AuthorTopic: Color balancing your pixel art  (Read 25087 times)

Offline Helm

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Color balancing your pixel art

on: February 21, 2015, 01:38:21 pm
Recently I posted somes older game art I did for a client on pixeljoint, here's the image for Pix as well



I got a few questions about how I pick colors, something that I've been asked a lot, generally, but more important to me lately because I have something useful to answer with.

Never was much for colours, honestly. On paper I am a black and white, ink or wash tone artist. I literally learned color through pixel art, and the idiosyncratic aspect of me was very interested in 'symbolic colors' from early on. I wasn't so much interested in realistic representation with color, instead I would use, say, a green tint as some sort of visual language (green for me for example is usually sickness, evil, depression, stuff like that - very common interpretations).

So, influenced by certain demoscene artists at the time and from the pixelation kind of way of doing things (which was at that time being in a constant feedback state, it wasn't set in stone) I would spend a lot of time trying to

1. get palettes to be small, usually sub 16 colors, and
2. get a lot of hue representation in there, what we ended up erroneously calling 'hue-shifting'.

Good sense on which hues to choose to move towards and through which grey steps I never felt comfortable that I could explain or 'teach' in any capacity. This isn't what this thread is about. When people, 5, 8 years ago would ask me how I choose colours, I didn't have anything interesting to say, I don't think.

What I can tell you now is that my choice at that time of introducing a lot of grey slots between more saturated colors created a very certain 'look' that I wanted to move away in the last few years. And one of the tools I now use to do this (and I used it in this piece as well), is that I go in photoshop and use color balance somewhere in the middle of creating a palette.

I'm sure you can do it in some other program, but the concept is the same. RGB sliders for shadows, mid and highlights, in a 24bit color space, regardless if you're going to end up with 16 colors or what.

Why is this useful?

Building on my ideas about symbolic colors, an overarching tint to a picture can be very useful, especially a balance between two tints. Above the attempt was between the yellow/orange in the earth and the purple and cyan in the shadows and sky. For me that's a picture of summer. But it didn't start out with this colorspace. At one time the hand-picked shades were more in the middle of what's going on here:



I did a lot of color correction, then back to manually changing every palette entry, then back to color correction, then back to manual editing.

What is the benefit of this? It removes a lot of the muddy gray identity that a lot of my past art was left with. Nowadays I don't have this problem as much anyway because I do not use unlimited bit depth for my palettes so everything ends up quite saturated anyhow, but I know most pixel artists at this time are choosing their colors from a very large bit depth, so some sense of overarching tint would be useful for their process.

The theory is very simple - when you're adding +2 to red in the middle part of the values, if it finds a 20,20,20 color (a gray) it's going to make it 22,20,20, so from a gray it is now a gray-with-a-bit-more-red. If you take it really easy with this process, you can get an environmental effect, something like a soft bloom to work even for your pixel art.

As an activity, you could post pixel art (esp background art and tiles) that you think could benefit from this, before and after color correction and manual calibration.

Is this making sense, do you get what I'm going on about?

Offline DawnBringer

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Re: Color balancing your pixel art

Reply #1 on: February 21, 2015, 02:22:55 pm
You're touching on several issues here...not quite sure what the focus is.

Offline Helm

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Re: Color balancing your pixel art

Reply #2 on: February 21, 2015, 02:32:31 pm
Hm, let me put it in a concise way

Pixel artists edit their palettes index by index.

What I am suggesting is that it's good to do this, then do a holistic color balance pass, then back to index by index. 



This is what I'm talking about, btw

Offline 32

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Re: Color balancing your pixel art

Reply #3 on: February 21, 2015, 03:02:53 pm
There's still this niggle I have about "dirty tools", a sense that real pixel art is all chosen pixel by pixel colour by colour. I completely don't believe that at all these days but it still sits in the back of my mind.

Now I'm very much prone to taking the easy route and using whatever tools will get the job done including colour correction or index painting or using animation software. Problem is it's always a chore to do this stuff, I have to export my images and lose my layers and frame layouts I've got set up in GraphicsGale to move over to the other software. It doesn't fit very nicely into a workflow to use the tools that should ostensibly make life a lot easier. It is very much a software issue for me, the pixel specific programs are so good at what they do I don't want to give them up but they really do force your hand a bit on some of the purist aspects. I would really like to see psd support in GraphicsGale, does Pro Motion have it?

Regardless I agree with this approach, I do it all the time in my non pixel work. Sometimes just messing around with sliders is the only way to tease out the right colours, no one gets that right on their first go. Next time I'm doing something that calls for it I'll definitely make a conscious effort to put it through some colour correction earlier in the process.

Offline Helm

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Re: Color balancing your pixel art

Reply #4 on: February 21, 2015, 03:23:49 pm
Nope, pro motion has a very silly way of handling multi-layered images, as in, it hijacks the frame animation system. So it's either animation, or layers, not both at once. Yep, you have to export and mess with in a different project as far as I know if you're using pro motion and you want detailed color balance.

Offline 32

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Re: Color balancing your pixel art

Reply #5 on: February 21, 2015, 03:42:50 pm
Sounds similar to how photoshop handles the two actually. Each "frame"is just a set of which layers are visible. GraphicsGale's solution is each frame has it's own set of layers. Most animation programs each layer has it's own set of frames. I think the latter is the best solution but that's a different discussion entirely. I wish there was some standard image format for multi-layer multi-frame images. Doing inter-program work is a grind. I guess that's probably how they like it though :blind:.

