AuthorTopic: More colors = less pixel art? Help me understand.  (Read 499 times)

Offline Tycho Magnetic Anomaly

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More colors = less pixel art? Help me understand.

on: June 08, 2017, 08:46:23 am
Heya folks

I am about to ask something that may not go down so well with certain folks, in particular pixel purists, but the reason I want to ask is a genuine curiosity and has been poking at me for some time now.

I might like to start first by saying that I am relatively new to pixel art, and this forum, however my background is in graphic design and art (if you could call it art) so I do have some experience in the creative arts arena. I might also like to say that I have got much pleasure and inspiration from seeing the creative works people post on this forum no matter what the level of ability or quality. I have this forum partly to thank for pushing me into a pixel art direction which is all pretty new to me in the context of creating it.


And I suppose I might also mention (since it might have a baring on peoples reactions of what I am about to say) that I am not a youngster, I have been dabbling with game design for a number of years so I understand "some" of the technicalities that go into producing game across a wide variety of modern platforms. I am also old enough to recognize the history of pixel and understand its iterations through history from a technical / hardware limitation point of view and also evolution in pixel art styles either based on those restrictions or beyond those restrictions.
Although I am new to creating pixel art I am not new to pixel art itself, how its come to be, and my deep appreciation and admiration for it from all styles, even if those styles are restricted due to a technical aspect of either the software or hardware.

OK so , the core question is, and and don't mean to come across disrespectful of a discipline (which believe me I am not trying to be), but I may as well be blunt.

Why dose there seem to be this unsaid orthodox obligation for people, in particular newbies, to conform their creative works to ridiculously tiny pallets (for 2017) almost as if, if any more colors from their tiny 6 (or whatever) color pallet are introduced, their piece suddenly transcends authentic (perhaps descends to some) pixel art and becomes pseudo pixel art or something else.


But dose this pressure, on particular newbies to make their works "pixel art cool" by using as little colors as possible exist? or perhaps it is just a general impression I get not just on this forum but in general across the wider game art / pixel art community. I am not only interested to hear from pixel pros, and pixel purists, but I really would like to hear what newbies think about this too.

Do you really feel a pressure or some obligation that the general idea behind pixel art is to be as efficient with colors as possible? (efficient in the context of numbers of colors used)


Don't' get me wrong here, as I have never seen anyone actually say "this is not genuine pixel art because you are not using x amount of colors" from anyone where, nor has anyone ever criticized me for using x amount of colors or said its not genuine pixel art because of it. This is more of a "general" impression I get due to a number of factors, one being the sort of questions new people are asking with regards their first pieces, other factors like the amazingly helpful and feedback from other members of the pixel art community, from pros to intermediates, from purists to newbies, whether on this forum or on other communities, and the wonderfully detailed documentation, tutorials, and general advice experienced pixel artists have provided across these communities.
As said, it is a general, perhaps vague, impression I get that there is an unstated obligation to conform to as small a pallet as possible or its not "genuine" "pixel art". It may not actually exist and I might be indeed just imagining it which is why I am asking the question in particular to newbies themselves.

Yet I question why I consistently see people new to pixel people posting works trying to represent something using tiny pallets and asking questions like "how can i make this look better" , "how can i make this look right" ... " this doesn't quite look right is it my shading?" .... and in most cases the first and obvious start to answer those questions is to simply use more colors, among other advice such as where to put the colors.

So I get the whole "style" aspect here. I realize that there is an appeal to have something "look" like it came from a time that there was color restriction for good reason, be it software, hardware or some other technical barrier to using more colors. I stress that again I GET IT.. i get the want to make something look as retro as possible I get the whole style thing so please .. I get it OK? ;)

Perhaps this is more of a case that pixel art in the greater public eye has IMO become inextricably associated with the concept of "less is good", "more is bad", and this core concept has evolved (but has it evolved?) obviously in history due to technical restrictions. Alas it is 2017 to my understanding and even the most low end modern tech can push pallets in excess of 8 bit, well beyond it. I say modern tech since I can only assume that the vast majority of newbies to pixel art would have some context to their works being used as a concept for a game, or an actual asset for a game or something pertaining to it being designed in a video game context, or just a once off art piece made to look like its using a video game aesthetic, whatever.

