Hey there! Saw this on the front page a couple days ago. I just wanted to give a bit of critique cuz I saw some stuff you could improve a bit! If this is redundant/stuff you already knew, or if you're not interested in hearing this stuff, just ignore this (though some of these are common to many of your pixel pieces, especially the banding comments). Accompanying the words are some edits I did! I did a comprehensive edit of my own completely overhauling the piece, and I've also got a couple images that are highlights or diagrams of specific issues.
Two things before I get started: * The animation is excessive to my purposes today. Nothing wrong with that, so I'm going to deal with the still eyes-open pose only. * This post is going to get long. Becuase of dA, it's also probably going to look like quite a wall of text. Sorry about that, I'm quite wordy because I try to be thorough in my critiques and not make assumptions about what you already know and stuff. I try to type in a readable way, so just bear with me and my wordiness. Also, I turn these critiques into tutorials on my blog later (with all art credited of course :3), so please don't feel like I'm insulting your intelligence or anything if I explain something very basic. (YUP, TOTALLY WAY LONG, REALLY SORRY, PLEASE STICK WITH ME HERE)
Okay, let's get started. I have a few topics I'm going to hit one at a time. I'll start with the palette, deal with optimization, move through contrast, and talk about consistency. That'll move into Banding, which is the most important area to read because this is a repeating issue in your pieces. I'll move into "stiffness" of lines, then probably talk about what I did to the piece to form my own edit.
So I started my process by pulling together your palette. The first thing I noticed was that you definitely had unnecessary colors in there. To make it clear, I made a palette map with the colors I obviously saw. i22.photobucket.com/albums/b33… That's not a bad map! Not amazing, but absolutely fine. I don't think I've said this yet, but this is a good piece in general. I just see room for improvement, so if I'm drilling down or changing things, don't think I don't like the original piece - that's why I clicked in from the front page to check it out, after all. Anyway, thing is, given that map, which has 19 freakin' colors, I know from a little bit of manipulation that this isn't the whole story. I selected-by-color and turned every color I'd pulled out into a single flat grey: i22.photobucket.com/albums/b33… In an ideal solution, the entire figure would now be grey, as that would indicate that all of the colors had been easy to pick out. Instead, we've still got four suckers hanging around. Looking at it like this, it would be pretty easy to say "well yeah, it's obvious what they're used for! It's cheeks, shines, a hair outline, and the blue from the pants!" Except that when you put it like this... i22.photobucket.com/albums/b33… Check out that new palette with the spare colors highlighted. Some are obviously just mistakes - the two whites are close enough as to be indistinguishable in the image, my bet is you didn't eve realized you were using both the solid white and the very light grey. The cheeks though, if you look carefully you can tell they're different, but they're so close to the other color that it's redundant to include 'em. They're pretty much invisible in that shadow from the hair. The hair one I didn't even notice was different from the second-to-darkest hair color from before until I really looked at it again, and frankly, it's not that bad. You have two paths there: integrate it more fully (potentially alleviating the contrast issue I'll bring up in a minute), or axing it (dropping your color count, which is of course a good thing in pixel art - the ideal, as I doubt needs explaining, is to use the least number of colors to communicate the impression you want; this is why having "invisible" colors like the ones in the grey'd image is bad, if they aren't noticeable they aren't pulling their weight in conveying impression). The last one, the blue, well, you CAN keep it around, but frankly I think that the invisible one is just unneeded, it's not helping really. Because seriously, that's 23 colors, that's kinda ridiculous. My personal final has 14 colors. Here, have a sneak preview of that palette, applied to your otherwise-unchanged image. i22.photobucket.com/albums/b33… Obviously not everything lines up just right because I made other tweaks to make it work, but you can see how the same color transitions get made, without the enormous mass of colors.
