobile game project with a coding partner that I’ve been working on and hope to release by Summer 2011. It's been hard work, but I'm extremely happy with it so far and am excited for it to finally be completed. I occasionally take on commission jobs, but for the most part, I pixel as a hobby; all of my PJ gallery is hobby work.
Jal: What applications do you use to create your pixel art and animations?
Jinn: To pixel I use MS Paint 7, for animations I use Adobe Image Ready CS2, to manage my images I use Thumbs Plus 3.2, and to record my video WIPs I use Camtasia Studio 7. I mostly pixel with a mouse; I've tried using tablets, but I never can get used to them, it just doesn't feel like a pencil. Maybe someday I'll try using a tablet again. Last but not least, not an app, but I almost always have game music remixes or podcasts about games and cinema to keep me company when I pixel.
Jal: How would you describe your pixelling style and or pixel art sensibilities?
Jinn: This is a very tough question, because 'pixel art' is already a style. I do have some techniques that I repeat in most, if not all, my work. For example, I almost always outline in black and dither a lot. I'm always experimenting with colors and I like to create ramps which don't flow smoothly or don’t seem to make much sense. I consider myself to be mostly a spriter (most of my PJ gallery is composed of sprites); I find that spriting frees me to explore and be creative. Since I'm kind of lazy when it comes to scenes/backgrounds, or I find I’m not good enough, I tend to mainly focus on characters and will usually just finish a piece with a colored shape background or another kind of simple design treatment.
Jal: Using these colored shape backgrounds/design treatments is a very unique and successful way of presenting your art. It’s almost a trademark of your work now. In certain pieces, like Buzz, it truly completes the piece. Many artists, in general, overlook selling their work to the viewer through smart presentation. Can you tell us a bit more about this?
Jinn: Well, I started using these colored shapes because I was too lazy to make decent backgrounds. Sometimes a sprite needs a background to smooth the edges or just to complete the piece with somehow. Since PJ doesn't have a pre-set background colour, the only way to fix it is by having a solid background color, which I don't really like, so the shapes do their job.
Jal: Do other pixel artists inspire you? If so, who?
Jinn: I really appreciate and respect the color usage and balance of Henk Nieborg’s scenes and sprites. I also admire Thorsten Mutschall, Aaron Kreader and Michael Woodroffe, these guys are awesome!
Jal: Nothing wrong with that list. How about non-pixel artists?
Jinn: Mad Magazine, which I read as a child, has always inspired me and is probably why I'm attracted to caricatures. My sense of humor comes from Mad too. Artists like John Romita Jr., Joe Quesada, Alex Ross and Frank Frazetta have certainly made an impact on me; I've always wanted to be like them and will always aspire to be like them. I think that all my work is inspired by comics with a certain mix of Japanese art thrown in! I love Studio Ghibli and Toei Animation; they kick ass.
Jal: Those influences can definitely be seen in all your work, especially perspectives and the view angles you use. I admire your work, even when you first joined and used a sh*tload of colors and often over-dithered. I never had a doubt that you would polish yourself and improve in no time, which you have. One day you posted a WIP animation of your 'Could you scratch my ear?' piece and I was impressed to see you at work. Many create pixelart in a linear pattern, i.e. lineart > color > dither > AA > etc. almost like a factory production line. Your video however has an organic way about it, jumping around in no specific way, you color block, dither, AA, pick colors, define lineart all at the same time and not even in the same area. Why is this? Is it madness or do you have a method?
Jinn: The coolest thing about pixel art is that you can revisit a specific area at any time, it's not like you need to wait until the ink dries. You don't need to worry how a particular color affects the piece, since you can replace or adjust them easily. In pixel art you don't need a set formula to create at all, you don't even need the lineart to start from. When you make a mistake in a traditional piece of art and don't notice it until the end all you can do is be pissed off and leave it, try to fix the area, or start over. With pixel art you can just remove/replace anything anytime you need to; in that WIP video, you'll notice at some point I just erased the tail of the 'pig/monster' and started that area again because it just didn't fit the piece as I envisioned it.
I don't like to pixel under pressure and certainly wouldn't enjoy working in a 'factory' style, so over time I've developed some habits to help myself explore my creativity and not mess with all the technical aspects of pixelart. Ever since the Two and a Half Men piece I've been using the same color palette, which I now use in almost every piece (at least to start with), unless the piece uses a set palette like my Virtual Boy challenge entry. I sometimes may have to adjust or shift a color or two, and sometimes even delete colors from the palette. Overall, though, using a set palette helps me keep the color count low and focus on shapes and volumes instead of constantly choosing colors, which can be such a time killer. This master palette I created for myself allows me to easily develop unique ramps for a piece while knowing my color flow in hues/values/levels/etc. are all balanced. Of course, minor adjustments in certain shades, especially the neutral colors are usually required depending on the piece itself.
I can create almost anything with just those 45 colors alone, and if not, I just have to add two or three more colours, at most. Should the color count get too high for me, I can easily remove colors by creating tones that can be shared by several color ramps. I think that explains all the jumping around when I'm working.
Jal: Well that explains why so much of your work depends on dithering. Dithering is such a basic, yet complex pixel art technique. It alone helps a piece define itself as 'pixel' art more than anything else to the casual viewer, yet dithering can easily ruin a piece. Dithering is something you have excelled at. Only rarely does anyone critique your work based on the dithering *cough-Big Brother-cough* and you even use it on flesh which is something many feel should be avoided. Dithering on animated game sprites seems to be something to steer away from too but not for you; you make it work. Can you elaborate further on dithering and de-mystify it for us?
Jinn: I like dithering; it’s often needed. I usually make backgrounds using just two or three colors that don't form a smooth ramp, so I dither the area as a design choice. It can sometimes look 'furry' as Big Brother says, but refining your palette forces certain concessions on any given piece; it depends on what the piece demands so it reads well once complete. I don't mind solid backgrounds and often use them, but just as often there is so much detail in the foreground that a single color background just doesn't work…it all depends on the piece. I actually find that dithering gives a natural feeling to faces and clothing, and it’s so good for textures. A glass of water, on other hand, would never be dithered, even with a limited palette, as it would kill the glass effect. I think that dithering, like all pixel art techniques, has its place.
Jal: I don't especially find a lot of conscious use of neutralizers* in your work yet, you use them instinctively. You seem to always make smart color choices so it probably doesn't even matter in your case. Even your selective outlining has a certain dithered quality to it. I think selective outlining is the hardest technique to master; while your selectrive outlining is not conventional or even properly applied, it still works in your pieces. What are your thoughts on this?
Jinn: The whole concept of neutralizers is still somewhat new to me and is not something I consciously do or depend on. I use neutral shades in my ramps so just dithering tends to work for me. Proper selective outlining still escapes me, but most of my work does have some on the lineart because certain lines and curves don't always read well at 1x. I do normally AA the inside of lines, however; as I said earlier, I think of myself as a spriter first and foremost, so I try to make my pixel art work on any color background. I mostly try to smooth the 'jaggies' instead of focusing on whether the selective outlining is perfect or not. Hopefully it will improve with some more practice.