I love all types of pixel art, from ultra low res/res color right up to higher res 16bit+ pallets, I adore the full spectrum of styles whether they are conforming to a retro look, or not, or something in between.
I deeply admire, respect and am constantly inspired by the purist approach too no matter how orthodox and restrictive it is... the more restrictions the more clever you have to be and I get much pleasure from studying certain purist styles in awe how it was done with so little. So I am not having a dig at the concept of purist pixel art, if anything the biggest inspiration I have had in all art not just pixel art is minimal.. I love anything minimal its a core of my personality, from visual arts, to music, to architecture ..whatever.



As some of you reading this might be already aware that I have been trying to help folks with some suggestions and sometimes examples to go with the suggestions for the very short period I have been on this forum, well my first advice whether stated or not will always be to encourage folks to not necessarily use more colors, but rather not to feel so much pressure to pivot their whole piece around a a tiny set of colors that have been set in stone. If something can be made to look more like what the person is trying to represent without it necessarily being more "realistic/photo realistic" looking then I just don't see the reason why not to start to introduce more colors. If its a case people are working on specific game engines that have locked pallets then I also get that too.

Sure I like to be lavish when its appropriate with colors, but at the same time I am big into being subtle with colors in other contexts, Just because there are 16million colors in a pallet doesn't mean you have to use them.. so even if people are not conforming to a restricted pallet there is still importance in being subtle , perhaps clever with your colors. You can very easily make something retro looking and have it consistently retro looking, but using a few more colors just to emphasize certain things. In a game context, sure you want that "authentic" looking retro look, but at the same time your players are not pausing the game , taking screenshots and going off to scrutinize the color count on every frame to make sure its only ever using x amount of colors, if not the feeling of them playing a retro game is lost.

There is a discipline and skill to to sticking to restrictive pallets but for me "Pixel Art" be it "authentic" or "whatever" is more then that, its bigger then that, it encompasses so much more. Orthodox retro styles are only ONE of many types of pixel art styles, and I would say to newbies to please never feel afraid to use as many colors as you think best represents whatever you are trying to represent.

From a newbie point of view (and in general art) sometimes its best to make something look as best as you can without restriction, get used to that, THEN refine that by starting to explore more stylized looks of which 8bit look is just one... I don't mean per-piece i mean as an evolution of learning a new discipline, i.e. in this case "Pixel Art"

Is the use of restrictive pallets pushed a bit too much , in particular on newbies when there is no real necessity in this day an age to do so beyond a specific style/look?

Would love to get some feedback on this, I am dead curious to know what pros,purists and newbies think.

Also keep up the AMAZING work , no matter what discipline or style. The work on this forum astounds me.


« Last Edit: June 08, 2017, 08:50:51 am by Tycho Magnetic Anomaly »

Offline surt

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Re: More colors = less pixel art? Help me understand.

Reply #1 on: June 08, 2017, 09:05:03 am
I'm confident that most here would consider the core tenet of pixel art to be pixel-level control.
The more colours you have the less feasible/meaningful it is to precisely control the value of each pixel.
The same goes with resolution.

Offline 32

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Re: More colors = less pixel art? Help me understand.

Reply #2 on: June 08, 2017, 09:43:05 am
What surt said.

In addition I think we like to push low colour counts due to it leading into a deeper knowledge of how colour works. Low colour counts are also a simple way of harmonising your artwork and assisting colour management.

And most importantly pixel art is closely tied to game art, especially for the newer artists here. Low colour counts are absolutely key to making assets that are realistic to produce and animate easily.

High colour counts are also the cause of many newer artists struggles with creating clear art and often we want to try to help remove as much of the clutter as possible so they can focus on fundamental issues.

Don't overthink it, not a whole lot of people around here are pushing for purism these days, it's just a matter of practicality and pushing people to pursue a path which will lead to a greater understanding of how to approach colour in pixel art. :y:

Offline CFKaligula

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Re: More colors = less pixel art? Help me understand.