Moving on, let's talk about contrast. Avoiding making assumptions: when I say contrast, I mean the difference from one shade to the next in its respective color "ramp". Typically, the more colors you have, the less contrast you need between colors because you can use intermediaries instead of having to balance the colors (this is an oft-overlooked reason why high-quality retro pixel art is more difficult than it looks). Of course, as I was saying, we want to have as few colors as necessary to convey our image, so we have to strike a balance between having enough colors to produce the look we want, without going over the required number. That particular balance is one of the main ways that pixel art color theory is specialized over general art color theory (though almost all of that still applies as well!) Your piece, in different places, manages to both have too much contrast and not enough! The "not enough" first though. i22.photobucket.com/albums/b33… The purples. Nowhere is it as obvious as on the back of the, uh, the cloth around her waist. I know there's a name for that particular garment but it's escaping me. You know what I'm talking about though. That section there has six colors, almost immediately next to each other, and if you look down at the palette map, there's not much difference from each to the next. It's even pushed by the fact that you're dithering (the checkerboard smoothing)! Dithering is a great technique when used subtly, as it is here. Except, well, it's too subtle. In this context, dithering is used to smooth out the contrast gap by making it appear as if there is an intermediary color when there really isn't - it's a trick for using less colors! You have a good grasp of the technique, so totally feel free to use that instead of some of these extra colors. I see a need for a dark purple for outlines/shadows, a medium purple for general use, and a blue/purple for near the end. You'll probably also have a couple colors for the bright cyan later. See, lots of colors can be good for blending, but there's a point where blending is just a bit overboard. Her left arm is one of those cases, especially because while I can see the color change, there's very little actual shading there. So that was the purples with not enough contrast. Next? i22.photobucket.com/albums/b33… The whites! In this case, you have TOO MUCH contrast! You can see I've numbered stuff 1 (shorts), 2 (boots), 3 (hair), and 4 (eyes). And really, 1, 2, and 4 are all the same problem - you use it as your darkest color when it's not really your darkest color. What you want is to actually use your outline-black for the boots and shorts and eyes, because relying on the darkest color of the hair is causing trouble. See, Kavaro's Rayne has white hair, obviously. That means that your brightest color has to be at least close to white, and it HAS to be lighter than the brightest skin color. On the other hand, to act as the near-black of the image, the darkest hair color also has to be dark enough to be darker than the purples of the, uh, I'm just gonna call it a skirt and stick with that, even though I think that's technically not what it is. The point is that you have white hair that has to read as white that also has to end up darker than dark purple. That's a lot of contrast, and it's inevitable that it looks weird - if it was a natural transition, it probably wouldn't read as white hair. It doesn't help that true white and its neighbor colors really don't cooperate well in color ramps. Now, like I said earlier, you had that "invisible" hair color that could be integrated more to at least soften the transition, but frankly, I would just use your outline color for the shorts and boots and eyes and let the hair just be lighter colors. I actually did that in the edit above where I put my new palette on your image.
That's what I have about contrast, and actually it for color selection! I'll probably revisit talking about it a bit when showing my edit. What we have now is talking about consistency in shading! i22.photobucket.com/albums/b33… We're lookin' at the skin! Total side note: kinda looks like she's all annoyed and crossing her arms over her chest when you just leave these colors, looks kinda cool. Back to the point, I have three areas labeled "1" and the midriff labeled "2". Can you see the difference between the 1 sections and the 2 section? Yeah, the 1 sections have a lot more shading! And colors. The midriff manages to just use two colors (well, three, but the bellybutton is only for definition, not at all for shading). The rest use FIVE colors. And it's not for lack of place where you could use it on the midriff. This is a case where the change between styles creates some visual dissonance - depending on the rest of the piece, the 1 sections either look overdone or the 2 section looks unfinished, and in this case it's the latter. Another odd thing you can notice looking here. In general, the non-midriff sections are only using shade at the edges to "smooth" transitions (I'll get to why I'm throwing up quotes there in a second), while the midriff is using shade in a more directional way, revealing the lightsource and giving it more dimension. I'll toss out that while the midriff looks kinda unfinished, I think it's actually generally better crafted than the other sections.
