Critique => Pixel Art => Pixel Art Feature Chest => Topic started by: Manupix on January 20, 2012, 06:15:36 pm

Title: GR#111 - Isle of the Dead - Pixel Artwork
Post by: Manupix on January 20, 2012, 06:15:36 pm
Hey Pixelation, it's been a while  ;)

I'm working on an isometric 'interpretation' of Arnold Boecklin's famous painting (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isle_of_the_Dead_%28painting%29).
I've done it for a tee-shirt design contest at Threadless (theme was Death, brief required to include a skull in the design) (insert skull smiley here).
I've already submitted it (http://www.threadless.com/submission/395905/Isle_of_the_Dead?streetteam=Manupix) because of the deadline, but I'm not all that happy with it and I'd like to keep working on it.


9 colors, that's 8 inks (max allowed) plus black bg.
No AA because it's useless for printed art, although I could make an AA-ed web-only version.

I'm planning to add more funereal details, redo the boat wake (and the boat), and generally polish details.
What do you think? Are there any strong basic issues that should be addressed first?



Latest and final update (9/18/12):

Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: nornagon on January 20, 2012, 06:24:50 pm
The perspective is hard to read for me. The landing area with the steps is very clearly iso, but the rest seems sort of vague and flattish. This might have been intentional, but it confused me for a bit :)

Love the skull shape though!
Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: st0ven on January 20, 2012, 06:39:39 pm
i really love the concept and the palette, and the skull silhouette is rather clever. There is some questionability about the isometric nature in certain areas but i dont feel personally it heavily detracts from the image. what i think i would find most useful as an edit or addition to this piece, is using more lit and shadowed land features to help give the skull itself greater shape and form and depth. For instance you do a very nice job of this around the eye sockets and jaw, but as it fades to the rest of the skull, it appears flat by comparison. this way you also get a greater illusion that youre looking at a skull _first_ and secondary as a whole landscape scenery.

also i think if youre going to do the water aspect of it which i really like, i say really go for it and try to incorporate it well instead of just barely a subtle hint of it. it could add another dimension of depth to your composition i think.
Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: Manupix on January 20, 2012, 09:08:46 pm
Thank you guys!

Here's some early stages of the monochrome job, featuring several bg options: 1 = first layout; 2 = stylized volumes with highlighted edges; 3 = rounder volumes with shading; 4 = final monochrome.
All elements are layered, the small details are separate so it wouldn't be too much of a hassle to make heavy changes in the bg landscape.
It's true that I didn't give it as much attention as the fg, mostly for lack of time, and also I wanted the fg to be the main focus, so that it looked familiar to viewers who know the paintings. I used both variations of the amount of detail, and shading (getting darker the further back into the island) to convey this.

I don't really want it to be obvious iso, but I do want it to be good iso! I'll double check to find any sore problems, please point them if you see any!

I love st0ven's idea of making the skull into a hill more than a map, I'll try that right away =)
About the water, I'm not sure I get what you mean. If it's about the boat wake, it's a bit lame and I plan to improve it, mostly to fade it more at left and bottom. I had no plan to make the water more present, except maybe showing a vague transparency with the dark tones where rocks drop into it. It might conflict with the reflections; I might have to get rid of one for the benefit of the other, gotta try.
I won't go beyond that because the bg has to remain mostly uniform black (for printability, also I like the idea of that body of water being deathly still and dark), and also I don't think I've got the skillz for an acceptable large expanse of water!

Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: Mathias on January 21, 2012, 12:38:45 am
Nice project!

Didn't know about Isle of the Dead. But when I clicked your reference link I was immediately reminded of something by Giger (http://i.imgur.com/VFdlK.jpg). He re-did Isle of the Dead at one point. Pretty cool.

I agree, the perspective is hard to interpret at first. But I dunno, sometimes ambiguity like that can draw you in more.

I hate to raise such a point but I actually wish you would've just stuck with the original isle geography and made a nice detailed rendering of it, in iso. Though, you would've had a hard time making the hidden skull thing work.

