Pixel Artist - Jinn


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.

* Small analysis of Jinn's work regarding neutralizers, for those unsure what it all means.
This analysis used feedback from several PJ members all of whom were unaware of who was being featured.

Top Row
Dithering with 2 gray neutralizers • Just dithering - the palette IS neutral • Dithering • Mix of dithering with a green as a neutralizer

Bottom Row
Just dithering • Just dithering with a green that has the effect of neutralizing but is not used as one • Brown neutralizer • Blue/gray neutralizers

According to Adarias, a neutralizer is basically any color that would, if blended with another, bring the result closer to zero saturation. For example, a brown in an orange ramp is 'more' neutral. Another example is a green in a magenta ramp, because for that ramp to approach green, it would have to cross neutral (or more neutral) tones. According to Helm, the real decider is whether the tone 'behaves', meaning it 'stays in the ramp'; if it doesn't ‘behave’, it will add 'business' and break the form and not neutralize anything -- in fact, it's more likely to polarize the two hues you are trying to neutralize. An example of this is the difference between dithering (a field) and checkerboard (interlocking shapes). Same idea, different scale - different effect.
Jal: What types of pieces would you recommend a pixel artist have in their gallery or portfolio?
Jinn: For me it's caricatures. Caricatures are pretty difficult and stop you from getting rusty, not to mention when done right they are funny. Everyone has their own unique qualities and abilities, so the most important thing in any gallery or portfolio is a mix creativity, originality, and skill.

Jal: You certainly are very successful in making caricatures and create them often. Why?
Jinn: Thanks! But to be honest, I don't see myself as a good caricaturist; I love to do them, but I always think I can do better. Whenever I use Google to search for other caricaturists, all of their work seems to be perfect, I mean, I can instantly recognize the subject; it's like looking at a photograph, and sometimes it's even better than looking at a photograph, as caricatures are so exaggerated. In certain photos, you can't be sure if it’s really the person you think it is, maybe because they’re not smiling like they usually do, or maybe because their facial expression isn't the most recognizable. However, with caricatures, sometimes, you can't make someone who's always smiling appear sad because the viewers’ mind won’t necessarily recognize the subject. A good caricature never loses the connection with the subject, you can place them in any situation, and you will still recognize and understand the subject, even if they’re not behaving like they normally would.

Jal: What detail(s) is/are most important in a caricature. The eyes, mouth or something else?
Jinn: I think more important than details like the mouth, nose, ears, or whatever, is the shape of the face! When you look at someone, you have to identify what shape their face is - is it a triangle? Is it a rectangle? How distorted is the basic shape? Once you define the general shape, then you can add the ears, mouth, nose, etc. One may draw all facial features perfectly but use the wrong head shape and you'll lose all likeness. Use the correct head shape and tweak the facial details and it will retain the essence of the person. I would say that half of any caricature is the shape of the face. The eyes come in a strong second in producing a well defined caricature; I'm not just talking about the size or the style, but the eye position too. There’s always room to play with some facial feature positions, but the eyes are the trickiest detail. So that's pretty much it, get the head shape and the eyes correct, and everything else will probably flow smoothly.

Jal: Does pixel art affect a caricature? Are there challenges that pixel art poses in caricatures? Or is it the same as traditional drawing methods?
Jinn: For sure! A small canvas means minimal space to define the person being caricatured. When I don't have enough space to draw the needed facial expressions, the person looks old and wrinkly; but when I have a large enough canvas, I can place them freely. I always have to balance what is important in a given subject - sometimes the choices I make are not the ideal.
An example is Jim Carrey, I can't draw him without a lot of facial expression lines, otherwise, it doesn’t look like him. With a small canvas size, he's a nightmare to make, because there’s not enough space, or he looks old, or not like him. On the other hand, pixel art does have its advantages too; you can easily revise details, often just shifting around one pixel can do wonders to make the subject ‘read’ better.

Jal: You pixel very quickly and seem to produce a lot of work without any loss in quality. Speed for professional/commercial artists is such an important skill; how do you cut corners? What are good shortcuts? What makes a piece move quickly? How much quality are you willing to sacrifice for speed?
Jinn: I don't have any shortcuts, really. I do use a master color palette, as I mentioned earlier, in almost all my work, even my newer pieces.
I rarely do animations, but when I do, I always use onion skin layers* to make key-frames (*the top layer at 50% alpha, and the layer below at 25% alpha).
I never sacrifice quality for speed. If I was working on some commission, and I had to keep up with production deadlines, I wouldn't expend so much time in details, I suppose. But it's just not the case for me - all my PJ work here is just for fun. Most of my pieces take about 8-10 hours to create. Even some animations like Earthworm Jim, with 6 frames, was done in about 9 hours, (with some breaks of course...).
Jal: When you tell non-pixel artists that you are a pixel artist what responses do you often get?
Jinn: "You do what?!" *I explain* "Hmm...right, so you are one of those guys who makes Tamagotchis?
Jal: Certain countries seem to always have big surges in pixel art. For ages the Russians ruled, the Swedes and the Dutch have had their periods too. Are you responsible for the current Brazilian popularity?
Jinn: I don't know for sure, but I am really surprised by my popularity in Brazilian Habbo forums. I don't know why, but seems like Habbo is the last game which still uses only pixel art. Other than that, I don't think I'm the only one responsible. I blame 7even! ^^
Jal: Finally, if you were an animal what would you be?
Jinn: Probably a musk ox, they're so cute and bad-ass at the same time!