So I've talked about your banding problem this whole time. I should probably explain that! Banding is a pixel art "technique" used in an attempt to smooth out transitions. It's done by lining up colors in similarly-shaped curves that "hug" each other, where a curve repeats itself in a slightly different color. It's a hallmark of gradients. It has a few MAJOR problems with it: * aesthetically, it creates this "fuzziness" look that is a huge tell for the presence of banding. It's ALL OVER the face and leg. It just plain looks bad. * it exposes and decreases the resolution of the image, making it looks less crisp and clean. Blehhhh. * it's hard to catch when you're working unless you frequently zoom out and assess the image at 100%, because the further you zoom it, the less obvious the fuzziness of banding is, making it a silent killer that you might not even notice until you're a good way into the image. Really reveals the importance of popping out and assessing from birds-eye level. Basically the reverse issue of dithering, which gets MORE obvious the more you zoom in (doing both strong dithering pieces and pieces where you're diligent about banding is a great way to train your eyes to be perceptive both zoomed in and zoomed out). And worst of all... * people do it when they're trying to be good about technique. It's completely logical. If you aren't familiar with its perils, it sounds like a freakin' great idea! It's a transition that seems to model volume, and it's easy! Except it's not. Many, MANY people end up banding when they take anti-aliasing a step too far. Anti-aliasing is a technique where you have an intersection of two dark pixels bordering a much different color. By putting that intermediate color only at the corners, rather than along the entire edge, you smooth without the fuzziness. You have a bit of anti-aliasing on the leg! But you've overdone it. If you do too much AA, it also creates a very fuzzy appearance. Also, don't anti-alias on perfect 45-degree angles, at least not all the way along them, it turns it into banding. Here, I've highlightes some serious banding spots by looping around them in red: i22.photobucket.com/albums/b33… Banding is the most dangerous problem in the pixel art world for the reason that it's hard to explain, produced by overindulgence in a very good technique, and seems logical to the unaccustomed eye. It also doesn't immediately leap out as the issue! If you don't know that you're looking for banding, things can very easily look "off" but you wouldn't know to suspect it. Lots of excellent artists fall prey to banding. This is the big one, because it's all over your pixel art piece. ESPECIALLY your faces, they're consistently plagued by banding. You do it most on the 45-degree lines, which makes sense because just regular "proper" anti-aliasing done on a 45-degree turns into banding. Like I said, banding is hard to explain. I did a much more comprehensive explanation HERE, or just ask me to elaborate and I'll clarify whatever. Heck, if you want me to point it out on other pieces as well I could do that, if it would help. Because while I'm bringing up a lot of things here, if you removed the banding the entire image would be stronger by whole degrees.
Now that I've talked about banding, just a few things left. If you can identify and deal with banding, you should be able to follow along with anything else I say or do. So let's talk for a moment about linearity and rigidity! i22.photobucket.com/albums/b33… What on earth does THAT mean? It means that having straight lines or swooping curves has a big effect on things - more specifically, when an image is primarily made of one and you use small elements of the other it can have one of two effects. Maybe it acts as an accent to add either solidity or grace to an image! Or maybe it creates dissonance and looks wrong. I imagine you're not trying to ground Rayne with an appearance of stability, strength, or aggression in her hair, so it's safe to assume you've hit the second option: dissonance. The lines disagree with the overall aesthetic. Remember that lines show motion, and should follow something. The highlighted area on the midriff COULD make sense if it was a cast shadow, but it should still wrap around. The worst though is the hair. Real hair is rarely rigid or straight, it is very flow-y and smooth (though often anime characters who are about aggression have gelled/spiky hair as it adds that air of violence and action to them). The strand-like appearance is the right direction to try and take hair, but multiple straight lines, parallel to each other, gives it a solid, fixed look, rather than being free-moving and flowing. My eventual solution on my edit is one way to take it, but not the only way - just be careful to make things curve, and to make sure that the curves follow the shape ad motion. The bangs covered by her left eye are somewhat heinous in that they're consistently very linear. The shading for multiple layers comes in at 45 degrees, matched by a 45-degree shading on the other side, and even the dithering cuts across at a 45-degree angle, making the hair seem very squarish there. The peak of the ponytail is highlighted not because of shading linearity, but because of the outline! On our left side of it? Great! A smooth curve. Except then you shift from the flat horizontal section directly into a 45-degree, which goes directly to a ~67-degree angle, which goes directly vertical. Basically, by doing a bunch of straights and not rounding it out, it looks blocky and angular, poorly-defined. Also while I'm up there, that highlight right up against the outline? That's totally banding. The unsmooth-curves thing is around in several places, such as the hair bit that's loose on our left side, and the skirt thing, and the end of the large part of hair as well. It's much less bad there, but the curves are noticeably abrupt. In the interest of fairness, I should call this out: I'm a huge stickler for smooth curves. Broken, jagged, or angular curves in a piece not otherwise stylistically in support of them just really get my goat. Compared to the banding, this is almost nitpicking.
