Today’s Art (31st May 2017)

Well, I was fairly tired when I made this painting – which required both more and less digital editing than usual.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Palms" By C. A. Brown

“Palms” By C. A. Brown

Top Ten Articles – May 2017

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Well, it’s the end of the month and, as usual, I thought that I’d post a list of links to my ten favourite articles about art, webcomics and/or writing that I’ve posted here this month. I’ll also include a couple of honourable mentions too.

Although there were more reviews and rambling articles than usual near the end of the month (and I almost missed including articles on two occasions due to scheduling errors when I prepared this month’s articles quite a while ago), I really like how at least a third of this month’s articles turned out 🙂

Anyway, here are the lists 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

Top Ten Articles – May 2017:

– “Three Ways To Find Your Own Aesthetic
– “Three Ways To Blend Different Genres Of Art
– “Three Things You Can Learn From Failed Comic Plans
– “Four Basic Ways To Give Your Webcomic A Visual Upgrade
– “Four Reasons Why Artists Don’t Always List Their Inspirations
– “Four Reasons Why Shorter And/Or Segmented Webcomics Are Awesome To Make
– “Three Sneaky Ways To Cram More Stuff Into A Webcomic Update
– “Four Basic Tips For Making Detective Comedy Comics
– “Three Ways To Make Better “Uninspired” Art
– “Three Basic Ways To Get More Out Of Your Image Editing Program

Honourable Mentions:

– “Five Free Sources Of Inspiration For Cyberpunk Artists, Writers etc..
– “Why “Detailed” Art Is Often Less Detailed Than You Might Think

Today’s Art (30th May 2017)

Well, although today’s digitally-edited painting was originally supposed to have more of a roaring twenties/ art deco kind of look to it (than a “film noir” kind of look), it’s probably the most inspired painting I’ve made in a while.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Concourse" By C. A. Brown

“Concourse” By C. A. Brown

Three Basic Ways To Get More Out Of Your Image Editing Program

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If you’re new to digital image editing, it can be easy to think that whatever editing program you’re using can only do a limited number of things. However, most image editing programs can actually do a lot more than you might initially think.

Since there are many different image editing programs out there, I’ll try to write the “advice” parts of this article in a fairly non-specific way that will apply to most programs.

However, I’ll be using examples from the 2-3 image editing programs that I actually use on a regular or semi-regular basis (eg: MS Paint 5.1, Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6 [it’s old, but still very functional!] and, very occasionally, a free open-source program called “GIMP).

1) Combine several effects and/or tools: Although the menus of your image editing program may only contain, say, fifty different effects and/or tools – there’s no rule against using many of these tools/ effects in combination with each other in order to create a huge number of effects that you can’t create with just a single option. In fact, you can use different tools/effects from multiple programs in conjunction with each other if you really want to.

The trick, of course, is working out which effects, tools etc… go well together. But, with a bit of thought and/or random experimentation (be sure to either keep unaltered backups of your images if you’re experimenting), you should be able to create quite a few effects that you wouldn’t be able to do with any one option available to you in your editing program.

For example, by combining the “noise” and “colourise”/”RGB” options that can be found in many image editing programs – you can create a corkboard-like texture fairly easily.

Likewise, you can also use several basic features found in many programs to convert photos into something that resembles videogame-style pixel art (although the tutorial is MS Paint 5.1 -specific, most editing programs allow you to do things like altering the colour depth of an image).

Or, to use a recent example, I’d just finished my usual MS Paint 5.1/ Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6 editing on a scanned painting that I plan to post here in July. However, it still didn’t quite look right.

Suddenly, I thought “What if I use the ‘dilate’ effect in Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6 and then lower the highlight/midtone/shadow levels“. Although the picture also required some extra adjustments to the hue/saturation/lightness levels after I’d done this, I ended up creating a really distinctive effect:

Here's a close-up detail from the painting to show you what the effect looks like. It made the painting look like a combination between an impressionist painting and a pixel art picture.