Reply #3 on: June 08, 2017, 11:08:28 am
Everyone above me already has said a lot of good stuff, I just want to add my thoughts. Low amount of colours isn't just used to make something look retro, it's just that a high amount of colours is really difficult to manage, especially with animation it makes everything much harder. 32 made a good pint that with a low colour count, it's much easier to focus on the fundamentals, I think thats the main thing.

Why do we use multiple colours? To discern certain parts of a sprite, to create shadows, and for anti-aliasing, is what i would say.
Let's now look at a color wheel created by http://gamecolorwheel.tumblr.com/.


You can see that there were basically only 4 colours used for discerning part of the sprite: orange for the skin, blue for the largest parts of clothing, grey for the weapon and purple for details. So with 4 colours, this sprite could already be done. This is reason #1 why a low colour count is pretty good, you don't need a lot of colours to create a good looking sprite. Also the other way around: more colours would make the sprite less recognisable. Those other 2 types adding colours, shading and anti-aliasing, is bonus. After you have perfected the fundamentals, you can add those, and you can add as many colours as you like.


What im trying to show is that low colour count isn't something specific to pixel art. Its a fundamental part of drawing in general. It is not because I think all pixel art should be like NES sprites and have only 3 colours. It's because a sprite's palette is supposed to have some unification. For example, when a character has a red hat and red shoes, by making them the same colour red, the character feels more cohesive.
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Offline Tycho Magnetic Anomaly

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Re: More colors = less pixel art? Help me understand.

Reply #4 on: June 08, 2017, 12:22:35 pm
Heyup folks..

Thanks for the replies on this, quick too.

You all raise some really good points, and in particular with regard animating sprites I did have that on my mind while posting originally but never thought about it deeply and I do now recognize the value of keeping low colors so iterating on animation frames is quicker and easier (assuming your not using some tweening based method such as spriter).

Sure I know the basics of the color wheel, and complimenting colors, and also recognize now that keeping low color count can help with maintaining a consistent range of tones, in particular across frames of animation.

And I might also agree that I am probably reading more into this then aught be, as I said it was a general impression more then anything.

I still get the feeling that some newbies are taking the low as possible color factor a little too much to heart though as if there are no other possible options. I don't know :)

Anyway good points all round and I am somewhat more easy about this now. Since this post was partly about wanting to know what real newbies think approaching pixel art for the very first time I would still be much interested to heard from them too and the context of their first works, whether its being colored with efficient animation in mind, or colored according to a style, or colored because of the less is cooler. factor ...etc

thanks again folks, good points

Offline yrizoud

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Re: More colors = less pixel art? Help me understand.

Reply #5 on: June 08, 2017, 02:26:01 pm
Pixelling high-color-count images takes a lot of time. Restricting colors early on lets you work quickly, which makes it possible to fix any issue of anatomy, pose, composition, lighting balance (*),...
When all this is fine, you always have the possibility to boost the color count, with a minimum of redrawing.

You don't have this possibility with low-res : If you've started with a specific pixel size / LOD / resolution, you're stuck with it.

(*) If game animation, add: playability, readability, natural motion, conservation of volumes, overlaps, consistency,...

Offline Tycho Magnetic Anomaly

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Re: More colors = less pixel art? Help me understand.

Reply #6 on: June 08, 2017, 05:47:09 pm
I totally agree there is the time factor also, but well if you want to make something particularly nice looking you tend to put that extra effort in. But yea sometimes doing that is not an option so I thoroughly get your point.

Offline Cyangmou

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Re: More colors = less pixel art? Help me understand.

Reply #7 on: June 08, 2017, 06:30:29 pm
Yeah why do pixel artists advocate tinier palettes?

