Previously, on ArtInPinkerton Blog (dun dun!)

Pixels so sharp they will cut you

For anyone who reads this blog (all 3 of you), its no secret that I tend to favor a more cartoonish and abstract style when editing game artwork. With the Arena Depixelization Project (ADP), this was mostly a necessity since I was looking at simplifying images due to the extremely low resolution and terrible graininess (grain E ness?).

Textures so muddy, they have to take their shoes before coming inside

However, with Morrowind, it was more of a desire to undrab (not even a real word I’m pretty sure) it some. The individuals textures were unimpressive but all together they worked (for back in 120 A.D. when it was created). With my early experiments, I used the cartoon method to add interest to the individual textures but it was crude.

 

 

“You know my name is Simon and the things I draw come true”

From here, I had a detour with a little experiment. For all the games I work on, I have a soft spot. Darkstone was one such game. It’s low resolution blurry textures begged for me to edit them. It was a challenge just figuring out how to access them and understand the file structure: there are odd duplicates, art sheets (many separate art assets on one texture), and strange encryption. I wanted to create a chalk-like art style. It was a side diversion and never meant to be a full project though. I really liked the results though.

STOP CHANGING THE DAMN FORMAT ALREADY!

I had very little experience back then and it was before Borderlands captured what I desired so well (ICE CREAM…wait no…CELL SHADING!). So I switched to working on Minecraft for my sons. I finished not only the main game but several of the most popular modification at the time. However, Mohjang (the makers of Minecraft) changed the texture format and naming several times over the duration I was working on it; breaking my texture pack (Grrrrr!) more than once. I never released it as by the time they finalized it, they had added so much more that I hadn’t done.  However, it gave me time to work on learning the graphics software (GIMP at the time…not the one from Pulp Fiction).

 

But the name almost begged it!

I’m not sure how I started working on it, but the next project I worked was Torchlight. I think I had just wanted to see if I could do it. During this phase, I dedicated quite some time experimenting with different styles and the software. Eventually, it turned into a full blown project which I called “Toonlight”…I am so clever…so damn clever. Looking back, I think I lamented how little the backgrounds “popped” and though I could smooth and outline them to make them defined. My biggest failing on it (beside the wee-bit of amateurish work…cough cough) was that I was so focused on the individual textures, that I didn’t account for the whole picture and scene. So much detailed “polluted” the screen. This is relevant for when I get to my newest endeavor. Toonlight was never finished (I had illusions it might be). I didn’t like the results on a game level and didn’t want to start over. The creatures looked nice though.

 

Nailed it….

Then came Borderlands. It perfectly encapsulated what I was going for. I loved the art style and now I had a inspiration to study and evolve my style. It was here I learned about rim lighting (making dark lines pop with a lighter line near it) and ways to make larger blank areas look less dull (hint: random lines and squiggles).  I didn’t try it for some time as I was working on finalizing ADP (which is….sigh…not done yet). When I finally took a break, I experimented with Morrowind again…this time on the faces; trying to capture that Borderlands style. Ultimately, I realized that my style was Borderlands-inspired but had my flavor added.

Brown…so much grainy awful pixel-y brown

I finally had enough experience to move forward. I had a few other side projects not “cartoon” style related (such as the FATE mod..so I can have all that crunchy 4K resolution…mmmmm tasty). Moving on, I had just the project in mind to hone those skills even further and put them to the test. Eventually, I’ll return to Morrowind and complete a full artwork overhaul once I’m done.

By then, I should have most of my style and workflow on lock (see I’m cool…I said “on lock”…like a boss). More coming next post……. (oohhhhhh a teaser…what can it be…).

