I recently found out about Heartbeast’s youtube channel and watched him play through a few of the Ludum Dare games that he has built. I saw that he had some courses up on udemy, and I realized that I already owned his pixel art course, which I purchased during one of my udemy $10-$15 sale buying sprees a while back. I definitely learned a few new things after watching and following along with Benjamin Anderson (HeartBeast).
Whenever I drew something previously, I would always attempt to create the final product on the first go. Sometimes it would work, but most of the time it didn’t. The most valuable techniques, or steps, that I learned from Benjamin are:
- Start off with basic shapes: squares, triangles, circles, etc. and connect them together to form more complex shapes
- Create a dark silhouette of the character or object from those connected shapes
- Clean up the edges and lines so that the silhouette is shaped into what you want.
- Designate a position for the light source.
- Color in the object with desired colors, using warmer colors from the color wheel for areas with light.
- Continue cleaning up lines and tweaking colors until you are satisfied.
It’s a bit of a high level description of what to do, and Benjamin definitely goes into much more detail. I would recommend taking the course to understand a bit more about it. However, if paying for it is not an option, there are a bunch of free resources on the web that have a much more robust description of the techniques. For example: https://www.gamedev.net/resources/_/creative/visual-arts/the-total-beginner%E2%80%99s-guide-to-better-2d-game-art-r2959
I occasionally draw stuff and had some familiarity with other miscellaneous drawing techniques before watching Benjamin’s course, but the one thing that I had completely no experience with was pixel animation. When I edited the sprites for Sparty in Sparty Fantasy XXVI-III, I had trouble figuring out how to give Sparty that little extra “hmph” to make the animations feel more alive.
Benjamin went through a series of techniques for understanding how to make the animations feel a bit better:
- create the big movement frames first before adding the smaller more discrete ones. If the character is swiping a sword, work on the “pre-strike” and “ending slash” frames first, and then work on the smaller and more discrete animation frames.
- You can create tension in animation by extending the duration of the frame right before a big movement (like a character slashing their sword). In other words, create a pause before the craziness happens.
- You can use brighter colors for motion blurs to make animations more impactful.
At the end of the course, we made a couple of animations. My favorites are these:
The bird creature was definitely the most fun to work on. Benjamin showed a series of techniques dealing with scaling, rotating, layering, and sprite flipping to make the process of animating the wings easier. Once again, I’m still new to the process, so I would recommend either getting his course or searching on google for other experienced artists.
Overall, learning about techniques is helpful, but getting better is really just about matter of practicing constantly. I noticed that Benjamin often made sudden drastic changes in his decisions at various points in the video. In other words, he understood something about what he was working on and was able to make quick fixes that I don’t understand yet. That type of decision-making process only comes from experience, repetition, and practice.