Your colors are attractive but what if used a more macabre palette instead?
Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: Manupix on January 21, 2012, 04:36:19 am
Thanks Mathias! Whoa, that Giger image is awesome! Also, whole new palette ideas ;)

I have to agree with you about the original island, but yeah, the skull just has to be there, so. Maybe another version sometime!

Latest version: begun a more hilly island, plus a few fixes in the almost finished fg. Now with iso grid. Shoulda made one before I guess. That's it for tonight folks  :-*


Edit while previewing: it doesn't look all that hilly actually.
It's the shading of the center / top that's wrong, I had it better in a previous version. I haven't begun detailing there at all, no big deal to fix tomorrow.
Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: Mathias on January 21, 2012, 05:38:45 am
Oh np. Ooh what if you attempted to make the upper part of the island/cranium bulbous and rounded just like a huge skull sticking out of the water? Or is that what you're already doing? Along with using lighting to do so, you can also communicate a rounded hilly shape by having little objects situated around the fringes of the cranium hidden by the raised ground in the center.

And speaking of little fringe elements, why not some dead trees, small structures, etc. out in the water close to the island's edge? A suggestion because I find the edges of the island a little stark/abrupt.

You might as well bump the color count up above 8 now, right? Maybe use some extra shades for some fine lighting, just a couple.

This is a tough project to get to work right. I can tell it's one of those that's spawned by a moment of inspiration (namely the re-interpretation of Böcklin's painting) but not necessarily accompanied by a feasible means of manifesting the design successfully. It happens to me, too. These types of projects can be the most frustrating, but also the most satisfying if you get 'em right.

Would be cool to have a shirt with this on it if you get it all fixed up.

Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: Manupix on January 22, 2012, 03:56:37 am

2 latest versions: bulbous skull hopefully better than last night (left); and back to the flat geography but with more acute mounds (right).
They don't look as different as I'd like them to be, and looking again at the earliest version they might be unnecessarily complicated. Dunno.
The next step might be a barren, really round hilltop. Or a totally sandy low wasteland!

At least I'm ok with the pointy, round hill shapes, as opposed to the more squarish iso-looking foreground. That should stay.

I've also widened the gray palette to 8 colors (+black), up to now there were only 6 which was a bit silly since I intend to use the full color palette anyway.

Mathias, nice idea about stuff in the water. I had been thinking of a half sunken boat wreck.
Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: Facet on January 23, 2012, 08:30:01 pm
I think this is a nice idea, the harbour & boat are great but so far they're the only part of the island that sustains interest and is convincing; the rest seems a bit vague and half-hearted.

I scribbled out some ideas for simplification here, please excuse the messy edit; the canvas is huge :D I tried to incorporate a more cranium-like dome of previous commentator's recommendation and added some much needed additional trees as well as generally attempted to enhance the resemblance to a skull in profile.  

Things to note; the colours probably weren't a good idea; a bit of idle whimsy on my part. The main focal point is now the dome of the head and perhaps you want to keep it on the harbour. I would personally go 'to town' on a nice made-made structure (maybe a ghost town, burial ground or similar) on the top of the hill. You could also really take advantage of more opportunities to demonstrate overlapping areas of foreground to better sell a sense of depth.


Edit - Better suggestions & compliments
Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: Manupix on January 24, 2012, 01:16:03 am
Thanks Facet, good points =)

I'm torn about the general island contour shape. I had tried to make it look like the island map (top down view) would be skull-shaped, so the iso view would need to be foreshortened. Got to try your way and see.
The trees and other detail will come back, don't worry! I just put them out of the way for the heavy landscaping job.

"a ghost town, burial ground or similar": well you just started me thinking of Petra! Bocklin having painted hypogea, it wouldn't be totally out of character. I'll keep it very simple though (and dark?), since I don't want to take the focus away from the harbour area.
Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: Facet on January 24, 2012, 05:37:06 pm
I see what you mean now about the map vs projection but I'd reckon the idea will be lost on the great majority of viewers and I think the image of the skull only becoming apparent from the one viewpoint, Holbein style (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ambassadors_(Holbein)#Anamorphic_skull), might be more effective.