Here’s a close-up detail from the painting to show you what the effect looks like. It made the painting look like a combination between an impressionist painting and a pixel art picture.

2) Look online for undocumented features: Whilst this isn’t true for all image editing programs, some image editing programs contain extra features that aren’t listed in the program’s documentation. The easiest way to find out about these is, obviously, to do an online search for “hidden features in [Your editing program]“. You might be surprised by what you find.

For example, a couple of weeks before I originally wrote this article, I ended up looking up something to do with MS Paint. To my surprise, I also found several articles that list undocumented features in many versions of MS Paint.

To give you one example, you can freely alter the brush/pencil/airbrush size to literally any size by just holding down the left “ctrl” key and pressing the “+” or ” -” keys.

Likewise, if you select an area and then hold down left “crtl” – you can drag the mouse away from that area to create a quick copy of the selected area. If you hold down “shift” instead after selecting an area, then it will leave a trail when you move it. This can be used for creating bizarre abstract art, like this:

This was an abstract picture that I mostly created using the undocumented "trail" feature in MS Paint 5.1

This was an abstract picture that I mostly created using the undocumented “trail” feature in MS Paint 5.1

Of course, MS Paint is just one program. But, it might be worth looking online to see if there are any hidden undocumented features in the program that you use.

3) Shortcuts are your friend: Many image editing programs will contain keyboard shortcuts for their most essential features.

Although this may just seem like a boring, and easily ignored, feature – learning the keyboard shortcuts for features that you use often can save you a lot of time. Likewise, you can also use them in all sorts of clever ways too.

For example, in Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6, I leave the “RGB” settings at + 11% red, -4% green and -18% blue. This means that if I want to add a light skin tone to a selected area of a drawing/painting that I’m editing, I can just quickly hit the “Ctrl + U” shortcut for this feature and then hit “Enter”. If I want to add a slightly darker skin tone to a selected area, I can just repeat the process 1-2 times.

Or, to give you another example, I keep the “highlight/ midtone/shadow” levels at -31% highlight, -31% midtone and -36% shadow. By using the “Ctrl + M” shortcut, I can quickly make an image (or part of an image) look slightly more shadowy.

If you learn the keyboard shortcuts for the more well-used parts of your editing program, then you’ll be able to do things like this and much more.

——–
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (29th May 2017)

Well, I wasn’t feeling as inspired as I hoped when I made this digitally-edited sci-fi painting, but I was probably more inspired than I was a couple of days ago.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"9:34 PM" By C. A. Brown

“9:34 PM” By C. A. Brown

Why “Detailed” Art Is Often Less Detailed Than You Might Think

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Although I’ve talked about how to make art look more detailed than it actually is before, I thought that I’d look at this subject from a slightly different perspective today. This is mainly because of the artwork in a really interesting free computer game called “The Last Night” that I reviewed yesterday.

If you haven’t played this game, then it uses 1980s-style “pixel art” graphics. What this means is that the individual pixels are large enough to be clearly visible. Given that the game itself is played within a small browser window – there are probably no more than 1000- 2000 pixels on screen at any one time. For comparison, the little sketch at the beginning of this article contains 145,800 pixels (albeit much smaller ones).

So, with a game like that, you would expect it to look fairly primitive and undetailed and, yet, it actually looks more detailed than you might expect. It certainly looks more detailed than the little sketch at the beginning of this article. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at this screenshot from the game:

This is a screenshot from "The Last Night" By Tim & Adrien Soret.

This is a screenshot from “The Last Night” By Tim & Adrien Soret.

So, how did they do this and – more importantly – what can this teach us about art in general ?

Even if you are creating photo-realistic art, then your art is going to be less detailed than real life. Even highly realistic paintings from the 16th-18th centuries are less detailed than real life. In fact, the true test of an artist is how they are able to visually represent things using less detail than can be found in real life. No piece of art (and not even an “ordinary” photograph) can be as detailed as real life.

But, although art is less detailed than real life, we still instinctively separate artwork into “detailed art” and “undetailed art”. Why do we do this?