For myself I think rather in terms of lengths of ramps than in overall color amount.

the "nostalgic" side:
super simplified shading approaches (and not 100% realistic, but let me generalize):
NES uses 3 colors per ramp
SNES uses 4 color ramps
NEO GEO uses 8 colors per ramp

A NES game is simpler than a SNES game and this is simpler than a NEO GEO game. Of course there are some NES games which are more elaborate than SNES games and SNES games which are more elaborate than some NEO GEO games, but for a general approach you could say:
you need to hit those general color limits/restrictions to evoke a real "retro" feeling that your game is rooted in a certain technical period - e.g. Shovel Knight did this to a good extend.

the "project-developers" side
The more colors you use the more work it is to put them down.Shading will take longer wth more colors
If you compare Anime OVAs and anime TV shows the OVA's are usually higher quality. Sometimes those animes use more shading.
More shading takes more time and therefore is more expensive - of course it can look better (not necessarily though, if done wrong)
On a project scale it can make a difference of thousands of hours to use more elaborate or less elaborate shading on elements.

the "artistic side"
Art is a super complex thing and problem solving on equally high levels as elabrate mathematics once you start seeing the more scientific side of things.
If I tell beginners to use less colors, it is because the most basic contrast works with 2.
If you fuck up the shading with 2 colors, you also will fuck it up with more.
If you fuck up the contrast with 2 or 3 colors, you will also fuck it up with more.
If you try to learn a skill you try to eliminate all the noise and just practice the thing you suck at in order to get better at this very specific thing.
Many beginners struggle with very basic things like big proportions, contrasts, basic color choice ... etc.
Working simpler costs them less time to play around, iteration is faste rpossible and the psychological attachment you have to something you haven't spent dozens of hours on is less, which is good for experimentation.


the "game-designers" side.
The more colors you use in little spaces the more stuff blurs.
Blurring is pretty bad for all types of art and hinders quick recognition, which especially is bad for games.
For games you want to have a clear image right away to present the player the challenge in the quickest way possible.
For quick action based games, an elaborate blurred artstyle could get in the way of readability and cost some additional milliseconds.
THis might sound not much, but if you ever watched high skill fighting game fights, LoL matches or any other E-sport you will see that this could become a super valid problem. And it is for some games.

And another thing you might consider:
Pixel art is placement of pixels.
if you work in a 4x1 canvas you can't use 5  colors.
if you work on 16x16 it maybe isn't really worth using more than 4 colors per ramp considering that you have shapes to shade and one color might go to waste.
on 32x32 you easily could get away with 6 colors or more and it might even look much better.


So there you have my views on the topic.
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Offline CFKaligula

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Re: More colors = less pixel art? Help me understand.

Reply #8 on: June 09, 2017, 10:00:58 am
Quote
I still get the feeling that some newbies are taking the low as possible color factor a little too much to heart though as if there are no other possible options. I don't know

We can't really argue against something that is just a feeling. If you could give some actual examples of this, it would be a more worthwile notion.
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Offline Tycho Magnetic Anomaly

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Re: More colors = less pixel art? Help me understand.

Reply #9 on: June 10, 2017, 08:37:38 am
Heyas, sorry only spotted the new replies on this now.

Cyangmou .. wow thank you for the in-depth write up there, I also appreciate how you broke it up into disciplines of application, rather then pixel art as a whole, which was partly a factor for my post.

I would like to go into a bit more depth about what I mean, because I think i feel the original hook, so to speak, of what I was trying to get at has been a little lost. I do understand the "why's" with regard ultra low color counts, but this was more of a case of wanting to know if there was pressure on folks coming to it new that there was a sort of obligation to use tiny pallets if not it would be frowned upon by people who rigorously follow the science of pixel art.

For me personally I don't think of pixel art as a whole as being this science/religion where there has to be x,y and z, or its just not pixel art.  Its that feeling I was curious to know if why so many people I see are posting with tiny pallets,  or if its a case they are working on games and have locked pallets, or is it a case as you rightly mention about keeping animation and color compliments easier to work with. I don't know, which is why I asked in the first place.

Most newbie posts here seem to be posted without context of what the application of their work is, and "sometimes" i get the feeling that some the new posts I see are simply "experimenting" with pixel art rather then having it intended as something with real application, and in that context feel they are taking the tiny color count a bit too far as if they feel anything else it wouldn't be pixel art.

