Stefan Bogdanovic, PJ's Mrmo Tarius is a computer graphics designer from Serbia (Belgrade). Mrmo Tarius creates some amazing and unique pixel art. He was kind enough to let me interview him for this revealing feature.
HAP = Daniel(Hapiel) | MRMO = Stefan(Mrmo Tarius).
HAP: I think I speak for the whole of the pixel art community when I say that your recent work has been unique, original, interesting and refreshing. You are elite! Let's start off simple: Where does your handle come from?
MRMO: Hello and thank you! My nickname is derived from an old in-joke/fad. My friends and I used to call each other 'marmots' ('mrmoti' in Serbian) back in high school, and the name kinda caught on.
Because of that, I used to call my cat Mrmotarius, because he was fluffy, chubby and very calm most of the time - so he kinda reminded me of a 'marmot'. He was also acting all high and noble most of the time, so he needed a nickname that reflected that and faux Latin suited him nicely :)
It was the first name that came to mind when I joined Pixeljoint. I kinda like it - even though it can be a bit hard to pronounce for everyone except native speakers :)
HAP: I've never had a clue how to pronounce Mrmo, and had assumed it was some kind of abbreviation! More importantly, who is the person behind this name? Have you studied Computer Graphics Design?
MRMO: A guy with glasses and a goatee :P Yeah, I've studied CGD, pretty much the best years of my life so far! I'm currently work as a graphic designer and IT support guy. I also dabble in photography, and I love chocolate. Oh…I also have a cat!
HAP: I am glad you enjoyed your studies! I, myself, have been in design school for a year and it's made me not want to study again. Anyway, back to you; with two jobs, how do you find the time to pixel so much? Your gallery is growing as if you have found the 'key to productivity'!
MRMO: First of all, I love my jobs, as they are quite interesting and challenging (in the positive sense!) most of the time, but still not so exhausting as to not allow me some free time for my hobbies. The 'key to productivity' - as you've put it - is actually a combination of some very nice things:
• Grafx2 - the splendid pixelart-oriented software I've only recently discovered.
• PixelJoint Weekly Challenges - An amazing way to provide me with much-needed motivation and that great feeling of friendly competition, while setting various restrictions that force me to improvise and think creatively :D
• The endless inspiration from all the talented artists featured on PJ :)
HAP: I briefly tried Grafx2 about 2 years ago, and started to use it again recently! Let's get artwork specific - one thing that stands out in most of your pixel pieces is the use of strong straight lines, not just big pieces, but also smaller sprites. However, it never feels like you are restricting yourself from organic shapes, how do you do this? Do you design your characters with the lines in mind or do you just see them and then exaggerate them along the way?
MRMO: I'm not actually thinking about the line formation while I'm drawing - I suppose you can call it my 'style', if there is indeed such a thing. It just comes naturally during the creation process, while I refine the initial sketch I see shapes and forms that make sense and need accentuating. I tend to use horizontal, vertical and 45 degree lines a lot because, in a pixel-based medium, they look pure and clean on their own, without any additional polishing.
HAP: So you think in shapes and forms? I agree that 'perfect' lines work great in PA. Watch out, you are infecting your other arts with these ideas as well :P Aside from the lines, another thing that reflects your 'style' is the use of highlights. They have been in your work since the first thing you uploaded on PJ, and are very obvious in a piece like the Masked Mantis!:
Is there a reason why every edge should become highlighted? Or does it only work with dark backgrounds? How and when do you choose to do this? When did you discover the power of the highlight? Wow, that's a lot of questions at once :P.
MRMO: Well, it has been something of a running joke lately, that I have to draw everything in squares and blocks :) That is not really far from truth, as I like working with rectangular forms. They make ideal building elements - something akin to the LEGO bricks I loved when I was a kid (and still love!). Also, I'm currently playing with Lego Digital Designer!
As for highlights, I feel that they really help point out the edges' sharpness and define the block volume. If I pay attention, those highlights might even conform to an actual light source :) so yeah...every edge has to be highlighted! That is rule #1 :)
HAP: What is rule #2?
MRMO: Rule #2: If in doubt, use tilesets! I love using tilesets. Playing with tiles, to me, is playing with LEGO. If I can do ANYTHING using a tileset, I will. I've used tilesets for both conventional platform-building, and strange organic stuff, Great Squidfish Crusade is an example of this. When it comes to filling empty spaces quickly and efficiently, tilesets are just the right thing :)
HAP: Whoa, the Squidfish Crusade is made of tiles? I wouldn't have noticed had you not mentioned it! Now that I know this 'secret', it's fun to spot the same eyes, the same wings, the same textures and the same miniature monsters all over the place! Do you use a special tile editor for moving around the tiles you make?
MRMO: Actually, I manage tiles using Grafx2's basic grid snap and 'grab brush' tools. Very easy to do, 2 simple keyboard shortcuts :)
HAP: You seem to be fond of making works with a single color ramp. Why? Does this happen consciously? How does the process of making a set of colors or palette happen?
MRMO: I'm always experimenting with colors - I guess the single-ramp approach is a relic from my first days of pixelling, back when I was still used a monochrome monitor. I'm fond of making hue shifts. Single ramps with plenty of contrast in both hue and luminosity are the best!
I usually pixel using temporary, placeholder colors, which I tweak (or even change completely), color by color, during the later phases of work (or even after I finish completely). I also like using the pre-made, general all-purpose 16 color palettes made by Arne and DawnBringer, because there is actual science behind those two palettes (and they just look and feel really good).
HAP: For placeholder colors, is there any example you have of a WIP image still in its placeholder colors that are very different from the final version?
MRMO: Here's an example of a near-grayscale piece I've overhauled late in the pixelling process:
Early version of Cohchaccitl: (Left): near-greyscale version; (right) re-colored version.
HAP: Does your pixel work influence your non pixel work(NPA)? Such as your photography, graphic design or vector illustrations?
MRMO: Pixelart is very specific in terms of organizing a number of 'pieces' into a complete 'puzzle', dealing with composition and relations between said pieces, and managing and arranging only a handful of colors. By making pixelart I've started learning to think using clean shapes, matching and contrasting colors, and to actually try to use composition in other things I make. This seemingly works the other way around too, I've made some pixel pieces lately that could be easily reproduced using vector graphics, for instance.
HAP: Let's finish this up. Who are your favorite artists, and what is your favorite computer game?
MRMO: That is actually a rather hard question to answer :) Favorite artists - I'd have to go with Paul Klee, and Salvador Dalí.
Favorite computer game? Very hard for me to answer. I've been an avid gamer for so many years, and there are so many games that I love; both old cult classics and new, innovative stuff. For example; I've always enjoyed the post-apocalyptic world of the Fallout series, beautiful and intricate stories of Baldur's Gate 2 and Planescape: Torment (yeah, I kinda like Black Isle's works), high-adrenaline action of Unreal Tournament and the old-school strategy style of the Command & Conquer series.
I also love everything Valve makes nowadays. I have a bunch of stuff on Steam - it kinda makes organizing and managing my game collection easy. Also, I wholeheartedly support ingenious and innovative indie games - stuff like Braid, World of Goo, Cortex Command, Minecraft, Revenge of the Titans, and things that Team Meat makes.
HAP: Thank you, Mrmo, for your time!
Check out Stefan's website and his Pixel Joint gallery. If you ever want to show your appreciation for Stefan, pixel him some chocolate!
Interview conducted by Hapiel, September - October 2011 and (finally) completed August 2012.