Offline Helm

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Re: Color balancing your pixel art

Reply #6 on: February 21, 2015, 03:52:15 pm
Yes, ideally every frame of an animation should have its own independent layer structure, with capacity to copy/paste and alter layer x from frame y into layer x on frame y+1 and so on. But that's besides the point for this thread.

Offline Cyangmou

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Re: Color balancing your pixel art

Reply #7 on: February 21, 2015, 04:16:19 pm
about the balancing:

Hm, let me put it in a concise way
Pixel artists edit their palettes index by index.
What I am suggesting is that it's good to do this, then do a holistic color balance pass, then back to index by index. 

erm I think you can't generalize that.
It completely depends on the software you are using.
While GG and Pro-Motion might not have an overall color adjustment tool, Photoshop and Gimp come with a wide varitey of different tool.s, gradiation curves, saturation changes and a lot more stuff for very specialized use.

However
As for every tool we use it's not about the tool, but about the person behind the tool.
If you know your goal and you change your colors in order to achieve that goal, how you do the changes is completely irrelevant.
We can edit single indexes alone or we can edit multiple indexes with that color balance and a quick preview at once.
While from hand it would take hours to get to the same result, the tool allows quicker experimentation, more versions with a quick preview.
It's up to everyone himself to use the tools available. No need to discuss "true" or "untrue" in there.

Color adjustment is sure a nice and very common used process for everyone who wors with PS/Gimp etc. or opens a piece in those programs just for that.

I think it's a completely different thing with the gray in your palettes.
The matter you described with it seems to be a consideration because of the limited colors and to use every hue everywhere. Gray istself is neutral and works next to each color.
Of course if you are using gray you are graying out parts partially which has a completely different look than not using gray.
The question is if the gray is in the ramps because of the limitation and it's multiple uses in the pieces, or if you would consciously use gray even if you have mor ecolors at hand.

Then it's very easy to forget about gray as a color on it's own and don't use it at all in any of our palettes - which leads to a very colorful and cartoon-style direction. Where "gray" has rather green or blue tints or is even purple - look at a lot of zelda games.

In respect to games:
However it's impossible to set accents or to bring the attention to something special (in a game it's always very bad if the bgs are so color-flooded that it's for the sprite artist impossible to make the sprites popping) - that's why I would have to see the whole thing build together.
You could either go very black or very white with the sprites - so with a clear value separation, but it will get pretty hard with a color sepearation (unless you use red, which I think would disturb the overall color scheme)

The difference?
The main change from this piece to a lot of your older pieces is that it has very clear complimentary colors - yellow - purple in the house, orange - blue for foreground background.
Even the green in the middle appears because of the atmospheric density more as blue for the overall scheme, while we know it's pure green.
Since you completely excluded reds in your palette, the green also isn't as striking as the other 2 complimentary pairs.

What I think:
For me it's just a different style how you considered the nodes in your palette which leads just to another impression.
Since most of your stuff was pretty dark themed, the gray never felt out of place to me.
Your usual way of working might not have worked that great for the summer-scene example.
« Last Edit: February 21, 2015, 04:20:14 pm by Cyangmou »
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Offline DawnBringer

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Re: Color balancing your pixel art

Reply #8 on: February 21, 2015, 04:17:28 pm
@Helm: Ah, ok. Hmmm...are you implying this is an uncommon practice? If an artist is working with +20 color palette and feels it needs a bit more red...I hope his program allows for some method to tweak all or a selection of colors at once.

On a more technical note; I'm glad you brought up color balancing rather than hue-shifting which usually offers less control and can be a bit destructive.

At least Grafx2 provides very good palette control, and while I have lua-scripts that can perform every thinkable color-modification, I still find that manual RGB-slider tweaking suffice 95% of the time.

I don't think there's anything wrong with a bit of color-balancing, hue-shifting or any other color-tweaking, if it will help the artist fulfill his vision. Esp. if one is working on larger scenery with a certain mood/atmosphere (like your recent image) it's quite applicable to make (some) broad-spectrum adjustments rather than constantly tweaking individual color indexes.
« Last Edit: February 21, 2015, 04:39:12 pm by DawnBringer »

Offline ErekT

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Re: Color balancing your pixel art

Reply #9 on: February 21, 2015, 04:29:39 pm
It's a good trick. I've been using it a lot to try and accentuate certain moods or just add uniformity. Colors start to look obviously processed when I do (to me at least), so more manual palette tweaking after the fact usually follows. Or sometimes just a semi-transparent blend between the color-balanced image and the old until I feel it looks right.

But I've been getting a big kick out of playing with limited bit depths lately so there's been less use of this approach nowadays. Limited bit depth is strangely liberating, colors go where they want to be almost automatically. It almost feels like cheating :P

Quote
As for every tool we use it's not about the tool, but about the person behind the tool.
If you know your goal and you change your colors in order to achieve that goal, how you do the changes is completely irrelevant.
But if you don't how to most effectively make those changes or even have a clear idea what your goal is then methods like this can be very helpful. I never know precisely the colors I'm gonna use up front. I have a certain idea, but the end palette is never what I had in mind originally. It's always a process of experimenting and tweaking until I end up in a place I'm satisfied with.