Well, it all comes down to how much an artist tricks us into using our imaginations – regardless of whether we notice that we’re doing it or not. Although I haven’t studied the neuroscience of this in any huge level of detail, the human brain is the best image recognition system available to us. As soon as we know what something looks like, we can usually recognise it very quickly.

For example, here’s a blurry, slightly badly-drawn and very undetailed image that I made in MS Paint. Which famous landmark/capital city is it supposed to be?

You can probably guess what it's supposed to be.

You can probably guess what it’s supposed to be.

Even though it isn’t a very realistic image of the Eiffel Tower in Paris – you were probably be able to work out what it was fairly quickly. After all, even though the picture might not be a “perfect” image of the Eiffel Tower, it still looks similar enough for our brains to recognise it and “fill in the gaps” for us. Once we know what something looks like, then images of it – however realistic or unrealistic – are more like symbols than anything else.

Of course, whilst a truly lifelike image of the Eiffel Tower would be nearly impossible to replicate (unless you had an extremely high-resolution camera or made a very large painting) – an artist can make a slightly less detailed version of it that is still instantly recognisable as the Eiffel Tower.

If an “undetailed” image includes even a few extra “undetailed/unrealistic” details (eg: the trees surrounding the tower in the example are just green blobs etc..), then this gives the audience’s imaginations even more things to work with. So, the picture will appear to be more detailed – even though it isn’t.

So, by adding lots of these fairly “undetailed” details to a picture, it can quickly appear to be more detailed than it actually is. Going back to the game screenshot earlier in this article, the buildings in the background are just a collection of angular shapes and differently-coloured squares. Yet, because we all know what a building looks like – our brains automatically take those basic details and mentally add a lot of extra details that aren’t actually in the picture.

So, yes, this is why “detailed” art is often actually less detailed than you might think it is.

———-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Review: “The Last Night” (Free Cyberpunk Computer Game)

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As regular readers of this site probably know, I’m a massive fan of the cyberpunk genre. To be more specific, I’m a massive fan of gloomy, rainy, neon-lit, film noir-inspired “Blade Runner“-style cyberpunk. This is, perhaps, the coolest genre ever invented and, yet, things in it can often be surprisingly difficult to find. Then again, we live in a strange world where radio stations play pop music instead of heavy metal music, so this probably shouldn’t surprise me.

So, whilst waiting for an interesting-looking indie cyberpunk game called “Technobabylon” to go on special offer, I decided to do yet another Google search for games in this genre. And, to my absolute delight, I stumbled across a free flash game called “The Last Night(note: the site will start playing music automatically once it’s loaded).

So, let’s take a look at “The Last Night”:

the-last-night-titlescreen

“The Last Night” is a game created by Tim & Adrien Soret for an event called “Cyberpunkjam” in 2014. This was one of those “game jam” events where people make games in a ridiculously short amount of time. In fact, this entire game was created in just six days! And, wow, it looks amazing!

Yes! This is the very beginning of the game and it looks AMAZING!!

Yes! This is the beginning of the game and it looks AMAZING!!

Seriously, why don't MORE games look like THIS?

Seriously, why don’t MORE games look like THIS?

Even though the pixel art graphics look fairly minimalist, they still seem impressively detailed and atmospheric (seriously, if you’ve ever even done research into how to make pixel art, you’ll understand how challenging making all of this detailed art must have been).

But, whilst I could probably spend several paragraphs talking about how astonishingly good this game looks and how it’s graphics put most large-budget games to shame, I should probably actually – you know – review the game.

Since it was only made in six days, this game is very short. It can be finished in three minutes or less. As befitting a game of this length, the story is fairly simple- you play as a nameless assassin who has been tasked with shooting someone.

Although this might sound like a ludicrously simplistic plot, it actually works really well since it sums up a lot of the gritty moral ambiguity that makes the cyberpunk genre so interesting. After all, one of the things that makes “Blade Runner” such a compelling film is the fact that Deckard probably isn’t the “hero” of the film. Likewise, the fact that we are told very little about both the assassin and his victim leave a lot of room for us to “fill in the gaps” with our imaginations.

