Chern Fai, also known among art communities on the Internet as cocefi, lives in Malaysia and works as a freelance videogame artist, connecting remotely to studios across the world. His pixel art has featured in the Scribblenauts series and Drawn To Life, while his favourite game is Square Enix PS2 title Radiata Stories (“I really love the art style, and I’m still amazed by the varied amount of characters you get to recruit into your party”).
APPEAL “I think it’s partly nostalgia mixed with the challenges of packing details into a small space. With the isometric pieces I did, it feels like I’m creating my own little worlds, which I find really appealing.”
HISTORY “I started working professionally as a pixel artist in 2003, but my foray into pixel art began years earlier. During the early ’90s, when I was still a kid, we had an IBM PC with a CGA monitor and it came with a rather thick manual. Inside it were several short BASIC code samples and, with initial help from dad, I started typing every one of them into the BASICA program that was included. Some code displayed text onscreen, some played sounds, but what really caught my interest was the one that drew a sprite onscreen using an array of numbers. After some tinkering, I understood enough to modify that particular sprite graphic. With graph paper on hand, I started drawing simple images on it and transferring them over to code. This would be my first step into the world of pixel art. It didn’t last long, though – because of my severely limited knowledge of BASIC programming, I didn’t get very far beyond displaying sprites on the screen. A few years passed before I got reacquainted with pixel art through a bootleg copy of Autodesk Animator and a new 386 PC with a VGA monitor. Finally, a full fledged painting program! I started taking screenshots of other games and put them into Animator, studying, modifying them, and making my own. My pixels weren’t very good then, but it was definitely fun, and that was the beginning of my love for pixels, which has lasted until this very day. In terms of approach, I used to pixel straight-on, without any guides, just fudging the pixels about until things looked right in my eyes. Nowadays, I’ll always draw a rough sketch first before going over it with pixels. It feels much more intuitive because I’m able to experiment and make changes quickly on the sketch before I hunker down to do the pixelling.”
TIMESCALES “Each of the [isometric] scenes took around two to four weeks to create, working on and off during my spare time. I like to keep a slow pace as it allows ideas to grow and ferment. It wouldn’t be the same if I had rushed the pieces out in a week. The process is pretty similar to how I do my other pixel pieces: have an initial idea, gather references, sketch, pixel, refine and, finally, animate. You can get a glimpse of the steps involved from an animated gif I created [bit.ly/chernart].”
STYLE “I don’t think I have any definitive style! But I do have a preference for bright, cutesy things. My job requires me to stay flexible with my art style, so it changes a lot depending on what I have been working on.”
INSPIRATION “I get it from everywhere! Photos, art, music, games, anime, or even life. My brain just sucks everything in and sometimes things just click together!”
THE SCENE “[The pixel art scene is] still pretty lively, especially on the indie games front. It’s also nice to see a younger generation taking up the medium.”
ADVICE “Start out small, and don’t neglect learning traditional art theories, because it really helps.”