By Chris "shaithis" Buecheler
got to get tons of art *experience* if you want that dream art job!"
You don't hear much about them often, but they're out there. The silent masses. The quiet guys with long hair and paint smudges on their clothes. The 2D artists. Though not the most outspoken members of the gaming community, 2D artists' work, and the methods they use to create it, are an integral part of the game design process. Their role has changed quite a bit in just a few short years, from creating relatively simple 8-32 color sprites (think Duke Nukem, Commander Keen, Jill of the Jungle) to creating highly involved, photo realistic texture maps in 24-bit color, to be wrapped around polygons and lighted in real-time. Accordingly, some of their methods have changed as well. Programs, techniques, and even communication methods have all been affected by the rise of the 3D (and in this particular article, first person) game.
As a 2D artist myself, I've always been interested in finding out how other members of the industry (who, honestly, I feel a bit weird grouping myself with, since they're all people I look up to) do their work. When loonygames first came out, I contacted Jason "loonyboi" Bergman (editor-in-chief of this fine publication) almost immediately to ask if he had anyone writing up any articles on this aspect of gaming. He didn't, and I volunteered to do so. Like Kiwidog, I wrote for Demonews in the past, so this isn't my first journalistic endeavor. Those were tutorials though, and this is an article, so forgive me if I make some mistakes along the way. :)
At any rate, onwards...
got the TOOLS, and we got the TALENT!"
Photoshop is the king here, no question. An image editing program from Adobe Software, Photoshop is one of the most versatile programs available to industry artists. It works on a pixel-by-pixel level, meaning you could (as is often necessary in texture creation) single out a single dot of color and change its hue, saturation and intensity values. Hue is the actual color value (i.e. "red" "blue"). Saturation is how close or far the color is from "gray" (ie "very washed out" is low saturation, "very vibrant" is high saturation). Intensity represents how light or dark the color is. The lowest end would appear totally black, the highest end would be a "pure" strain of the color. For example, a medium gray would have no color saturation, and a middle intensity. White has no saturation, but very high intensity. An almost white pink, then, has very little saturation, but very high intensity. All three could have a hue of "0", which is a very red hue. You can go from 0 to 100 in each category. Saturation and Intensity make sense, with low being desaturated/dark, and high being supersaturated/bright, respectively. As for who came up with the order that the hues go in...I have no idea. As you move from 0-100, you move in this basic order:
Photoshop contains a wide variety of tools, and is definitely one of those "always learning something new" programs. This is a good thing, since it keeps the art field from stagnating and becoming similar-looking. Out of all of the artists who answered my survey, only one didn't mention Photoshop as his most-used tool on a daily basis. My own experience as well is with Photoshop. It's an industry standard for a reason, and just about every 2D artist out there is familiar with it. Other programs mentioned include Deluxe Paint IIe (which everyone describes as "obscure", despite the fact that it's still in widespread use by many game companies), and Corel Photopaint. Ruben Cabrera of 3DRealms, contends: "I have a tip, if you are going from 24 bit to 8 bit don't use Photoshop to re-map the colors, use Corel Photopaint instead. I have tried many programs and Photopaint gives the best results."
Deluxepaint IIe is a pixel-editor, much like Photoshop, but which serves a somewhat different purpose. While Photoshop can handle many types of "bit depth" (i.e. how much data is stored per pixel of color), Dpaint (as it's normally called) is built specifically to work at a 256-color level (which has a bit depth of "8", and is thus referred to as "8-bit"). Dpaint is useful in this fashion because it actually performs some actions that Photoshop will not do. When working in 8-bit, everything you draw has to be composed of colors from a 256-shade palette. You can define this palette yourself, but everything on screen will contain only those 256 colors. Photoshop doesn't care for this at all, and it disallows the use of many of its tools while in 8-bit mode. The reasoning behind this is that it's very difficult to do convincing blurs or gradients, for example, with only 256 colors to work with.
Deluxepaint handles these very admirably, however. It can smear, blur, shade, and make colors translucent, all within whatever 8-bit palette it has been assigned. I'm not a programmer, so I don't know the exact specifics, but what it appears to do is run the effect and then choose whatever color is closest to what the output should be. For example, say you move a red square (hue: 40) which is 50% translucent over a yellow square (hue: 180). For right now, we won't worry about saturation and intensity, but rest assured they're calculated as well. At any rate, Dpaint will see that the resulting color should be "110", which is the halfway point between 40 and 180. Your closest color in the palette, however, has a hue of "115", so Dpaint picks that. More often than not, it's barely noticeable. I've never seen a program that does this as well, or as quickly, as Dpaint, and I suspect that's why it remains an industry standard, even though much of today's work is done at higher bit-depths.Many artists also mentioned in-house tools, such as 3DRealms' "Cannibal", or the modified version of id Software's "3D Paint" program, used by the team at Rogue. I worked on a freeware RPG project awhile back called "Prophet" from my friends at Bitshift Software, during which time I used a custom tool of theirs called "Animate-x", which was without a doubt the best tool available to do the type of sprite animation we were doing. This, I suspect, is often the case. While tools like Photoshop and Dpaint remain great for widespread uses, sometimes you need a custom tool to do a custom job.
For more basic information on computer art in general, and on some of Dpaint's tools in particular, I'm going to be egotistical for a moment and recommend a series of tutorials I did awhile back for a newsletter called "Demonews". They're currently archived here. These articles cover everything from "what is resolution" to "what the hell do I do with the constrained aspect ratio tool in Dpaint?". They're a bit old, however, and I've learned a lot since then. They're definitely aimed at the novice user, but in that respect I think they're pretty educational. The series ends abruptly. Sorry... a change in life and a change in direction brought it to a halt. Who knows...I may do some tutorials for loonygames in the future. :)
|Credits: Illustration © 1998 Chris Buecheler. DRAW Pardner! is © 1998 Chris Buecheler. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't do it...we'll hunt you down, you varmint.|