Regarding trees etc. sorry, I must have skimmed a bit; the first image is well catered for in this regard ;D. Other stuff; to my mind the choice of more rounded rock formations is puzzling considering the pronounced planar qualities of the source image.

You seem already to have incorporated more of that rock-cut temple idea, sounds great to me :D
Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: Manupix on January 25, 2012, 02:43:52 am


New Petra-inspired background; some slight detail fixes in fg; and a try at more convincing water ('wavy' reflections).
Also back to full color: I've realized I had a number of time-costly palette mistakes in the greyscale versions that were just getting out of hand due to the growing number of layers.

Petra references here (http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=petra&f=hp); and this one (http://www.flickr.com/photos/photos-en-vrac/5679261610/) in particular for what I'd like the more natural parts of the island to look like (possibly too much detail there considering the scale I'm working at and the available space).

The idea of the rounded rocks is (was?) to provide a contrast between Boecklin's harbour and the rest of the island. This contrast was supposed to be built through gradients of light, detail and rock shapes: brighter, more angularly man-made and detailed in front. I now see plainly that the previous versions shapes were out of character, esp in the first version it looks like a different image altogether. Hopefully it's better integrated now.

I see what you mean now about the map vs projection but I'd reckon the idea will be lost on the great majority of viewers and I think the image of the skull only becoming apparent from the one viewpoint, Holbein style (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ambassadors_(Holbein)#Anamorphic_skull), might be more effective.

Not sure we understand each other there ;)
My point is not idea here but visual consistency: I see the perspective as wrong if the skull shape isn't flattened down to the iso plane.
Are you suggesting that I'm losing readability this way? (I don't think you do, but I'd rather be sure!)
Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: Facet on January 25, 2012, 07:02:42 pm
Improvements a gogo ;D them some sexy temples, much better rocks and the reinstatement of the palette brings the whole thing alive. Minor niggle; I preferred the mirror-like still water.

To clarify what I meant about the perspective; I'm advocating having the isometric projection of the island resemble the skull and not so much the island itself. I think this would be more effective in terms of the duality of the image and also the symbolism; it's not a skull-shaped island but the viewer is interpreting it as such.

I am suggesting a (small) loss of readability with your current approach. You mentioned earlier you didn't want it to be 'obvious iso', I guess a lot of people will just see a distorted skull. Removing detail from the equation by squinting, or looking at it from a distance as you might well do on a shirt, is it as skull-like as it could be?

Edit- Actually that sounds a bit strong. I'm just trying to explain what I meant and offer an alternative vision, not dictate that one way is objectively 'better' ;)   
Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: Sharm on January 25, 2012, 09:43:01 pm
Personally, the edited perspective made me stop looking at the image and start looking at it as an image.  In other words, if you want the piece to say "Hi, this is pixel art!" it works, but if you want to say "This is a really interesting picture" it's distracting.
Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: Manupix on January 28, 2012, 06:45:24 am


I've darkened the central part of the island (possibly too much), so as to surround the foreground in darker/bluer areas as was the case in the first version. Started detailing, mostly to validate the new options. This is going to take ages!
Not quite sure I've gone for the right kind of building, looks overdetailed. I should probably stick to the austere Boecklin hypogea.

I'm totally undecided about the island shape. I see good and bad in both options now :S
Thanks anyway Facet and Sharm =)
Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: Manupix on January 30, 2012, 02:59:09 am

New island shape: it does look better. I think.  :-\
Toned down the temple detail, and a few other changes.
Still lots to do.
Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: Facet on January 30, 2012, 07:46:35 pm
Yeah, as nice as some of the temple stuff looks, perhaps distilling it down to a few show-pieces and going flatter elsewhere might be better overall as well as being less labour-intensive :P. My first reaction and I think that of other guys earlier was that select simplification could read nicer, especially in the area above the eye-socket.    

