AuthorTopic: Castles and clouds  (Read 2629 times)

Offline cels

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Castles and clouds

on: February 03, 2021, 03:34:45 pm
Hi, I'm CELS. You may remember me from threads like this one and this one. Or not. I haven't posted here in a long time. I hope some familiar faces are still here.  ;D

Anyway, I'm starting to pixel again and I'd really appreciate a critique of this latest work.



The animal is still just a crude sketch, but I'd appreciate feedback on other elements. Especially texture / rendering and colors.

References here:



Thanks!

Offline eliddell

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #1 on: February 04, 2021, 01:47:11 am
It's been kind of quiet around here lately.  I've been posting a lot of crits (after an absence of years) in the hope that it will inspire other people to do the same, if only to tell me I'm an incompetent idiot and they can do a far better job of critiquing a piece. ;)

The first thing I notice about this artwork is the lack of any strong darks anywhere except in the frame.  Maybe the washed-out look is intentional, I don't know.  If it isn't, the foreground items (ox and cart) should have stronger shadows.

The other thing I notice is the clouds.  They're not awful or anything, but the rounded shapes you've used to depict them don't really reflect the wispy quality of the cirrus (?I think those are cirrus) clouds in your reference.  Not sure how to go about fixing that, if it even matters to you.

(The third thing I notice is that your ox is hovering above the ground, although that might be an artefact of his "rough sketch" state.  Poor thing needs hooves, unless you want to add in grass or dust or something to hide his feet.)

Other than that, I can't find any other nits to pick.  It's a pretty darned good picture.
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Offline cels

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #2 on: February 05, 2021, 02:38:33 am
It's been kind of quiet around here lately.  I've been posting a lot of crits (after an absence of years) in the hope that it will inspire other people to do the same, if only to tell me I'm an incompetent idiot and they can do a far better job of critiquing a piece. ;)

Hah, I can appreciate that. I took a break from the pixel art scene a while back for similar reasons. I'll try to help keep the ball rolling.

The first thing I notice about this artwork is the lack of any strong darks anywhere except in the frame.  Maybe the washed-out look is intentional, I don't know.  If it isn't, the foreground items (ox and cart) should have stronger shadows.
The other thing I notice is the clouds.  They're not awful or anything, but the rounded shapes you've used to depict them don't really reflect the wispy quality of the cirrus (?I think those are cirrus) clouds in your reference.  Not sure how to go about fixing that, if it even matters to you.
Thanks a lot, that really helps!  ;D

I definitely agree about the lack of strong darks in the foreground. That is not intentional, it's just a silly mistake I keep making.

I'm also not in love with how I've textured the clouds. It's surprisingly hard to find good references for how to pixel this using a small space (if I had a 500 x 500 canvas it would be easier), but I'll try to get rid of the rounded shapes and see if I can make it resemble the reference. It definitely does matter, because I'm trying to experiment with new styles of pixelling clouds. I didn't want to do the usual cartoon ones.


(The third thing I notice is that your ox is hovering above the ground, although that might be an artefact of his "rough sketch" state.  Poor thing needs hooves, unless you want to add in grass or dust or something to hide his feet.)
Other than that, I can't find any other nits to pick.  It's a pretty darned good picture.
Thanks! I guess it's possible that those animals have hooves, even though they're not shown in the reference picture. I will have to look into that.   :P

Offline cels

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #3 on: February 07, 2021, 02:26:48 pm
Quick update. Have confirmed that wisents have hooves. Not sure where to go from here. The reference picture is actually a combination of cirrus clouds and altocumulus / cirrocumulus, I think. So both the whispy, stretched, elegant clouds and the dotted tiny cotton balls.

I'm finding it tricky to translate this to pixel art, but I'm still working on it.

« Last Edit: February 07, 2021, 02:29:19 pm by cels »

Offline eishiya

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #4 on: February 08, 2021, 12:24:58 am
For the clouds, I think it might help to have a bit more space with the solid blue sky visible between the waves/rows of clouds. As it is, the sky reads more like water or some other continuous textured surface, rather than white clouds against a blue background of sky.

Of the three versions you posted, I think the middle one looks most like clouds,  because they're less regular.

I also wonder if perhaps making the sky lighter overall might help, with whiter clouds and a less dark blue for the sky. The sky doesn't quite match the rest of the scene right now because it's so high-contrast. When using photo reference, you need to be critical about the colours, as they're often edited in a way that helps the photo's composition, but may work against your goals. Since you're going for a hazy look for the distant parts of the scene, the sky should also be affected by that.


The highlights on the flat sides of the wagon wheels feel a bit out of place, being so well-defined and sharp, when the rest of the image has such subtle and soft rendering. They draw a lot of attention to themselves as a result, which doesn't seem intentional.

