View Full Version : A blast from the past - more pixel art!

02-26-2014, 05:19 PM
Turned out I had this uploaded.

So, this one is going to date me: I did it in the winter of 1996, when I was 17. Now, for those of you who have entered the field of digital art recently - that is, in the last fifteen years or so :P - the technical aspects of this are a world apart from the way we work now.

First off, the obvious thing is the resolution - it was done in 320x200, with non-square pixels. I upscaled this version and corrected the aspect ratio, but it's worth remembering that when I made it, you'd see it full-screen, probably on a 14" monitor.

The second thing is that it's indexed color: The maximum allowed colors in 320x200 (normal VGA, not a 'fakemode' or ModeX like 320x240 or 360x480) was 256; if I recall correctly I used about 100 in this image. Using a lot of colors got quite cumbersome, because the only way to set up the palette was by picking individual RGB values. The program would help by doing a blend, but to do things right with subtle shades you usually had to hand-tweak the values to avoid the blends 'ratcheting' back and forth as the R, G, and B values stairstepped at different points, making the hue or brightness 'wobble' back and forth along the blend. Sometimes it was better to eliminate an intermediate step and have more banding rather than having your light-red-to-dark-blue fade go morepurplelesspurplemorepurplelesspurplemorepurplelesspurple all the way down!

It was made in a DOS program called Deluxe Paint 2 Enhanced, which was the go-to program for pixel pushing in the '90s.

Now, DP][e was pretty capable for its task - it would even do antialiased lines or gradient fills, using the existing palette to the best of its ability. But if you wanted real quality you wouldn't touch that stuff with a ten-foot pole; to get the best out of it required you to exploit the display quirks of CRT monitors and the processing quirks of the human eye, things that even DP][e was far from being able to do.

What this means is that I and the (many vastly more skilled) other artists using DP essentially drew things by manually setting the color of every pixel individually. No brush types or flood fills or lines or curves or translucency - it would be instantly obvious if you tried that. Just you, your palette - which you would probably memorize almost totally by the time you were done - and a whole lot of time.

In the case of this image, I probably averaged an hour or two a day for several months, more toward the end; the hand, pliers, and battery were referenced from an ad in an electronic design trade magazine (Remember - no such thing as image search on the internet then; search at all was a brand new concept and Google was years in the future) but the rest I just kinda ginned up out of nowhere. It's not quite complete - there are a bunch of rough areas and errors - but I'm still pretty proud of it, particularly as it managed to get second place in the graphics competition at the biggest North American demo party of the time. (I heard from a few people immediately after that the only reason I didn't win is that the guy who *did* win came with a contingent of 40 or 50 of his group members, who were local, who voted for their man en masse. His pic wasn't undeserving, though.)

Anyway, this is fun reminiscence for me but probably horribly tedious for everyone else in the known universe, so I'll shut up and paste the pic. Enjoy a glimpse into the history of digital art and the mind of a bizarre teenager... ;)


02-26-2014, 06:26 PM
Wow, this brings back memories for me also in high school in my IT classes and wondering how these images were made back then and the time spent to make them, wonderful post.

02-26-2014, 06:43 PM
fantastic details, brings back painful memories, digital is so much easier now.

02-27-2014, 06:28 AM
Terrific image and details.

02-27-2014, 12:57 PM
I remember that program! My parents owned a computer store for awhile, we had access that is for sure! I remember just how very cumbersome and time consuming that was, and pretty sure it is why I kept to traditional media until some years later.

02-27-2014, 01:31 PM
Very nice pixeling.. and it's more working painting that way. :)


02-27-2014, 04:20 PM
You want cumbersome, you should have tried pixeling on the Commodore 64. Nominally it would only do 16 colors, but there were special tricks you could use to alter the colors partway through each line, and to swap rapidly between two screens, that would let you effectively generate more colors. The problem is that you had a strange selection, because you couldn't pick the colors to blend together - you could only use the default C64 palette.

Not only that, you were restricted on which colors could be put next to which other colors. To quote studiostyle.sk:

Interlaced Flexible Line Interpretation is the connection of two greatest ideas in history of C64 graphic modes. MultiColor Interlaced mode (MCI), and Flexible Line Interpretation mode (FLI).

Interlaced FLI generates 320*200 dots resolution using 6 colors in each 8*1 points big attribute cell.

This mode also gives the possibility of mixing two colors together, so it's possible to use theoretically 128 different colors.

So remember, you've got (IIRC) 16 'solid' colors total, and in each little square of your picture (8x8, so, there'd be a 40x25 grid of these) you could pick six different colors to use. Except you actually got two images to use, and they'd blend together because you could cycle them rapidly. And each one had its own six colors to choose from. So each 8x8 block could have 12 + (36 - 12 duplicates) = 48 colors. But because of the palettes involved you couldn't just pick any 48 of the possible colors; if you wanted a particular dark red that meant that you used up one of your blend slots and it would limit the colors you could use in adjacent pixels...

Further, if you wanted to have a gradual change in brightness or hue, that meant you had to juggle the palettes you chose per-block across the range, to make sure you had enough similar colors to get from A to B - simplified, if you imagine you had four horizontal blocks and you wanted to fade from white to black, but could only have four colors per block, you'd have the four darkest colors in block 1, then two dark and two medium in block two, four medium in block 3, two bright and two medium in block four... Expand that to blending between two limited palettes *and* given the limited hue options of the original 16 colors - none of which were really primaries - and you can see where this required extraordinary mathematical gymnastics to achieve!

Now, remember that usually when people think of Commodore 64 graphics, they think of the games that came out for it, say, with graphics like this:


In theory, that's about the best that the C64 ought to be able to handle. That, of course, doesn't stop these guys from putting out stuff like this:


Not too shabby!