Pixeljoint is proud to present you yet another much-anticipated artist feature with long time PJ member and multi-award winner, vierbit! While mostly silent, most of you know and admire his pixelart. Today, we break the silence!
vierbit hails from the cutest town in Central Germany, Halberstadt. A media designer, he is kept busy with every possible branch of it, including, but not limited to; 3D, digital painting, and programming.
Gecimen: How were you introduced to art in general (did you have formal art education or anything else)?
Vierbit: Probably the same as many other artist, started drawing as a kid and just kept doing it, I remember in middle school, visual arts was my favourite subject. My profession deals with visual arts, but I never had any formal art education.
G: How/when were you introduced to pixel art?
V: Being born in '84, I played a lot of pixelated games as a kid, so that probably contributed something to my interest. I did my first pixel art on an amiga, which my cousin had, although, it's debatable if that really would qualify as pixel art by today's point of view.
G: Your pieces are extremely popular on Pixel Joint, can you describe your experience with the community? How does it feel to be admired by a community so much? Are you involved with any social media or other communities?
V: I must admit, I am not a very communicative person, so my interaction with the community is bit limited. But, I never have had any bad experiences with the PJ community, I like the place. The thought of being admired by a community feels a bit weird at times. I sometimes get messages from people, telling me how some of my pieces inspired them to create something of their own, which obviously is a great thing. I guess I never really gave too much thought about the "admired" part. I am involved in other communities, but they're not art related, and I go by different handles.
G: We know you're working on games. Do you work professionally? Are you a freelancer or in a company? What is your involvement in games as a developer (graphics - intros, backgrounds, animations, sprites; other than graphics, game design, coding etc.)?
V: Most of my income comes from working as a freelancer, which would count as professionally, I guess. Depending on the project, I pretty much can do anything that is art related; be it tilesets, animations, logos, etc. And since the games I usually work on are rather small, I actually do all these things.
G: Do you collaborate with other Pixel Joint members?
V: I haven't, but maybe in the future. Most of the time, I am way too busy with other stuff, so unfortunately, there is very little time for something like that.
G: What is your favorite computer game genre?
V: I can enjoy any genre if the game is good. But I do like RTSs, shmups, and metroidvanias a lot.
G: Can you name a few of the games you've worked on?
V: I currently work on these games: Super Mutant Alien Assault, Timber and Stone, Kingdom of Loot, and some other minor work here and there. I actually didn't work on a lot of games in the past, and to some, I only contributed minor stuff. Also, quite a few of these games never got finished, so to mention them here is kinda pointless. I spent a lot of time on an MMORPG creating backgrounds/tilesets, but that also didn't made it. So yeah, it seems luck isn't always on my side regarding these things ;)
G: Which program(s) do you use for pixel art? Do you use a sketch-pad for pixelling?
V: For pixel art, I pretty much only use Graphicsgale, sometimes using Photoshop to tweak colour and/or contrast. I use an Intuos 4 tablet, but I had a hard time getting used to it since I used a mouse for years before that. In fact, pretty much anything pre 2013 was drawn with a mouse. So yeah, you don't need an expensive tablet, but in retrospective, I should have used one sooner. For bigger mockups, I also use a mapping tool, like Tiled.
G: What's your technique while doing pixel art? As in, do you start with lineart or clusters; and what's your view on other techniques such as anti-aliasing, dithering etc.? How do you create your color palettes? You use higher saturated colors than most other pixel artists, what is the reason for that?
V: While I usually start with shapes and clusters, sometimes lines can be useful too. But in general, I don't draw pretty lineart and colour it afterwards. In my opinion, it just increases the workload with very little benefit. If visible lines or contours are necessary for the style, I can just add them afterwards. I try to do less AA these days, or rather, optimze where AA is useful and where it's just not necessary. When looking at the latest pixelart indie games, they often don't make use of it. And even looking at some oldschool stuff, like the Metal Slug games, you realize that AA contributes very little to the visual presentation.
This also applies to the use of dithering. When I use dithering, it's usually the standard 50/50 checkerboard pattern, since it's the fastest to do. And since I mainly work on games, I also have to think from an economical standpoint. Spending a few extra hours just to get the perfect dither pattern usually makes no sense.
About the saturated colours, I guess I just like it that way. No deeper meaning behind it.
G: Among many other things, you're really a PJ celebrity for your tilesets. You have a really special take on them and your grass-dirt-stone transitions are - to put it simply - much braver than other artists. What is your take on them? How do you begin making a tileset?
V: Well, since tilesets are an essential part of 2D game art, you have to deal with them sooner or later, if you're an game artist. I always liked how efficient they are. Just with a handful of little pictures you can create whole worlds.
The whole thought process behind a tileset is bit hard to explain. The most difficult part is you have to imagine how all these tiles will be used in your scene or game later on; how they will interact with each other? It's pretty much trial and error, eventually you'll get good at the whole process.
G: You say you began pixelling after playing old-school pixel graphic games, but honestly, your technique has already surpassed the games of those times. I just compared your scenes to the ones of Chaos Engine and, well, there's a huge difference. Would you say you have a secret? Is it talent, hardworking, or something you have learned through your art life?
V: I don't think comparing my stuff to artwork that was drawn 20-25 years ago is fair to those artists. For one thing, we have better tools today, we don't have to deal with technical restrictions and what's most important, we learned from all those artists. There is no secret. While I think talent is a factor, it probably isn't the most important aspect. Dedication is what matters, if you keep that up for years, you will eventually succeed. And isn't it fun to get better at your craft?