Yes, in just a few seconds, this game manages to create a mysteriously compelling story. Now, THIS is good storytelling!

Yes, in just a few seconds, this game manages to create a mysteriously compelling story. Now, THIS is good storytelling!

In terms of the actual gameplay, it’s nothing spectacular. You walk around slightly slowly, you have to shoot flying robots before their searchlights touch you, you have to scare or kill (the graphics leave this fairly ambiguous) some guards by firing your gun near them and you have to carry out an assassination.

But, given the game’s tiny length, it doesn’t really have time for complex, detailed gameplay mechanics. So, the simple “walk around and shoot” gameplay actually works really well. In fact, it’s far more well-implemented than the clunky combat system in another cyberpunk game called “Gemini Rue” which is an actual commercial game!

 The gun fires surprisingly quickly and has suitably dramatic sound effects too.

The gun fires surprisingly quickly and has suitably dramatic sound effects too.

However, one interesting (albeit chilling) thing about the gameplay is probably the final scene of the game. Once you’ve shot the character that you’re supposed to shoot, he staggers off to a nearby balcony, where you have to shoot him again. This is in stark contrast to the “clean” violence found in most action games and – in this one little scene – the game is almost more “Blade Runner” than “Blade Runner”.

After all, one of the things that makes “Blade Runner” such a unique film is the fact that it isn’t an action movie. Whenever violence is shown, it is subtly shown to be an ugly, horrific, immoral thing rather than the kind of “heroic” violence that is common in Hollywood movies. This game is able to re-create this complex portrayal of violence in less than thirty seconds, using 1980s-style graphics. Now THAT is an achievement!

 Yes, I cannot praise the storytelling in this game highly enough!

Yes, I cannot praise the storytelling in this game highly enough!

As for the music and sound design, most of it is really good. All of the sound effects (eg: rain, gunfire etc..) are all suitably thunderous and dramatic.

Likewise, the game’s background music is the kind of ominously relaxing 1980s-style synth music that is pretty much synonymous with the cyberpunk genre. The only criticism I have of the music is the fact that the song that plays in the nightclub sounds a little bit too much like 1970s disco music.

Disco? In the cyberpunk genre?!?! Still, for something made in six days, the fact that they actually managed to get an actual song - with vocals - into the game is really cool.

Disco? In the cyberpunk genre?!?! Still, for something made in six days, the fact that they actually managed to get an actual song – with vocals – into the game is really cool.

All in all, despite a couple of really tiny flaws, this game is AMAZING! Seriously, in just three minutes of gameplay, it contains better graphics, more atmosphere and a more compelling storyline than many large-budget games probably have. It’s like “Blade Runner”, “Cowboy Bebop” and the Hong Kong level of “Deus Ex” all rolled into one game. And it was made in just six days! Seriously, play it! Right now!

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get six!

Review: “Doctor Who – The Pyramid At The End Of The World” (TV Show Episode)

Well, it’s time to review the seventh episode in the new series of “Doctor Who”. Again, although I’m not sure how many of the new episodes I’ll end up reviewing or how long it will take me to review them. But, I’ll try to review as many as I can.

So, that said, let’s take a look at “The Pyramid At The End Of The World”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

The episode begins with a recap of the previous episode, intercut with new scenes of Bill and Penny spending the evening together and talking about The Doctor.

Plus, these new scenes help to keep the recap interesting if you’ve already seen the previous episode.

However, after Bill tells Penny about the Pope interrupting them during the simulation, there is a sudden noise and the room is swiftly filled with soldiers!

It seems like disappointing dates are some kind of universal constant for Bill.

The soldiers are guarding the Secretary General of the UN, who wants to talk to Bill because she knows how to find The Doctor. As is standard in all world-threatening emergencies, the Doctor has been appointed temporary president of Earth and the UN need to find him.

