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

 

Wake up! You were dreaming.

Early on

Morrowind Main Menu (Original)

Morrowind Main Menu (Original)

Back about 4 1/2 years ago, I had just gotten into computer graphic design. I spent the first 1/2 a year experimenting and learning how to use the editing software (GIMP). One of the games I messed with was Morrowind, my favorite game. It wasn’t really meant for any project. I decided to make a desktop wallpaper of the main menu.

At that time, I didn’t know much about GIMP or how to use it effectively. Additionally, I had just gotten my Wacom tablet and hadn’t become comfortable with it quite yet. To make it easy, I used the original Morrowind main menu texture as the base. Because of this, the end result was (and still is) useable in-game. I even went as far as retexturing the New/Load/Save buttons to match the theme.

Morrowind Box Art

It’s Alive

I decided to use the box art as a supplementary inspiration when I began working on it. There were some key differences between the two; the major one being the border that framed the box art. I really liked the border and the “daedric” lettering on it. Unfortunately, my source copy of the box art wasn’t very good so I had to guesstimate when recreating them.

Crayola version

I did have a couple goals in mind with an overarching theme of applying a cleaner more art-lik

  • To boost contrast, the border was darkened and a similar color was used for the middle triangle.
  • The center was lightened with a complimentary but vivid color to liven up the image.
  • The “daedric” lettering was lightened up to look more dramatic and almost “glowing”.
  • A spot of white was placed on each “letter” and then the smudge tool was used to stretch that white color into highlights.
  • A level of depth was created by adding width and darkness to the inner edge of the frame. The “Morrowind” lettering was giving a simple perspective by adding a drop shadow angling to the lower right.
  • The dragon emblem was subdued so that it didnt’ overpower the wording. This also gave a subtle layer of interest.
  • Lastly, it hard to see but the entire image was given a paper texture filter to create a painted canvas feel.
I use this as my background on my computer for inspiration

I use it as my background on my computer for inspiration

You never forget your first

Most of these effects evolved through experimenting with the software and various visual styles that I had in mind. However the whole picture was hand drawn/partially traced using my art tablet. It’s not without it’s flaws and a level of crudeness to the picture shows my inexperience at the time. Despite all that, it is one of my favorite personal pieces because it’s the first complete computer graphic design work of mine.

– Martin

Where have I been?

Over a year without a post. Whoops. I have a plan to redesign my site slightly to more suit what I want to do with it. Right now the information I want to convey doesnt’ flow naturally or intuitively. I’ll fix it.

Till then, let me layout what projects I have in the works on the mod scene. These are only listed in chronological order from when the game was released.  Each will have corresponding links to the right for their particular projects in the short future.

1. Arena

That’s Elders Scrolls 1 for those of you in the know.  1994 game that hasn’t really been modded since it wasn’t a common activity back then. I have a texture pack in works with the aim of making it easier on the eyes.  I don’t have a catchy title yet so it’s just “Arena Depixelization Project“. I have all the processes down and have completed several textures (SET files) and tested them in-game.

2. Darkstone

This is another game that I have a soft spot for. And this is another texture overhaul project. This one will be titled “Darktone”. It’s kind of Tron/neon inspired…sort of.  All the file structure sleuthing stuff is (long done) and I have already had a proof of concept test run and It turned out better than I hoped.

3. Morrowind

Unlike the others, my Morrowind projects are not texture (art) based. They are more of design projects. I’m basically taking old mods and renovating them with a complete overhaul: new terrain, added clutter, dialogue, expanded quests etc. I’ve gotten quite good at the Morrowind file structure and using the editor. PMR stands for Pinkerton’s Mods Renovated…to kind of brand name it.

  • PMR-Sea of Destiny: Phase one is released. It’s basically how it all started. I was “cleaning”, merging, and moving one mod but realized how much work it needed. Now I have plans to terraform the entire mod and add a sense of history and purpose.
  • PMR -Dragon Perch: This one is almost completely redesigned but still needs dialogue and more/better quests.
  • PMR-Tusar: The very first mod I tried to monkey with was “Island of Tusar”. I actually ended up doing alot to it but haphazardly because I was learning/experimenting. So I plan to start over and now it’ll come after PMR-Dragon Perch.

4. Torchlight

This project is also a complete texture overhaul that I’m calling “Toonlight“. I had already completed every level set in the game but this was the one I learned how to use GIMP (can’t afford Photoshop yet) and its many options. So by the time I finished the last set, I was unhappy with all the others. Now I have a good idea of what I want and one levelset completed. Since Torchlight 2 came out, it gives me breathing room to get it exactly how I want it (i.e. who knows when I’ll finish it).

5. Misc

There are some miscellaneous projects I am working on (or did work on) that aren’t major. I’ll have a category for those too.

I’m going to try to have one update a week probably on Sunday.

-Martin