Pixel Art Course 4

    This is a translation of the publication Les Forges Pixel Art Course .

    Part 1: The right tools
    Part 2: Lines and curves
    Part 3: Perspectives
    Part 4: Shadow and light
    Part 5: Color palettes
    Part 6: Smoothing
    Part 7: Textures and blurry
    Part 8: World of tiles

    Part 4: Shadow and Light

    Today we will move from 2D to 3D, while we remain in 2D. You will see (or not). With what we have discussed so far, you can make beautiful line art and draw objects with the correct perspective. This is a good start, but not enough to do pixel art. In this part, we take a look at shading. This is a set of techniques that will allow us to sculpt our landscapes and characters to represent the volume (and I will spare you a long story about the traditional importance of this part, THIS IS SIMPLY SUPER IMPORTANT).

    1. Why do we need a shadow?

    In fact, you may already know the answer to this question. So that your brain can interpret the volume of objects, we change the colors on the surface, resulting from differences in the illumination of parts of the object. You do not need a halogen spotlight to see this effect in real life; the slightest reflections determine the depth, look around!


    This sketch illustrates the concept simply: an object (sphere) is illuminated by a light source (indicated by an arrow) and this affects its color. Colors are lighter where the sphere is lit, and darker in the shade. Note: I am talking here about light and dark colors, the next part tells more about how to choose them.


    What is important to remember is that I chose a light source, and I placed the shadows and the light as a function of the following. If my drawing were more complex, I would have to pay attention to the light source on the set, so that everything remains consistent. Of course you do not need to place the source at the top right, you can place it anywhere.

    Things are not always as simple as this sphere for several reasons:

    - Objects may be in the shadow of each other.
    - Objects can have more complex shapes, and it is difficult to convey their volume accurately (especially in pixel art)
    - Light has an unfortunate tendency to reflect on these objects, walls and floors.

    As a result, the bottom of the sphere should look something like this.

    2. And how to do it?

    Good question! I will help you a little. The first thing you need to do is to place your light source (most often this happens at the top right, or top left, since this is usually the sun):


    Now you need to consider the volume of your object in 3 dimensions (as opposed to the flat space on your screen) in order to successfully identify the illuminated areas (and how intensively the light affects them), and then colorize them using this information. To partially simplify this problem, you can think like the good old Playstation (Paupy, thank you for the image of the sphere in 3D) and mentally divide the object into different polygons and look at the lighting of each of them. Generally speaking, it is necessary to define areas of “predominantly in the shade” and “predominantly bright”, rather than directly addressing the details (bad idea). Along the way, it would be nice to gradually replace the black contours of the line art with useful colors and leave room for more detail (a pixel can be priceless!).


    For example, pay attention to the dragon from the first part (and you will see it again). I applied the shading technique as described in this part to give it volume. My light source is on the right and not very high; the entire left side of the dragon is in shadow, except for the paw that is closer to you and part of the gray area created by the body. Nothing more to say, this is just a modernization of the line art.

    3. Avoid two mistakes

    a. Pillow shading

    Pillow shading is excusable only in one case: if you have never read about shadows and light. This approach was used by people who noticed that others use light and dark colors, but did not really understand how or why. Instinctively, they begin to embed bright colors in the middle, and dark colors around the edges. The result is terrible.


    The problem is obvious on simple shapes such as a sphere or cube, but be careful with more complex images. If you are not used to drawing shadows, you may have a natural tendency toward pillow shading without realizing it.

    b. Understanding without understanding

    The second mistake that should be avoided is for people who read such articles (for you, for example). The reasons that make people make such mistakes are: “Well, I put my light source in the lower right. Done. Now the colors are brighter at the bottom right, and darker at the top left, and everything will be fine. ”


    ERROR. The result is catastrophic, and has no volume. Why? Because in three dimensions, flat surfaces are illuminated uniformly, unless it is a very dim and close light (like a street lamp). Under normal circumstances, you will be dealing with a very distant light source, such as the sun, which illuminates flat surfaces evenly.

    4. Ambient lighting

    We will complete the lesson with good technique. Now you can control the light sources. Ambient lighting is the addition of a second light source to give your subject or character more color. It is preferable that the second source was not in the same direction as the first, for two reasons: it would be “muffled” by the first source, and would be frankly invisible, the charm of the second source stems from the fact that it illuminates the shadows, and gives a very exciting shade the stage.


    However, be careful: lighting shadows does not mean that the shadows will become brighter. For best results, just highlight the edges of the shaded areas and leave the rest of the shadows dark.


    This is what will happen to the face of our dragon illuminated by fire, and back lit by a mysterious blue glow. Of course, this technique should be used sparingly. Do not overcomplicate your first steps by introducing too many light sources at the same time. Instead, add them after you complete the shading from the first light source.


    Finally, as a small example of what can be achieved with this technology on a larger scale, here is a screenshot of Tales of Phantasia on Super NES, in which walls and columns are lit with torches providing a beautiful demonstration of the surrounding lighting (the sky is the “main” light source) .

    And we already (“already”, this is for you, it took me years) at the end of this part. As in the previous parts, if something seemed unclear to you, this is because I did not go into the details of drawing in general, but instead focused on pixel art. If you want to learn about lighting and know English, you can read this page .

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