And I think that's all I have for pointing out specific issues to work on! Now, one last image, and that's what I personally did as an edit. i22.photobucket.com/albums/b33… I won't defend every change I made as vital or even desired for you. I mean, we all have our own style, and I see mine in this, which means it's appealing to my tastes specifically. I want to explain a couple things I did though. Some were minor, others important. Minor: The feet. I just didn't feel right working with them as they were, they felt off. I think these are stylistically not too far off of the aesthetic of the rest of it, so I went with it. Minor: Eye whites. Again, just felt wrong without them to me. That's just me. Minor: Blinking. It's not the same timing as yours, and if you look carefully, I didn't put that much effort into the other frames comparatively - after I had the eyes open page I literally only spent ten minutes nailing out the other frames and the animation in a timing I liked. I tried to keep the double-blink from yours though, I like that! Major: The palette overhaul. It has a lot more contrast, it uses its colors in a more spread-out way, and it more clearly communicates as white hair. One little thing that adds a nice touch is that if you have a light enough top skin color, you can use white as a shine on top of that - this often doesn't cost you an extra color, because having a white or near-white is very common, often in the eyes if not as another highlight somewhere, and if it IS used elsewhere it better integrates it into the piece and makes everything seem a little more unified. And the palette doesn't just look bolder and crisper, but it's also much smaller! A bit more than half of the original 23 colors. Major: The hair. One thing you can pretty obviously tell is that the back part and the front part weren't done at the same time. If I had my way entirely, I probably would have done the entire thing like Idid the front, but with the way you did the darkness of the hair in the original I wanted to keep some semblance of that. I kinda overdid the dithering, and the stylistic dissonance is iffy, but independently they're both pretty solid examples of how to do hair. If I went back, I'd probably try to style the dithering in the back more into streaks than in circular focus. Major: The "skirt" or whatever. I completely scrapped your lines from the side on our left and redid it from the ground up, following how I imagined the cloth would move. I wouldn't say yours was wrong - I didn't call it out up there, after all - but the way it tapered to a point is an effect that really bothers me, I don't think it looks very realistic. Important: If you check out the chest area, I actually messed with very little other than the outline (and the colors of course). What you had for that looked great pixel-wise!
Now, I've been ranting and raving and stuff for long enough. Seriously, I've literally spent more time writing this post than I did editing the damn piece. I really hope this helps in some way! I like a lot of what you do, and you have a lot of people who enjoy what you do (enough for them to pay you, which is certainly better than I'm doing). You've got great artistic ideas, just some of the pixel technique could use a bit of refinement and you could get some really incredible stuff out. And I'm super sorry about this enormous fucking wall of text.
(oh, and I mentioned I'd be putting this up on my blog as a lesson/tutorial, with credit of course, but if you'd rather me not do it just let me know)
Oh wow I just woke up and found a huge comment in my inbox lol
Thanks for taking the time with the critique - the points you've pointed out, especially about the anti-aliasing (or binding, whatever you call them in other countries) are things i'm already in process of learning them myself But it was helpful having people pointing them out.
Anyways, I'd rather have you not post them on your blog tho because this is a commissioned work that belongs to someone else (not to mention I have a policy of not allowing edits of my work). Hope you could understand. Have a nice day!
Absolutely, no problem! I'm glad they can be of help! (and I actually overlooked the possibility of you not being natively English, your posts are very fluent! If something doesn't translate well let me know and I'll
That is absolutely a fair reason (and the main reason I checked first, I guessed it was the commision stuff). And since you don't allow edits, if you'd like me to delete and repost without my own edit (though it was mostly for teaching purposes), I totally can. Whatever you need! Just glad the info can help some.