Marina Navarro Travesset (a.k.a MarinaNT) is a pixel artist from Spain with over 9 years of experience. She is currently working on Octopus City Blues, a really good looking game funded via Kickstarter. And now she answers our questions!
1. How long have you been a game artist? Why did you choose this industry?
I've been doing this professionally for almost a decade, since 2005. I started pixeling back in 2002, but I didn't take it too seriously at first. In 2004, I focused exclusively on pixel art, but it took me a couple of years to fully (or almost fully) understand it, and some years more to learn how to apply it somehow good. I am really grateful for all the help I received from experienced artists, especially that of my "mentor", an Argentinean named Julio, who I owe a great deal to.
I chose this industry because I've always done traditional art (comic and illustration) but as a hobby. When I had to think about what I really wanted to do for a living, it was kind of difficult for me until I started studying at Joso's School in Barcelona (I studied there for a year an a half), and got a better idea of what it would be like to work as an illustrator or a comic artist.
There I realized that, for me, being a professional illustrator was not going to work unless I did it independently, in a way that were totally personal and with no strings attached; otherwise I got discouraged and stop drawing altogether for months. The first time that happened to me I got a little scared, especially considering that I used to draw every day for many hours. I even talked to my teachers, professional illustrators who worked for such companies as Disney, El Jueves and Marvel, among others. The same thing had happened to them, so talking to them was very helpful.
When I first started working with digital art, I didn't enjoy so much drawing or the result of my drawings until I begun experimenting with pixel art by myself. I guess, as I see it, pixel art is more "crafty" as a digital art, and I enjoyed myself a lot because I was designing a game with a pretty well-known program called RPG Maker. Pixel art and this program are partly responsible for the fact that, today, I'm in this industry. I must admit that I didn't enjoy at all working for companies. However, the experience I gained made the job at least bearable.
Today, I'm very happy and motivated because I'm working for myself and my pairs, with creative freedom for all I do. But it's still hard.
2. Where do you find ideas for your characters, settings, stories and animations? Tell us something about your creative process.
I think everything started when I was a little girl, because I've been wanting to make a 2D video game since I was 11 or 12. I've always taken as reference everything I like: music, movies, comics/books, archaeology, documentaries, video games. I also get ideas from my own dreams (the ones that I remember.) I have some drawings in a notebook to remember them and use them to create stories.
I was also influenced by lots of the Nintendo RPGs, and graphic adventures such as Simon the Sorcerer, where the settings are brought to awesome life by the aesthetics and precision of pixel art. This game has definitively been an inspiration to me.
As an aside, the style of Octopus City Blues is often compared to Tim Burton and Chrono Trigger. But that's not true at all. My inspiration for this project is mostly what I get from metal and gothic music, and the underground aesthetics from the 80's on. When I recreated the setting of Octopus City, my inspiration came from many cyberpunk movies/games (especially Shadowrun). I also draw a lot from my city's architecture (Barcelona). At first I didn't even realize it, but I was basing some of my designs in the style of Antoni Gaudí. I admire him a great deal, so when I became aware of this influence, I designed some stuff deliberately thinking of his work.
Sometimes I get pretty fucking blocked, and I may need days until I find a concept in my head. It often happens that I have to do things that I've never done before and, in those cases, I try to get as much data as I can from photos or videos. I use the same notebook where I take notes about my dreams to draw concepts for some scenes and write down ideas in general.
Going out for a walk and getting some fresh air is also usually good to clear your head, have ideas, and round off things. Sometimes I feel stressed and overwhelmed pixeling within four walls, so it's nice to go out for a stroll in a quiet place.
3. You have some timelapse videos about you pixel art work in your YouTube channel. Do you receive comments or questions from people who want to work with this form of art? What advice would you give to those who are starting or want to do so?
I don't receive so many comments, but I do get asked about the programs I use. I also receive emails asking for advice, and the first thing I do in those cases is share the link of some very useful PixelJoint tutorials, and then give my opinion. Right now, I'm trying to lighten the work load to start a video tutorial that explains what pixel art is and how to apply it. My first idea was to do it very simple, but now I think I'm gonna have to do it a little bit more complex so as not to leave any loose ends.
Pixel art is a form of digital art that requires both precision and control not only to apply each pixel, but also to choose the colors you are gonna use each time. The technique was born out of the limitations of the old video games. Some computers had a default limited palette, as well as a very limited resolution and memory. Today, things have evolved a lot and, since the size is no longer that much of an issue, we can see drawings which apply more colors, more resolution and even mix different techniques of digital art with pixel art. However, as I said, pixel art is all about precision and control both in the location of each pixel and the use of color. What is not pixel art? Anything that implies mechanical results (such as blurring brushes, automatic filter effects, etc).
What advice would I give? Be aware that you have to be very patient and that this craft is not one that you learn in a month. It is vital to understand it first, only then you'll start using it right. Also know that you won't see immediate results —pixel artists improve slowly, you may see results like once a year unless you choose a very simple pixel art style which doesn't use the more complex techniques (such as anti-aliasing). That's one of the advantages of pixel art, it is very versatile and lets you do both simple and complex things. It is very hard getting a full grasp of the pixel art technique, since people usually mistakes it for anything with a pixely look. But if you like pixel art, you practice a lot, and you talk to experimented people, you'll end up learning for sure. That being said, I encourage you to take a look at Pixel Joint. It is a website completely focused on pixel art where you'll find lots of veterans and artists willing to give advice on the web forums. They also have a weekly challenge with conditions set by the last challenge winner. These kinds of activities are great because you get free of your own limitations and fixations. If you don't learn is because you don't want to.