Offline eliddell

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #5 on: February 08, 2021, 05:26:17 pm
That one purple in the shadows is maybe a little more vivid than I would have chosen (feels too red, especially, given that the next-lighter colour in the ramp is a blue-grey), but then I suck at choosing hue/saturation for those kinds of applications.  One of the reasons I'll never be more than mediocre at art.  The wisent and cart have improved overall, in my not-so-humble opinion.

I think eishiya's right about the sky being too regular.  Again, back to your reference:  the clouds in the photo come in wide and narrow strips, and some of the strips curve and branch.  They show varying amounts and intensities of sky between them.  You have mostly-straight cloud strips of about the same width and with about the same gap between them, all radiating from a common center without any branching or much curving (leftmost version shows a little curve, but has the same problems of uniformity otherwise).
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Offline bengo

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #6 on: February 20, 2021, 12:44:53 am



This edit took me a bit longer than expected, so I hope it helps! For environments like this it's important to group everything into their own value groups, you also want to think about where the most contrast should be (most contrast should ideally be where the focal point is). So places of less interest give less value contrast (like the clouds or mountains) and areas of interest give more contrast. I have always been a big proponent of strong, immediate reads and it's something a lot of environment artists do so I think you want to be able to tell what the big shapes are.

Your clouds and elements should not be randomly placed or sized the same they should be placed with purpose and size varied to give the illusion of depth. They should also be repeated. Don't just put one statue, put multiple and use it as a way to point to the focal point/destination in this case it can also help give depth because it's size reference. As for the clouds, you also want the clouds to point towards the focal point, not randomly placed about. You're directing a scene here, a composition, you're trying to guide the viewer on where to look.

I didn't do it too much here since it's simply an edit but typically you want more detail for what's closer to the viewer and less/simplified detail for things further away. You want to think about the narrative as well- the snow element could be pushed why is it only in one area? These are travellers that have been on the road for awhile correct? So they'd like encounter snow they're obviously cold. You can use the cold exterior to contrast with the warm exterior of the wagon. Where would snow fall? Where would it stay? Etc. You're telling a story though this image so utilize that. Having multiple statues is also a way to show what kind of city this is, maybe the statues are purposely used to advertise which way to go for these sellers.

Something else I didn't do here too much but you can keep in mind is where you put your saturation. You usually want more saturation for focal points and less for areas that aren't focal points. The sky in yours right now is super saturated and has some varied values same with the mountains. Don't forget atmospheric perspective is here too!

I hope this helps, excited to see the next update!

PS Thinking about it, you could add breath fog to the animal and make sure it has snow on there as well. I would've added it but didn't want to spend forever on it.
« Last Edit: February 20, 2021, 01:30:00 am by bengo »

Offline cymrontr7

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #7 on: February 25, 2021, 03:51:25 pm
The highlights on the flat sides of the wagon wheels feel a bit out of place, being so well-defined and sharp, when the rest of the image has such subtle and soft rendering. They draw a lot of attention to themselves as a result, which doesn't seem intentional.

Offline cymrontr7

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #8 on: February 25, 2021, 03:53:53 pm
I definitely agree about the lack of strong darks in the foreground. That is not intentional, it's just a silly mistake I keep making.

Offline cels

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #9 on: March 04, 2021, 01:30:48 pm
I hate to reply without a real update, but it seems I'll be working on this for a while yet and I don't want months to pass without a response. I just want to let you guys know that I have seen your posts, I appreciate it and I'm rolling my sleeves up.

@eishiya: I see what you're saying. I picked that reference photo specifically because of the strong colors, realizing that it might very well be photoshopped. But the idea was to depict a scene at extremely high altitude, where the blue sky is much stronger than at sea level. And I wanted to exaggerate the colors rather than going for realism, hence the really popping greens. Of course, it's possible that I went about it wrong or that I've gone too far. Thanks for your feedback in regards to the wagon, the cloud placement and texture.

@eliddell: Thanks, I understand what you mean. I'm definitely terrible at creating palettes and making sure there's enough contrast, but I'll see if I can improve this piece without losing the intent.