Martin

 

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Prodigal Blogger falls down well, not seen for months…again

WTF

I meant this blog as a history of my art endeavors not a graveyard. But I had this idea that I would wait till I finished the TES:Arena project before releasing my next post. So….about that. I didn’t finish ADP yet. I did work on it…ummm…some but I got distracted. Between the dreaded real life or RL (yes I do have one of those) and other projects (including some for friends), I just never finished. I have worked on several disparate things since then. I am susceptible to what I call “Shiny Key Syndrome”. Despite not being a rabid blogger, not posting actually demotivated me. Weird. Well, here’s a pic to fill the space (it’s my first project related pic on this site):

Starting dungeon

Starting dungeon

 

ADP 123

But first…yes Virginia, I will finish that Arena mod if it kills me….I mean maims me….or how about slightly vexes me…yeah lets go with that. No time lines…I think I proved that I’m terrible at that. I have finished doors but still need to do the framing to match the walls they are associated with. I hate to say this, but the extended time away has let me look at it with a fresh eye (no,no,no….figuratively). I think I want to make some changes…BUT first I’ll finish what I have. It’s only fair for those who have stalked this project like an Ex on facebook.

MAP or Monster

Caveat: I know WAY too much about how Bethesda codes it’s mod files. I’d actually argue that I have a Master’s degree level of understanding for Morrowind and Oblivion (from Nerd University, Dork Campus). I find it more fun to make the “perfectly modded” game than I do actually playing it. Now that I’ve scared all the ladies away…why do I mention this…well because this is my mega WIP…..

AIP Oblivion Overlay Map NG+ experiment-Recovered

This insane Frankenstein monster of  map, it a comprehensive guide to where mods overlap each other. Using modding tools, I’m mapping out every cell from each mod I use plus a few uber popular ones I don’t. It’s insane, OCD, and insane. I love it…my analytic brain can’t get enough of making order where there is only chaos. What’s that look for?!

MorrowLands 2.0

Remember when I did lined faces for Morrowind. Yeah…that’s back….but better. I already have learned more subtle techniques. Not really a project as much as a continued experiment to perfect the style I’m trying for (hint: it rhymes with Borderlands) mixed with my own vision. I’m still not completely feeling I have it how I want…I’ll come back around to it eventually, I’m sure.

What’s behind door #3?

The last project is the one I’m eager to actually finish (besides ADP) mostly because I think the game will most benefit from it. I’ll leave it a mystery for a little longer but here is a hint:

ScreenShot8

Let’s have some fun again – Martin

Cork on a fork

This is Jiub. Jiub is the first person you see in Morrowind. He also has a fairly unique head so it was fitting to use him as my first experiment. Easy to test. This Jiub, being my first attempt, is a little crude compared to the later images. The transition as I refined the style is apparent. So here’s what I did.

 

55fiqg

I was watching you sleep

Resize

The initial resolution was 256 x 128 pixels. That’s not a lot of room for sharp lines and clarity. Additionally, it’s a good idea to work big and then shrink as needed so I resized the image to 2048 x 1024, keeping the aspect ratio but increasing the size by 8 times. As the fine lines of the borderland style are important, a higher resolution is preferable.  (I tested it when done and shrinking down to 512 x 256 looked OK but 1026 x 512 was ideal for size vs detail).

Create layers

I duplicated the image into two additional layers. I do this so I can have a pristine backup, a working copy and high pass copy (if needed). The high pass allows me to see the areas needing outlines more clearly. I don’t always use it but it’s handy if needed. I created a new layer that is transparent to be my actual canvas for the black outlining. Showing but underneath the active layer would be the working copy or the highpass copy to use as the base reference.

Outline

tx_b_n_dark elf_m_h09

Jiub 1.0…crude untapered thick lines

Like the video linked in my last post, I started creating outlines highlighting particular feature areas that stood out for change in shape. My  variation on this style leans more to outlining surfaces with changes in height but not color fluctuations (e.g. later on when I get to tattoos, I likely won’t outline the tattoo.) I looked for distinctive wrinkles and natural feature as well as abrupt marks like the scar.

As you can see in Jiub 1.0, I failed to refine the lines after I finished outlining. I didn’t use shape dynamics or taper and thin out the lines. Crosshatching was also minimal.