There doesn't seem to be much in the background that really takes advantage of the isometric angles as per the foreground. It might help both with simplification and also consistency if some of the other temples and rock formations were seen to exaggerate this alignment/aspect.

I didn't mean sow doubt as to perspective; you're pretty invested now and it does look good already.

Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: Manupix on February 03, 2012, 03:10:02 am

I'm happy with the general idea of the landscape. It's probably too busy at the detail level as you said, esp since I've added some separate elements layers again to see how they fit. I guess I'll expand the featureless green and red high ground.
The landscape detailing is not finished yet, mostly in the 2 to 4 o'clock sector.

I'm also quite happy that I followed your advice about the island shape, when I compare versions! =)
Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: Facet on February 03, 2012, 03:26:30 am
It's a very hansom picture, sort of rich, velvety. I'd say more, but I'm tired and it's good :D

Edit - I do think the still water was more effective; it sold the idea of the solid darkness of the background being an expanse of water better and bringing back some of the pathways you had before to suggest the borders between the plates of the skull and also more trees/little Mediterranean style shrubby bushes would look great.
Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: surt on February 03, 2012, 04:47:09 am
Gorgeous piece.

Given the subject matter (and that I imagine this scene being lit by the moon) the warm earthy colours don't seem so fitting to me.
Tried more moonlight-like colours, but the result is rather uninteresting:

Also the volume of the neurocranium looks considerably reduced in the latest version.

Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: Cure on February 03, 2012, 06:58:34 am
I agree that the warm tones don't seem to fit, and I quite like that color edit (other than the darkest shade, which loses richness.)
Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: HughSpectrum on February 03, 2012, 08:59:42 am
I rather liked what the warm tones brought to the darker parts of the isle.  It had a deep, intoxicating feel to it, sort of hellish.  I do agree that the lighter colors make it a bit *too* warm though.

So I did an edit of my own.  The lightest colors are cool and nightly, and the in-between a very grey orange hue.  Feel free to disagree.

Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: Manupix on February 03, 2012, 04:19:03 pm
Thanks guys!
I definitely plan a palette edit, good thing to have the job laid out for me ;)
The present palette was well suited to the first version, but I agree it doesn't work all so well with the bg changes.
The colors were actually picked from Boecklin's paintings (such as they are displayed on Wikipedia, see link in 1st post) and these show either dusk or daylight, not night. I'll stick to a sunset/dusk kind of light if I can.

I agree the volume of the topmost part looks low again. I'm not sure why, since I made it obvious that the ground rises sharply before coming to this plateau, but I'm going to live with it at this point. I wanted that flat space as an arena for some of the monuments (yet to come), and also to provide eye-resting space from the more intricate gully parts.

New update hopefully later tonight.
Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: Manupix on September 15, 2012, 07:11:16 pm
Hey guys
Well yeah I've left this untouched for 7 months  :-[

New version with some simplifying and cleaning and polishing.
Slight palette change, not final yet. Removed the brightest color just to see.
I'm probably going to close the case soon, unless someone points some horrendous flaw :D

Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: DawnBringer on September 15, 2012, 08:44:26 pm
Oh, I almost forgot about this neat project, glad you're still on it. Couldn't resist playing around; balancing the colors a bit + testing an additional hue-shift.
Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: Manupix on September 15, 2012, 09:51:56 pm
Thanks DB!
I certainly do love your first color edit! It doesn't look like much changed, yet it changes everything =)
I also liked HughSpectrum's earlier version, quite a different direction (did someone change their username btw???)
Title: Re: Isle of the Dead WIP
Post by: Manupix on September 18, 2012, 02:17:21 am
Fixed remaining details. Hopefully final version, except maybe colors. I'm blind right now!


Done, I guess ^_^
Final colors + adjusted canvas size a little.
Posted on PJ (http://www.pixeljoint.com/pixelart/73039.htm), and again on Threadless.
Thank you all who helped, you're awesome! =D


Merged triple post into double post, since that's sufficient for bumping this. - Crow
Thanks! I forget my netiquette! =)