In doing the Pixel Plasters project, I learnt about myself how passionate I am about pixel art. I wish to progress with this medium more outside of the project and get better at animating it too. It is also my first time doing anything related to game development and I felt really optimistic and challenged about creating my own little hybrid of illustration and video games. Games are something I care a lot about, so I feel fortunate to have been able to explore this concept freely due to having written our own briefs. I think it was the perfect medium for the project and the audience.
I also learnt about myself that I really struggle working from home. Not seeing anyone for a long period of time and not having my peers around me definitely made my progress slower. I am already a slow person when it comes to working because I get absorbed in making things as perfect as they can be - but this was especially true this time around. If I could have done the same project again but in the studio environment, I am certain it would have turned out better than it has. It completes my vision and matches the brief, but I believe it had more potential than I gave myself time to explore. I should have started on the final page designs earlier than I did, because drawing those, cleaning up those, and colouring those took a really, really long time - and it took away from other things I wanted to experiment with after that. Things such as textures, game features and more animation.
This was also my first time writing a story - and for a project on limited time this probably was not a good decision. While the experience is good for me as I want to proceed into storyboarding as a professional (and this is closely linked to writing), it definitely set me back at the beginning because I was unsure of the process and when I should move on from it. It was hard to tell if my message would reach the audience until I had it in drawings. I think my writing should have been clearer and then starting to produce illustrations wouldn't have felt so daunting. My decision to write was largely due to having something I really wanted to say, and having this topic be so close to my heart - as I have been struggling with mental health in the last two years, and I also have a very young sibling going through it too. I knew we were not alone in this, especially as the pandemic came, so I was determined to communicate a way for people to help their own mental health using a medium that works for a lot of people. This is also why I was so extensive about the research - mental health is a very serious topic, and I didn't want to imply anything that may be untrue or misleading.
Getting a part time job during the project was also very bad for progression because I was so often exhausted, but I was in a tough financial spot and I had to do something about it. I also got rejected from multiple jobs so my confidence and morale was dejected. Hopefully this was too early in the project's development to make itself aware in my work - but even if it did, the protagonist starts out with a similar feeling of being lost and a little sad. But with this said, I learnt that it's worth it to keep trying. This will likely apply itself to future job hunting and I must not let myself become defeated by failure or rejections. I eventually had the confidence to take responsibility and ask for less hours, and feel that my project was more managable - but I definitely did this too late down the line and I should have stood up for what's important much sooner. There was additionally physical illness a total of three times over the course of the project, but these situations can't really be helped. Self care for your body is just as important as for your mind and unfortunately I lost a lot of time to having to recover.
The most important thing I've learnt is that you can't always get everything right. As a perfectionist by nature that always tries to do everything as the best as possible in unrealistic times, this was a hard pill to swallow. Even if you try really hard, sometimes you have to be okay with knowing that you did your best with a project. There will always be a thought of "I could have done this and that" to logically help a situation, but often it's the case that at the time of trouble you're doing your best in that moment, and that it was a struggle that you still managed to get through. I am proud that I have not given up on this project after the hardships that I have been through and I look forward to polishing it even after the deadline so I can show it to young people and fulfil its purpose.
My biggest problem with this project was that while the medium of an interactive comic game was perfect for what I wanted to communicate, it was also something I had never tried before. I didn't know how long things would take, and I failed to pace myself in a way that I had spare time at the end to try to improve the way it went. Despite this, I love the depth of this medium. A game about how games can help your mental health - while it's already innovative on the surface, it's directly supporting the narrative, appealing to the audience, and is what I need for my portfolio.
Due to a game for desktop having to be landscape, this meant that my pages had to be designed in landscape too. Comics are traditionally portrait and I did not find much inspiration for page design in this format. Children's picture books often come in landscape, but comics are slightly more difficult because you have to make sure to arrange panels in a way that the page reads the right way. This combined with making every page different in composition and pushing the narrative was really challenging and I would not recommend doing this over the portrait format. I do think the pages turned out interesting in layout, but I think I could have done more had it not been landscape.
Also, because of the huge size of the pages and using many different types of comic panels, I found it was easier to design digitally. This is very different from my usual process of drawing thumbnails in a sketchbook, and it isn't my ideal way to design. But designing digitally gave me much more freedom for moving panels around and changing sizes rather than drawing so much over and over again until something works. So while I would rather design like I usually do, I didn't find it problematic to experiment digitally. Analogue methods may have produced meaningful and unexpected results but in the same way the digital sketches worked in a similar way for me. I tried to take screenshots to record the process, and going into each page I knew what I needed to say.