Check

Jiub Vanilla Base to Borderland

NifSkope and Jiub 1.0

I used a program called NifSkope that lets you see meshes rendered with textures and animation if applicable. It was there that I saw how odd the texture stretched due to the 3d model’s crude animation and UV texture mapping. The eyes looked really weird as the mesh just stretched down a single point to mimic blinking but the texture stretched the area above the eye down with it. The mouth opened up very much like the canadians in South Park. Because of that, I had to go back and adjust the lines to minimize the line bleeding when the textures stretched.  You can also see where the original texture has errors such as the red eye’s inner lower corner bleeding onto the eyelid.

Tweak

Because this is a more cartoon-like look, I experimented with using an unsharpen filter on the working copy of the original image to exaggerate the colors and then a smart blur to blend the blemishes away some. Additionally, I added shadows and highlights by drawing on a new layer black and white respectively at 50% opacity and then blurring it to look like light smudging.

Next time, I show the other, more refined textures I completed AND Jiub 2.0.

– Martin

20160606075309_1

He fell passed out drunk and the guards found a Sharpee

Experiments in Art Style

Art Concepts

Since I have limited time to focus on leisurely activities, a lot of what I do with game art falls more into the “Proof of Concept” category. I have an idea about what would be a interesting visual change for me and I merely want to see it in game. For example, for the Darkstone project, I was going for the look of dry erase crayons on a dark dry erase board.

Exit to Forest

Exit to Forest

For Morrowind, I simulated a cell shader (cartoon) effect with build in black outlines. Note: when I first made those textures, Borderlands hadn’t been released. However, I had already realized that it looked better to have the solid colors have some kind of texture behind them for visual interest.

MGE Screenshot 2

Fast forward to Today

I was messing around with my new art tablet last month and decided to see if I could replicate the style of Borderlands in Morrowind, at least as a proof of concept. I did some research for tips on the best way to replicate the effect and found a youtube video that explained a method that a got very close to the games style.

I chose to experiment on the vanilla Morrowind face textures. In general, they are awful and look very ugly in game. My logic being that adding the “borderlands” style texturing might add enough interest to make them worthy of keeping versus using model replacer mod (may mods replace the heads). The original textures used for faces were very low resolution, inaccurate (sloppily made) and just generals ugly as all get out.

Ugly Vanilla

Some one beat him with the Vanilla Game ugly stick

Morrowlands?

I started by doing the heads in the order of the characters you run into when you start a new game. I redid 5 faces. It was surprisingly easier than I thought.

Jiub Vanilla Base to Borderland

I’ll detail it out next time but for a teaser here’s what “vanilla” jiub looked like when I was done. I’ll explain the irregularities next time.

– Martin

 

Witness this fully operational Battle…errr…Art Station

Tech Nirvana

The same week I got my new art tablet, I had finally overclocked my computer and received my Oculus Rift in the mail. It’s not to hard to imagin that it was more of a Tech In Pinkerton than an Art In Pinkerton kind of week. For the last two weeks, I have squandered quite some time playing with my new VR gizmo which means I spent less time on other, more artsy endeavors 😉

Nerdmaggedon has arrived!

Nerdmaggedon has arrived!

Tech Nerd Note: Years ago when I built my computer, I bought a CPU chip (I7-2600K) that was designed to be overclocked but I never bothered since it was already (and still is) very capable. I finally gave it a go and ended up boosting the speed from 3.4 Ghz to 4.4Ghz (about 25% more power) with very little change in temperature. All I had to do was change two settings in the BIOS and voila…instant faster computer.

I also upgraded my computer desk and arranged my setup so it’s much more aesthetically appealing and has space for using the Oculus Rift.

Desk

Me likey

 

It’s not all for naught

I did find time to play with my new tablet though. I took its arrival as a cue to make the transition over to Photoshop from GIMP. I do have to say, it’s has taken a few weeks for me to adjust to how different it is. I feel like I have taken two steps back but I know I will catch up to speed pretty quickly. I just have to do a little more “google research” to figure out how to do things than I did with GIMP in a long time.