G: What is your formula of being so productive as a freelancer artist? Simply loving what you do? How do you motivate yourself to start and finish those massive works? Do you have any kind of music you listen etc. while pixelling?
V: Frankly, I wish I were more productive at times. I love what I do, otherwise I wouldn't do it, but there are also times where I have to force myself through some work.
Motivation comes mainly in two forms. For one thing, to get better at my work; and the other is the harsh reality: I have to pay my bills every month ;) I usually listen to ambient, chill out, or trance music while working.
G: Scenes, sprites, tiles, topdowns, sidescrollers, isometrics; you simply do anything that can be done with pixels. Do you specificly force yourself to try everything out? Which kind of pixel art are you're most comfortable with?
V: No, I don't have to force myself to do any of these things. Different disciplines require different approaches, but they are all enjoyable for various reasons. I wouldn't say it's a strong preference, but in sidescrollers, you have more freedom regarding perspective and composition, which I like play around with.
G: You used to use these more sharp, edgy shapes in scenes, such as in "Nebula of Love" or "Zahnfee". You also used to use much more limited palettes compared to today. What was your motivation back then and what changed?
V: Hm, hard to tell what my motivation was there. I probably saw some other art I wanted to replicate, or I may just wanted to experiment around a bit. Single pictures that can stand on their own are great for trying out new things. It's true that I use more colours than I used to. When starting doing pixelart, I somehow had the impression that fewer colours = better pixelart. Also, fewer colours are easier to have control over, so I guess with more experience you get more comfortable using bigger palettes.
G: We definitely need to talk about "The Edge". This piece, apart from being a masterpiece, also seems like a transition between the old edgy, desaturated style on the left and the new smooth, high saturation style on the right. First off, how on Earth did you create such a devastating beauty for a weekly challenge? Did you feel a change with your pixel art understanding as much as we felt?
V: The Weekly Challenge submissions are pretty much always on the spot decisions. If I like the challenge and have some time at hand, I just start drawing 'til I am done with it. I don't really feel like I've changed my style too much over the years, it's more of an evolution. "Style" can be a pretty broad term. Using a different dither pattern, adding an outline around your sprites, or using additional entries in your colour palette isn't really a break of style for me. And even if that would be the case, I don't really want to limit myself to a very specific style, if there are some changes in my art, so be it.
G: Your biggest piece; "Dead End" - what are these, just cancelled projects? Or are they parts of complete ones? I mean there's a whole lifetime's worth of portfolio there. Can you tell us anything about these?
V: These are all mockups from the MMO project I mentioned earlier. There isn't much to talk about, I Spent over 3 years on it, learned quite a bit in that time - not only art related. But in the end, it all came to an unexpected abrupt end, hence the title.
G: Can you tell us a bit about your recent "Book of Unwritten Tales" pieces? Why are there two of them? How do you fit so much detail within such smoothness?
V: I was commissioned to recreate two scenes from the game in pixel art. They are part of a little sidequest involving time travel, so you start from the polygon age going all the way back to the 80s. It also goes even further back, but that didn't require any graphics ;). As a base, I had a rendered image of the scene. So, it wasn't to hard to get the perspective and geometry right, although all the little details were more time consuming than I thought. The smoothness, especially for the '1993' version, was requested, I originally didn't want to spend so much time on all that anti-aliasing. Looking at it now, I see a few areas that ended a bit sloppy, but the deadline was fast approaching back then.
G: So far, you have displayed almost no animations on your gallery and, all of a sudden our brains exploded with BrainBot Mk-VI. If you could do such animations, why didn't you show them, or was it your first try?
V: It wasn't my first try, but I only started recently working on my animation skills. Mainly because another project required quite a bit of animation work. I gave it a try, and it turned out I am not too bad at it. But there's still a lot more to learn about animation.
G: Do you ever take a look back at your gallery? You have indeed changed a lot over time. What do you feel about this?
V: Sure, looking back at what I did years ago is kinda interesting. Some of the older stuff still holds up well; others, not so much. But every finished artwork helps you to grow as an artist, so there aren't any 'bad' pieces in that regard.
G: Three questions within one: Who are your favorite pixel artists? Do you get inspiration from artists outside pixel art? Do you use any mediums other than pixel art?
V: That is one of the harder questions. On PJ alone, there are a lot of great artists, it's hard to remember them all, so I would rather not name anyone.
I would feel kinda bad if this interview gets published and I forgot someone. But a look on my favourite list would reveal a few. When looking for inspiration, you shouldn't limit yourself to pixel art only, I would even say that I rarely get inspiration from pixel art these days.
I do use other mediums, I like sketching with pencils and general non-digital art forms. Simply because I don't want to look at a computer screen for the whole day.
G: And do you have other hobbies?
V: My hobbies are pretty much the same as my daily work, which can be good and bad sometimes. Other than the pixelart stuff, I dabble with 3D, digital painting, pencil drawing etc., as long as I can get creative at something it's all good. I also enjoy a bit of programming work from time to time. So yeah, not really breathtaking stuff.;)
G: Final question: Meaning of your nick is "4 bits" right? Where did it come from?
V: Yeah, it could be read that way. I am pretty sure I had something in mind when coming up with that name, but I can't really remember anymore. The nick just stuck around I guess.
G: Thank you very much Fabian, I hope the readers will enjoy as much as I have.