Also this was never meant to be an argument, I was/am genuinely curious, since I am new myself and from a personal point of view I find making something look as best it can, with whatever is available (from a learning point of view), getting accustomed to that, THEN iterating on that to form other "styles" such as lower res, lower color, alternate shading techniques such as dithering..etc etc

Also, the term "pixel control" has been mentioned here a few times, but there is also color control, there is just as much discipline in controlling colors no matter how many there are, as there is with controlling individual pixels.

Regarding being able to point to specific examples, well as I stressed its a feeling, which is why in particular I wanted to hear from new folks, I realize the people who have responded so far to this are more then not experienced/skilled/ beyond the total entry point phase.

In general, every few posts from newbies I questions, not their ability or subject, but why they confine themselves to often pallets as little as 6 or less colors.
Also I have been hanging around game developers for a good few years, often on a daily basis, and on more then a few occasions I have heard "younger" people commenting on other peoples work saying things like "oh make it more pixel art" when in fact they where looking at 16bit pixel art styles... there seems to be this association that authentic pixel art has to look like NES or earlier whether the application is for a game or not.

Regarding just the "why's" of using low colors, I was pretty satisfied from about the 2nd response on this post about that and see the value more then ever of minimizing work due to time budgets, in particular with game dev.

Guys, all good points really, and thank you all for going into the depth you did, It's made things clearer for me for sure.

And I suppose as a final note, which I have already said, I love all the styles, I really do, there is something to admire and stand in awe with every piece and it inspires me no end.

Offline Ai

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Re: More colors = less pixel art? Help me understand.

Reply #10 on: June 10, 2017, 11:50:23 am

I would like to go into a bit more depth about what I mean, because I think i feel the original hook, so to speak, of what I was trying to get at has been a little lost. I do understand the "why's" with regard ultra low color counts, but this was more of a case of wanting to know if there was pressure on folks coming to it new that there was a sort of obligation to use tiny pallets if not it would be frowned upon by people who rigorously follow the science of pixel art.

[...]

Most newbie posts here seem to be posted without context of what the application of their work is, and "sometimes" i get the feeling that some the new posts I see are simply "experimenting" with pixel art rather then having it intended as something with real application, and in that context feel they are taking the tiny color count a bit too far as if they feel anything else it wouldn't be pixel art.
Speaking of the culture of Pixelation, I do not think we exert such a pressure.
Rather, I think it may be the other way round. A person comes to X artform and thinks "I must learn the techniques, then I will be good at X". (I'm sure you can find a range of current topics in Pixelation that smell of this .. ;)

Of course it is not true: each artwork is made with at least some design constraints, and often the best artworks are made with many design constraints, but those constraints tend to be practical. But newbies, by definition, cannot be expected to have perspective on this. I think you are right, they are just trying things, somewhat missing the forest for the trees.

I would like to promote more of a holistic view - you get good at art by doing art, art of everything, art in every possible way, art examining every dimension of things, and technique is just something you should pick up along the way in service of that. You repeat any given technique a hell of a lot to internalize it, but I agree, your repetition should be done incidentally in pursuit of a more concrete goal (a particular artwork for a particular purpose). But actually figuring out how to send that message to people who often don't yet have much of an overall conception of how art works.. it's pretty hard.


Quote
Also, the term "pixel control" has been mentioned here a few times, but there is also color control, there is just as much discipline in controlling colors no matter how many there are, as there is with controlling individual pixels.
I don't think anyone disputed that. Rather, I think the view is that it's harder to effectively  control N+1 colors than it is to control N colors. Speaking personally, I believe that this holds strictly for any design problem (eg. engineering, architecture, ..); the less elements are involved, the much easier it becomes to optimize those elements to fit the overall goal.

I would say that such optimization happens much better when it is conciously aimed towards. But then, that's true of almost everything.

Quote
Regarding being able to point to specific examples, well as I stressed its a feeling, which is why in particular I wanted to hear from new folks, I realize the people who have responded so far to this are more then not experienced/skilled/ beyond the total entry point phase.
When you ask these general questions about the community, the people who are not newbies will be most able to accurately answer them. That seems unavoidable to me, and I wouldn't really be surprised if some newbies who might otherwise have posted felt intimidated by the level of dialog happening here.
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