4. We've seen you use GraphicsGale for pixel art. Why that program in particular? What advantages does it offer?
I use GraphicsGale and Character Raiser 1999, a free software created by Yoji Ojima.
The best thing about GraphicsGale is that it has a very intuitive interface and tools that makes things easier for you. It's a dedicated software. It has onion skin, which facilitates the animation by letting you see the previous frame. It allows you to rotate the selections to animate faster (even though then you have to manually fix the ugly 'jagged' pixels anyway). You can use multiple layers to animate and create scenes, etc. It is a very comprehensive program. The same thing goes for Pro Motion, the only difference being the price of the licence, which is much more pricy. GraphicsGale costs only 20 dollars.
Character Raiser 1999, aka Character Maker Pro, also has many advantages. I use it when I have to make a sprite or tile sheet with no animation or when I have to mount maps with said sheets. The main advantage of this software is that it's free, but then it has one major disadvantage —there hasn't been support for it for many years. However, that's not a big deal because it works perfectly. I believe one of its best features is the function of separating the tiles or animations into cells. This method is really practical and it saves time compared to other programs. At least the ones that I know.
Anyway, I'd like to say this is the software I use because it agrees with the way that I work. I always encourage people to try as many programs as they can to figure out which are the best for them.
5. We love your classic games remakes. How did you come up with the idea and why did you decide to do it?
I just wanted to practice to be a better pixel artist, and I chose to do remakes because I thought it would be one of the few things I'd enjoy without loosing interest.
I also did a couple of remakes to encourage the creation of music in an RPG Maker forum. The premise was I'd remake the image of a classic game and, in turn, the musicians would remake the music of the game stage I had drawn.
6. Octopus City Blues is looking good. How was your month on Kickstarter? How did you react when you saw you were overachieving? Which was you greatest challenge with this game?
Our month on Kickstarter was pretty tough since we were not only preparing the material for the crowdfunding campaign itself, but we were also doing all the PR work and trying to get the word out. We also had friends and acquaintances that helped us spread the news, and that's something we'll never forget. We were ignored by almost no webpages, and lots of them picked up our story even before we got the chance to react. We were really surprised because we didn't know for sure how successful our project was gonna be. We were nobodies. It was way better than we believed, even when we had a lot of faith in our project.
I was confident we were gonna raise the money because it wasn't a lot and the game was attractive. In fact, I accepted to be part of the project because of the game's appeal. It's a perfect fit for me and I know that I would have regretted it for ever if I had said no.
The greatest challenge is, of course, finishing the game. But if you wanna know about completed challenges, for me it was the square scene.
We've learnt a lot so far, and I hope we can benefit from this experience for future projects of this size.
7. If you had to choose three and only three pixel artist that work in video games, which ones would you choose and why?
Francis Coulombe (FrankieSmileShow), Paul Robertson, and Sabrina Cámara (Khioora). I could mention many more, there are many great artists hanging around in Pixel Joint, but I will choose the ones that I've known and followed longer, especially because I know they work in the video game industry.
All them three have unique style that I personally like a lot. I have a long list of awesome pixel artists that I would have love to mention as well, and that also have a very unique style. But I've chosen these three because I know more about them.
Francis Coulombe is a pixel artist whose work I can recognize from miles. He's excellent as an artist, and also I can tell from watching his live streamings that he works relatively fast, and with great results. I like that he has an amazing talent to do animations in a seamless and precise way. Currently, he's working on Barkley 2, and honestly he's doing an awesome work together with Toadstone.
Paul Robertson is a real pro. I'm not especially crazy about his work, but I have to admit that everything he's done has a very unique, identifiable style, and an amazing quality. He's uploaded short films to his YouTube channel completely done and animated in pixel art, which I consider a really important work that can only be done by someone extremely passionate and patient. He's work always amazes me, and I've also really enjoyed the games he's done. Especially beat'em up Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game.
Sabrina Cámara is an artist extremely committed to her work. I don't usually include her in the list of my favourite pixel artist, but she is one of my favourite artists in general. She's also done good stuff in pixel art and animation, and has been involved in some video games. However, what I really like about her as a professional is that she gets into many art forms with decent results and never loses her personal style. She writes, animates, colors, pixels. And she's a great professional that always delivers. If I had to hire someone to design 2D graphics for a video game I would hire her in a heartbeat. I even dare say she's more responsible than I am. I like the way she works and I'd like to work more with her. Also, it's kind of annoying seeing that, after all the hard work she's done, she still does not have the recognition she deserves. Her time we'll come. Or at least I hope so.
8. Are you a heavy gamer? What games are you playing now?
I try. The problem is I haven't had much time lately. The last game I've played was Mario Kart DS on a road trip. I've been looking forward to revisit some old games for a time now. I'll find the time to do it sooner or later.
9. One last random question. If you could swap the meaning of two words, which words would it be and why? Can you imagine a dialogue with that new semantic configuration?
That's a good one. I've never thought of that. Perhaps, I would change the meaning of the words "decency" and "perfection." Even though I don't believe in perfection, and do believe in different degrees of decency, it would be funny to see how those words behave with their meanings swapped. But, what's even funnier, is that the word "perfect is already used to actually mean "decent."
*We Ask Indies is an initiative by Beavl, an Argentinian independent game studio putting some teeth into videogames. You can check all the interviews here (caricatures are made by amazing artist Joaquín Aldeguer!).