When Bill asks why, the Secretary General shows her a map of a disputed area, with the US, Russian and Chinese armies nearby. There is a pyramid in the middle. A 5000 year old pyramid. A 5000 year old pyramid that wasn’t there yesterday…..

Either that, or Google Earth really hasn’t been updated for this part of the world for quite a while…

One of the first things that I will say about this episode is that it seems to be another two-part episode. However, unlike the previous episode, this episode is much more of a thriller-style episode.

In the classic sci-fi thriller sense of the term. Seriously, don’t expect this episode to be an action movie or anything like that.

The zombie-like aliens inside the pyramid want to force humanity to ask for their leadership (with the rationale that love is a better form of control than fear, despite using all sorts of scare tactics to obtain said love) and The Doctor has to come up with some stratagem to stop them manipulating humanity into agreeing to their proposals.

There is some interesting political stuff here, such as the UN and military characters eventually deciding to informally take back political control of Earth, despite appointing The Doctor president a while earlier. In some ways, the entire episode is possibly a musing on the nature of democracy – especially since the antagonists in the episode constantly ask for the “consent” of humanity (I’m guessing that this could possibly be a reference to Herman & Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent“, but I haven’t actually read this book)

Another interesting thing about this episode is the sub-plot, which takes place inside a GM food laboratory in Yorkshire that handles dangerous chemicals. In many ways, this part of the episode reminded me a bit of something from a brilliantly cheesy old TV show called “Bugs“, which was kind of cool.

Yay! Boring, but vaguely futuristic, laboratories! I’ve missed you!

However, the events of these segments of the episode are somewhat predictable (eg: a hungover scientist working with dangerous chemicals etc..) and they undercut the mystery of some earlier parts of the episode.

Yes, the makers of the show need to get the audience up to speed with what is happening. But, given that a central part of the episode is The Doctor trying to work out how the aliens are going to force humanity to ask for their help, actually showing this to the audience before The Doctor knows about it robs the episode of some of it’s suspense. Even so, it is still a good set up for the episode’s shocking cliffhanger ending.

Although this episode is a thriller episode, it is an old-school thriller with the focus placed firmly on strategy, thought and experimentation rather than on mindless action. This is all backed up with lots of really well-written dialogue that is filled with the kind of witty lines and pithy observations that define the show. The relative lack of action in the episode also helps to give the episode’s fantastical events a slightly more “realistic” tone.

Yes, a fair amount of the episode consists of discussions in this briefing room

Plus, the suspense is also increased by the enormity of the threat that the Earth faces. At one point the Doctor actually orders the three armies to launch a strike on the pyramid as a show of strength. Yet, even this uncharacteristic moment of belligerence doesn’t exactly end as planned:

Hey! Teleportation is cheating!

And they can also do THIS too. Earth is doomed!

The set design and special effects in this episode are also fairly good and are on par with a mid-budget movie of some kind or another. The coolest location in the episode is probably the centre of the pyramid, where the aliens view various possible timelines via a cool-looking glowing thing.

Because a computer or a machine of some kind would just look boring. Seriously though, I love the mood lighting here 🙂

All in all, this episode is a surprisingly compelling thriller episode. Yes, it seems to be the set up for the much cooler next episode (which, from the preview, seems to be proper old-school dystopian sci-fi 🙂 ), but it does this really well. Yes, the cliffhanger ending is a little annoying and the scenes set in the lab should have been saved until later in the episode, but even so it’s a proper old-school sci-fi thriller episode.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a four.

Today’s Art (27th May 2017)

Well, I was feeling at least slightly more inspired when I made today’s digitally-edited painting than I was when I made the one that was posted yesterday. Even so, this 1990s-style painting ended up being kind of random. And, yes, you know you grew up in the 1990s if you actually remember using DOS (the real one, not the simulated versions that have appeared since the end of the 90s).

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Absinthe And DOS" By C. A. Brown

“Absinthe And DOS” By C. A. Brown