To see Jinn at work check out his site or YouTube channel. Some WIP videos that are especially worth checking out:

Posted by jalonso @ 5/31/2011 05:58  |    28


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Lusque (Level 5 Detective) @ 6/8/2014 13:46

Go Brasil³

Marina (Level 9 Necrophiliac) @ 4/10/2014 03:20

Jinn it's a genius. Great interview!

ParkerBabyDiaperCompany (Level 2 King Checker) @ 6/18/2013 22:04

I love Jinn's pixel art. I still don't understand how he does his colors.

zaua (Level 1 Jukyu) @ 5/18/2013 13:57

murder the elite

Trollabit (Level 2 Peon) @ 9/13/2012 16:06

let's cooperate

philippejugnet (Level 6 Hitman) @ 1/19/2012 21:37

 paint O.o

sasuke91 (Level 2 Kukyu) @ 10/19/2011 02:03

i like Graphics Gale the best

Orange pixel (Level 1 Rookie) @ 9/20/2011 21:37

what is the best program to make pixel art? (sorry, my English is not very good)

Gecimen (Level 11 Sphinx) @ 8/18/2011 07:03

Just had the time to read this. Smashing interview, not to mention Jinn is one of my favorite active pixel artists.

TchaDemonTcha (Level 1 Rookie) @ 6/27/2011 16:36

 me ensina ae manolo pfv

HCvip (Level 1 Rookie) @ 6/20/2011 11:44

Boa, Jinn


Go Brazil! ²

Dont (Level 6 Garbage) @ 6/9/2011 13:42

Amo seus trabalhos, é e sempre será minha inspiração. GO BRASIL

SatTheArtist (Level 1 Rookie) @ 6/8/2011 11:49

Definitely one of my favorite pixel artists.

Stickman (Level 7 Sheriff) @ 6/4/2011 03:17

Good interview!

Geoglatico (Level 6 SWAT) @ 6/1/2011 06:44

 Very good Jinn, Brasil !!!

DawnBringer (Level 10 Pixel artist) @ 5/31/2011 21:02

Ah, I thought Jinn just had a love for odd & saturated colors but it didn't occur to me that they were all part of the same master-palette. The Tamagotchi comment was really funny! :D

EdJr (Level 9 Nidan) @ 5/31/2011 16:19

Nice interview Jinn, you deserve it. I especially loved the colors part.

And no doubt you're at least one of the most popular brazilian pixel artists! =)

Cyangmou (Level 9 Federal Agent) @ 5/31/2011 14:05

congrats for the feature, you deserve it. Also an great interview.

Drazelic (Level 8 Partner) @ 5/31/2011 12:38

Ha, what took you guys so long? Really informative, especially on the pallete!

TypeVision (Level 2 Flatfoot) @ 5/31/2011 12:32

I heart it! Love you Jinn! <3


Representaste os Brasucas! Valeu João!

ellie-is (Level 5 Assistant Manager) @ 5/31/2011 11:41

 Hey, grats on the feature.


I'm waiting for the return of the Russians. I mean, really, every Brazilian but Jinn and 7even seems to suck real hard at pixel art (myself included), and they keep doing it! It's annoying. At least the Russians know what they are doing. :P

greenraven (Level 2 Hired Gun) @ 5/31/2011 11:10

The Russians will have their day again, mark my words.

Interesting interview, thanks to both of you for taking the time to have it.

Delicious (Level 10 Capo) @ 5/31/2011 10:30

Well deserved feature, and great interview. :)

Badassbill (Level 11 Big Foot) @ 5/31/2011 10:29

Great interview.

dumbo (Level 4 Mercenary) @ 5/31/2011 10:10

Very nice! Jinn for dah WINN!!!

PeterH (Level 1 Depressed) @ 5/31/2011 09:43

I love Jinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn !

dpixel (Level 9 Vice President) @ 5/31/2011 09:25

Great Interview.  And good info on those neutrailizing colors which I'm still trying to comprehend. 

I've watched quite a few Jinn pixeling videos.  Really makes it look very relaxed and fun.

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