@bengo: Wow, it's been years since I've posted on Pixelation and then been blown away by an edit. I'd totally forgotten the feeling! It's a weird thing to be simultaneously uplifted and depressed.  ;D

Needless to say, I love your edit and your points about communicating points of interest with contrast and elements are very well taken. I really appreciate you taking the time to get the point across. Let me just comment point by point:
- While there is a lot of contrast between the foreground and background in your edit, it looks like you placed everything in the foreground in shadow. There are no highlights on the wagon to indicate sunlight coming from one side. Was this intentional or did you simply not have time to add appropriate lighting in your edit? It's definitely interesting, like we're seeing the wagon come out of a narrow mountain pass.
- Your comment about narrative was mind blowing. Of course there should be snow on the wagon. The idea of telling a story through pixelling is not something I have been conscious of. Beautiful. Great idea about the breath fog too.
- I've been looking at so many pictures of snow in deserts and I felt like there was no way I could communicate that in so few pixels. I thought it would just look like inexplicable white areas. You've shown that it clearly can be done, which is encouraging.
- They weren't actually statues, but since the face was the same color as the clothing, I can see why you assumed they were. I have used the idea of statues leading up to a castle before (http://pixeljoint.com/pixelart/93933.htm) but I hadn't thought of making them gesture towards the destination. Cool idea! That being said, I'll try to make make it clearer that the people around the campfire aren't statues.  ;D

Again, really appreciate the help. I hate to respond without a new update, but this could take a few days.   :-[

Offline cels

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #10 on: March 09, 2021, 09:58:55 am
Just a quick update. Everything is still WIP: the castle, the snow covering the wagon and ground, the clouds, the mountains, everything. I want to add more snow, fix the rendering of clouds, etc.

I'm not going for photorealism here and I'm definitely looking to imitate those cirrus clouds and altocumulus / cirrocumulus clouds on top of that. So it's a kind of cartoony / stylized version of clouds, plus exaggerated colours. And I know the reference pic has unrealistic colours to begin with. I'm not being obstinate on purpose, I'm just struggling to find a balance between the image in my mind and something that is recognizable on the screen. I want to get across that this is at a high altitude, where the air is thin.

« Last Edit: March 09, 2021, 10:01:56 am by cels »

Offline bengo

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #11 on: March 11, 2021, 11:15:32 pm
Hey nice it's looking better and the clouds are looking good. Just keep at it add more wagons into the background if you want!

Offline eliddell

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #12 on: March 13, 2021, 10:23:42 pm
Oh, wow, yes, that's a lot better.  bengo's advice was spot-on, and in addition to drawing attention to all the right things, the palette changes make the small wagons in the middle distance read much more clearly.
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Offline cels

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #13 on: March 16, 2021, 02:31:43 pm
Thanks, guys! Still working on this. Baby steps.  ;D

Any feedback is welcome, as always.

Not sure if the spearmen actually contribute in their current form, or if they just add clutter.

Offline eliddell

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #14 on: March 16, 2021, 10:04:28 pm
Keep the spearmen, I think—the way the spears are pointed at the castle draws your attention back into the picture if it starts to wander off towards the lower left.  At the same time, they're not so vivid that they draw attention to themselves.  I'd say they work.  Maybe kind of swap their positions so that the guy with his spear pointing straight up is more directly below the castle?
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Offline cels

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #15 on: March 19, 2021, 09:46:33 am


Cheers, eliddell! Hard for me to say which position is better. Perhaps breaking a little bit with the pattern is useful?

If anyone has any feedback in regards to the more central issues or potential for improvement, I'd be very grateful. I'm at the point where I don't know how to improve except by randomly trying different things.

Offline bengo

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #16 on: March 19, 2021, 12:19:31 pm
While it's good to experiment I don't think it has to necessarily be "random". What I mean is, you can narrow down what you want to do by figuring out what the goal of the piece is or the goal of that part of the piece. I prefer the second one since it helps point to the focal better.

I feel a bigger issue is the size of the spearmen themselves. I initially thought they were statues and not people and, to be quite honest, they still look like statues. Proportionally they're huge and on top of that they have very static poses. I say keep them as statues and throw more of them around the scene but that's up to you.

Also, you typically want bigger pixel clusters/shapes in areas that are closer to the viewer. I think the clouds have a lot of small shapes that are quite distracting same with the mountains a bit.

Offline cels

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #17 on: March 19, 2021, 03:57:09 pm
The art is intended as an illustration for a novel that I will probably never finish. So the wagons, the castle, the spearmen, the snow and the desert are all intended to show a fictional location. I wanted to make a scene to show the journey of caravans to a somewhat desolate citadel in an arid location at high altitude. But initially this was more about making references to a fictional location than telling a specific story in the piece itself.

I guess one challenge is that the small canvas makes it hard for me to show depth. The wagon and animal is in the foreground. The spearmen are intended to be somewhere between nearest wagon and the three next wagons. So if the spearmen look too big, I guess I am failing at conveying their location. Maybe that comes down to the shape of the cliffs / plateau surrounding them?

I'm not sure how to improve the clouds. With larger clusters, I wonder if they'd look more wispy and less like altocumulus clouds. Do you think there's a right way to have complex cloud shapes with small clusters without making them distracting? Maybe this particular type of clouds is a bad choice for this composition and canvas size.