I would also liked to have experimented with textures, using pixel art within the colour design, and adding idle animations to the sprites. These things sound very fun to me and it is a shame to not have had a chance to play with these aspects. I will do so, but it will be after the intended deadline. Importantly, the essentials are finished so it is on the most part professionally ready. I also didn't have much time to put in the character switching mechanic that we had developed since the pages were not cleaned up until very late in the project. These processes would have been enjoyable if I had started them earlier and not felt a need to rush them.
I believe overall the project works. I think the colour palette communicates the gentle aesthetic I was going for - although at times I wonder if it was too pale or dull for a chidlren's comic, children are also often into pastel things and I don't think the pages are boring to look at. The design of the characters is something that I know works for this audience, and I tried to keep the comic dialogue clear for this reading age. While I wish I could have added details and experimented with shading, there is a consistency for the most part with the game that makes it feel whole, complete and intentional. And it is intentional that I wished to use flat colour, since I was inspired by how well my last flat colour comic piece came out.
Creating my own font was very good for the process because if I thought about changing dialogue to make it clearer for the audience, this was an easy thing to do since it did not have to be hand-written. It also looked really clean and not too unlike my usual handwriting. I used only 14pt and 16pt sizes so there would be a consistency but I wonder if I could have used text in more experimental ways throughout the comic. Text placement was very considered and I tried to place it not as an afterthought - but having the bubbles be considered as a part of the illustration. This meant that the speech never looked out of place, and was easy to read and follow.
I think the music really adds an atmosphere to the reading experience, and the pixel sprite doesn't distract you from the pages. It adds charm and the sprite art in general came out better than I was expecting. As mentioned before, I would have liked to draw more animations for it - like sitting down when left idle - or changing in some way in accordance to the progress of the story, but with the time restraints of the project it just wasn't possible. Again, I may still do this, it is most important that the fundamental animation was completed. The lines being drawn in a 6B pencil definitely work well in communicating the soft and slight imperfection that I needed - but in using this I couldn't use fill tools on Procreate because this brush has pixels missing. I may make my own brush in the future that has a similar effect but is compatible with the fill tool - this would save a lot of time. It was not the most efficient to paint everything individually as if it was traditional, but the success of the brush made this feel worth it. The message of the story comes across as intended, and as a whole project I believe it does what it set out to achieve.
My illustration development from here on will continue in the form of making more pixel art, comics and animations. I am going to try to teach myself modern animation programs so that I have software experience for jobs - the things like Toon Boom Harmony. This may be expensive and thus take some time to do, but it will be worth it. Alongside this, I must study the principles of animation for that is what I have missed out on by not doing an animation degree. I already know the foundations of how it works - and what you need to do to make a great animation - but I'm very serious about improving my knowledge and then putting that into practise. I could have animated in this project more, but I didn't leave myself enough time due to the drawing process taking longer than I expected. Having illustration skills is arguably the most important thing as you cannot fully reach the potential of dynamic storyboards and interesting compositions without having these skills. I am also interested in games development because of this project. Working as a team to make things functional and come alive was really interesting and fun. Illustrated and animated assests are incredibly important to any game and I'd like to collaborate with some of my programming/coding friends, and creative professionals, to create more things, and communicate more important messages.
I would also like to draw more often for myself. The last year or two have been quite hard on me personally, but I'm going to make a lot of effort this year to reignite the passion I had for drawing every day back in college and first year of university. I think being away from the university's creative environment and the pressure and circumstances of third year really took this away from me, and I'm determined to find it again. I would also like to make myself more present on social media for inactivity is not optimal for growth. I haven't been posting much since I have just been focused on my work and been busy with my job, but now I will have the freedom of time to make the most of social media that I can. My intention is to build a portfolio on my feeds that shows employers that I can consistently create good work. I can start by sharing this project, and for future projects I would like to post while they are in progress rather than waiting until they are finished.
The next step in developing my practise is to do more 2D animation and illustration, continue making connections in the creative industry through social media, and then creating more of my own storyboards and pieces of sequential art. The Pixel Plasters project will be very helpful for my portfolio, but I definitely also need more of it. The interesting thing is that in creating this project, I have also in turn created a template for comic-games that I can re-use in future personal projects should I want to. While this still includes a programmer being needed, if I ever wanted to make another interactive comic for a personal project, I already have a huge part of the process done, and I would also know what to expect.
The plan there-after is to follow the research I conducted in our Professional Practise module and to apply for storyboarding internships. These are hard to come by, so I will also be looking out for general preproduction for animation roles. This project has also sparked a serious interest in game design too, so I will also be looking at opportunities for creating illustration and animation for video games. Often times though, if you work for an animation studio, a brief for a video game may be part of the job anyway. I'm very excited about getting into the industry, helping a studio to tell a story and starting to reach a place where I can make my mark.
Development compilation for Pixel Plasters.