N’Wah

Now that I had my new art tablet, I really wanted to see what it could do and clicking individual pixels for the Arena Depixelization Project wasn’t going to scratch that itch (sorry it’ll be back on the agenda soon). I’m not sure if I mentioned this, but my favorite video game of all time is The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind. Atmospherically, it’s an amazing setting. However, it’s from early 2000s and a little clunky. The 3d models of the characters are blocky like those poseable wooden art figures (composed of multiple seperate 3D meshes). The textures are low res, blurry, and sometimes quite questionable in their construction. As can be seen in my Morrowind screenshot directory, I have experimented with that game before.

What is old, is new again

I had a (kind of) new idea. I wanted to see if I could add a Borderlands style look to that game. It’s is only meant as  a proof of concept rather than a full mod though. As can be seen in the screenshots for my various projects, the cartoon concept a recurring theme for me (it just takes different forms). It’s an “easy” way to turn an art direction on its head and give it a little more interest. The difference this time from the last time I fiddled with Morrowind’s art assets is that, besides having Borderlands as an inspiration, I’m not brand new to computer graphics this time. I have completed a few textures already but will save that for another post.  – Martin

Rolling a critical failure

Windows to the soul

Recently while playing around with “vanilla” (unaltered) Arena, I noticed that the windows turn on an off for day and night. I believe this is based on the window color being pure white. In quite a few of the SET files, I had made the windows yellow breaking the on/off effect. It’s an easy fix though.

Revised city wall and road

The most exciting screenshot EVER!

 

Borked Windows

Caveat: I’m a hopeless tech nerd.

I like trying out software and technology. Things like text-to-speech, software debugging, emulators, etc. are like candy to me. Why is this on an art blog….err i mean…collegiate journal? Because sometimes I mess stuff up. This time I was trying to get a Windows XP/7 program that doesn’t like Windows 10 to install on my computer. In doing so, I borked my login so that it wouldn’t accept my password. From that point started a chain of events (all my own doing) to fix it that made the situation worse and worse. Finally, I couldn’t even boot my machine. Seriously, I’m pretty good with tech but on this day I rolled a “1”.

Long story short, I recently had to wipe my boot drive (no important files were on there but the OS) and install a clean Windows 10. I tried to cold turkey eliminate using GIMP since I already have Photoshop. That didn’t work too well. Photoshop is different enough that some very common things I was used to doing all the time in GIMP didn’t work. I’ll probably start watching some intro videos to see how Photoshop works before I try that again.

All in all, not my proudest tech week (or two).

MIF

I did some research into the MAP files for Arena. However, I want to compile it in a cohesive manner so that post will wait till I feel it is ready enough. My hope is that the information that I have uncovered might help others if they decide to “crack” the format.

Martin

State of the Blog 2016

Went away

I know, I know. I have been away for some time. 2015 was a very difficult year in the non-digital realm and some things had to slide to offset the stress.

Came back again

However, despite my my absence on this blog, I was actually quite busy on the graphic arts side of the house. I either oversaw or personally completed several projects for coworkers and friends. One of which, I am extremely proud of (more on that hopefully in a future post…i.e. one that isn’t written late at night when I should be sleeping).

It’s all fun and games

While I didn’t really work on the Arena Depixelization Project too much (it had to slide too), I was involved with design aspects for a couple of mods focusing mostly on 3D layout & set design and got some interesting practice on cooperative project management as a graphic artist/designer. I even every so slightly fiddled with 3D modeling.

Accelerate to 88 mphs

I have Photoshop now, guess I should actually work on learning how to use it.The problem is that I’m so used to GIMP, Photoshop seems downright alien to me. I imagine my warm up period will probably not be the speediest.

I want to experiment a little with my art projects. I am thinking of “remastering” some of my very very early and juvenile (i.e. decades old) artwork. I don’t know how it will turn out but at minimum, it seems like a interesting experiment.

Another similar idea I read about was to take kids artwork and reimagine it. I have a lot of that lying around from over the years and that just seems like a fun concept.

I guess we’ll see what the year brings but overall I feel healthier happier and more like my old self. I miss my old blog…and I seem to hear a certain collection of 64 x 64 pixel sprites calling my name ;

–  Martin