Johan Vinet worked in graphic design for ten years before joining indie studio Tribute Games in Montreal as a 2D animator. His current game project is the forthcoming Flinthook, on which he’s also been able to indulge his talents as a musician, officially racking up a sound designer credit. His list of favourite videogames is “countless,” but his desert-island selection includes Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Tetris DS, Day Of The Tentacle and Bomberman.
HISTORY “I’ve been creating pixel art since my dad bought an Atari 1040 STF. Back then, we simply called it computer art. We didn’t have the chance to hide the pixels – they were inevitably part of the result. During my spare time, which I had a lot of when I was a kid, I used our computer to express my creativity – it turns out I had a lot of that, too. I practised by ripping off sprites or title screens I saw in magazines, and using Aegis Animator on our Atari to recreate the amazing Conrad animation from Flashback on my Genesis. I also fell in love with the LucasArts adventures, and I tried to do my own point-and-click games with STOS, which was a kind of precursor to GameMaker. When the mid-’90s came along, I was like everybody else, and amazed by the shiny 3D we started to see. I also got my first PC, along with Photoshop. At that point we were more than happy with new, high-resolution displays, and tried to hide pixels for good. I continued working in 2D as a graphic designer, learning the rigour of typography, logotypes and layouts. Meanwhile, thanks to handhelds like the GBA, along with the first smartphones, pixel art never really died. I came back to it when we tried to create a game for Windows Mobile around 2006. I approached it with the same limitations as the old days, but with more rigour, experience and influences. I never stopped again.”
APPEAL “This is my very personal opinion, and I won’t pretend I’m preaching the ‘truth’ about it, but I create pixel art because I enjoy the limitations. In fact, I need the restrictions in order to deliver the best of myself. At some point, finding a good design in low-res pixel art is very close to solving a very hard puzzle – the satisfaction can be quite similar.”
INSPIRATION “It comes from many things: games, movies, TV shows, other artists – nothing really specific. As with many people, the best ideas pop in my mind when I don’t expect them.”
STYLE “I can’t really say what my style is. I guess it’s like any art form: the more you practise, the more you keep doing things your own way, and it’s somehow visible in the result.”
WORKING WITH PICO-8 “The limitations are heavier than usual: the palette is predefined – 16 unique colours – and the resolution is pretty low – 128×128. I’d say it’s both more simple and more difficult. You don’t have to question your colour choices, for example, but have to be better at optimising your art according to the palette. As I say, the optimisation part is what I enjoy the most.”
THE SCENE “Sometimes I read that pixel art is an economic way of producing game assets, and that’s why independent game companies use it. It may be true for some developers, but for Tribute Games it’s a choice driven more by passion. You shouldn’t choose pixel art because you can’t afford a good artist. Also, you can’t just draw with your stylus and call it pixel art because it’s low-res. It’s an art form like many others. It requires some academic skills and training, and, because of the very low definition, it also demands that you’re comfortable with abstraction and preciseness. Animation-wise, it can be really time consuming. We’re not using motion capture, spines or puppet technology. Call it nostalgia, but the games I liked during my childhood mastered their systems’ limitations. They built up my expectations, and that’s why I only like around 20 per cent of the pixel art production I see nowadays.”
ADVICE “I wouldn’t tell anybody how to create their own work, but in the case of any art form I think it’s worth studying art, practising again and again, and being curious. You could also study the sprite sheets and assets from old games – they’re real goldmines!”