I appreciate the feedback.

Offline fskn

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #18 on: March 20, 2021, 06:09:05 pm
Please bear in mind that I don't have much experience in this kind of thing, BUT, that said, I think the problem with the spearmen is that the colors you're using in them are too close both in terms of contrast and saturation as the castle behind them. Thus (i suspect...) they seem recessed and therefore huge. Also it's easy to read them as statues because gray = rock, usually.

So maybe if you separated the parts of the armor more, created areas (clusters, if you will) of a higher range of value and maybe also some areas of color (capes? scarves? standards? a colorful shield?), then I think they would come forward and stand out a bit more.

As for the clouds... They look very busy at the moment.
But especially for this last piece, you're going for a very detailed style, so I don't really know exactly what to tell you... Fewer clouds, maybe? More detail at the top of the clouds, less detail at the bottom? Lower contrast for those at the back?
Those are just guesses, though.

Offline cels

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #19 on: March 20, 2021, 07:14:53 pm
Ah, yes! That totally makes sense! The spearmen were supposed to be closer than the three wagons, but the three wagons had more contrast and saturation, which made it hard to understand the distances involved.



Now I'll just have to figure out how to pick colors for the spearmen without adding a bunch of new ones, if I can. And play around with the clusters, as you say. But at least now I know where to start. I will try to improve on those spearmen. Not loving the yellow shields, but I will figure something out. Thanks!

As for the clouds, I'm still confused. I agree that they're busy, but I don't know how to pixel those types of clouds without making them busy. Maybe they're just a bad choice for this particular piece, but part of my goal every time I pixel "castles and clouds" is to experiment with different types of clouds and try to learn something new. I think it's possible to have clouds that are detailed and eyecatching with small clusters, so I guess I'm still figuring out what exactly is wrong. Maybe I'm just being obtuse.  ;D

Offline fskn

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #20 on: March 20, 2021, 08:13:53 pm
Maybe something stronger, like...


(that's a bit of a half assed attempt, though.)

-----

If you're worried about the color count... You could probably remove some of those colors. Some blues, especially, are very close to one another. Some browns too. You might be able to tighten up that palette, then add a few more.



-----

Eh, let's go for longer... flag things:

« Last Edit: March 22, 2021, 10:51:19 am by fskn »

Offline cels

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #21 on: March 21, 2021, 09:48:03 am
Great edit, thanks! The flag things look great. Also, fair point about the color count! I'll have a look at it.

Also like what you did with the clusters. Makes it look like chainmail or something to that effect. I'll try to make this my own though, instead of simply copying it. And bring back the green from the early version. Hopefully the green will provide some kind of link between the points of interest. :)



« Last Edit: March 21, 2021, 10:39:28 am by cels »

Offline fskn

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #22 on: March 21, 2021, 02:25:11 pm
Y'know what could be cool? Kite shields instead of tower shields.



-----

You could tip one of those slightly...





Either way, that would make them a bit more dynamic.
« Last Edit: March 21, 2021, 05:11:11 pm by fskn »

Offline cels

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #23 on: March 22, 2021, 10:10:29 am
I love kite shields and I agree that they look better. However, as I am determined to illustrate my never-to-be-finished novel, I must stick with the tower shields. Even accepting the fact that tower shields and pikes is a really weird combination for two solitary guards in the middle of the frozen desert.

As a very tiny improvement, I tried to adjust the angle of one shield. As you say, it looks more dynamic when they're positioned differently rather than copy-pasted.

Experimenting a little with the clouds and wondering if lowering the color saturation is an improvement. I don't think so, so I guess I'm left with trying to repixel the clouds and see if I can find a more pleasing shape. Or just calling it quits and accepting that I'll probably see what I did wrong at some point in the future. I've been staring at this piece for 3 months now.  :blind:





« Last Edit: March 22, 2021, 10:23:56 am by cels »

Offline fskn

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #24 on: March 22, 2021, 11:03:49 am
Oh, right! If it's tied to the setting, then it's got to be that. (i had considered that, actually, but forgot to mention.)
But the angle change does make a difference!
I also liked that you gave one of the guys what looks like a bit of a skirt. Pretty cool.

The falling snow is a nice touch too.
And I do like the new sky colors... Maybe it looks colder? More of a wintry time?

Offline cels

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Re: Castles and clouds

Reply #25 on: March 23, 2021, 11:22:26 am
Thanks, guy! And I forgot to say, you really did a good job with those shields. I'd steal them if I could.

Posting this on PJ now, so I'll be moving on unless someone shows me something more that needs fixing. Thanks for the help, everyone!  :lol: