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TAD: A pixel saw without teeth

A pixel saw without teeth - by TAD/Hugi
Publication: Hugi 19 (2006)

This is my 2nd graphics article which looks at the world of pixels, RGB, filters, scanners and those people who seem to do very little... artists.

Artists are IMO unvalued in respect to their work. Even good artists are given nothing more than a passing 'Yeah, it looks okay..' in return for hours and perhaps days of work for a single picture. This clearly sucks. Perhaps the media itself is to blame for this nano-second of respect. With coders, musicians and writers their work has a longer attention span. You watch the effects, listen to the sound and read an article for minutes, sometimes hours. But for graphics it's usually a case of 5 second flash (if that) before the screen fades or morphs into the next scene. So hours of work is show for a few seconds before being wiped from the viewer's persistence-of-vision. Ask yourself this:

When you judge a demo/intro do you really consider the artist's skill, or simply the coder's visual effects and camera movement?

Back in the days artists had to battle against the insane (and inane) world of CGA, EGA and VGA graphics with such low resolutions as 320 x 200 (Whoa! prehistoric). The talents of a few true pixellers often shone more than coders and musicians. Given a 16 or 256 colour palette they cast magic onto the screen by means of dithering, skillful selection of the palette and exploiting the pixel drift effect of lousy/cheap monitors. Anyone who has created graphics on a TV set will know what I mean. Two neighbouring pixels would often bleed into each other to create the illusion of smooth transition, and brighter colours would make pixels look bigger. Both of these facts are still true due to the tiny displacements of the R,G,B points on the CRT (look very closely at a TV screen and you'll see that a white pixel is surrounding by the overlapping R,G,B beams).

Now artists have very powerful photo/image manipulation tools in which 24-bit images can be quickly edited and created. In the software stakes the power of these tools are truly amazing, reasonably quick and easy to use. A few years ago most of today's standard effects would have only been possible inside a vastly expensive graphics studio. Now every editor has at least a dozen effects. Most fully fledged image editors have between fifty and a hundred different effects and each has a number of parameters which the user can modify, so the choice is great indeed. Adding the possiblities of plug-in software makes this number almost infinite.

The sheer power of hardware and scope of choice for artists is also impressive, but it needs to be. These days 640 x 480 with 16-bit or 24-bit colour is considered a standard in the resolution stakes. But that's 600kb or 900Kb for a single image!! (Now ask a coder how long it takes for them to produce this much code.) Technology has brought us flatbed scanners, digital cameras and video-capture cards. All of these are useful (and probably vital) tools for every artist. I understand that many dislike using scanned or captured images, seeing it as a cheat, something which takes some of the skill away from drawing (the art of pixelling).

My own point of view is that an artist should be free to experiment with EVERY piece of hardware and software, to try new things, to see what happens and to have fun with every new gadget they can. This is NO way meant to mock or degrade the talents of those artists who draw everything themselves (no camera, no scanner, no fancy filters, just a mouse and lots of skill + patience). I've seen the work of true artists both in computer graphics and traditional paper/ink/paint and realise my limited talent is very poor in comparision.

The gulf between computer and traditional art is far bigger than many can see. I have seen great paper artists who have failed to produce good computer graphics and visa-versa. There are different skills involved in each field. The old world of the pixeller was often miles away from traditional art. There were the difficulties of learning how to use a computer, draw with a mouse, operate a keyboard and of course, learn about the graphics package. I can remember trying to explain to an artist how a fixed palette works back in the days of the Amiga. He simply couldn't understand why he couldn't select a different colour and mix it with the on-screen pixels to create a new colour (he was thinking in terms of ink and paint).

I doubt that we will ever see the return of pixellers, simply because users/viewers/players demand photo-like visuals and the easiest way to create them is by using a digital/video-capture camera. The other threat to the poor forgotten pixeller heroes is the advent of powerful modelling tools which provide a painless path into creating 3-d light sourced images with perfect shading and smooth anti-aliased edges. The realms of multi-media animation demands vast amounts of visual images which even a vast army of pixellers could never do. Look at companies like Disney and those incredible Manga cartoons and you'll see that the world of pen and ink has already been invaded by evil computer graphics programs.

I see the future of artists as being more like video-editors than pixellers. Something as 'simple' as a logo or font will demand impossibly high resolutions. Drawing each pixel with a mouse will look like a coder using a Morse-code button to enter instructions as binary-digits! Rather than selecting the colour of a pixel an artist would select a texture and a shaping/shading tool instead. Whereas a traditional artist would use a brush/pen and paint/ink, the new artist would use modelling tools and scanners/capturers to create their own virtual tools, colours and textures. In short, using a number of different sources for their materials. The skill of composition is still a very much needed talent which no computer program is every likely to learn, so a true artist will always be needed somewhere. (Hey, someone has to make the tea/coffee.. heheh.) Of course I am joking ear, oops I mean here.. we all know how tempermental some artists can be.

No doubt some artists will try to resist the technology, but I fear this will like trying to stop an avalanche by building a tower of playing cards in its path. The skill of an artist should be, IMVHO, to experiment with new techniques, new materials and new concepts, to build on the past but look towards the future. (Hmm.. sounds like some lame blurb on a sci-fi video box. So embrace the new shiny hardware, hug the new groovy software and tickle the toes of your imagination... (Whoa! It's 3:16, I need some sleep.)

Happy drawing!

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