Back in 2009 I conducted an interview with Pixel artist Ilkke. This is a repost for my weblog.
Pixel artist and PixelJoint member iLKke will share his pixel knowledge with you in this fresh interview!
Read on and find out about his demo scene experience, his color conservation tricks. and his beard!
Interviewer Daniel = DAN
Pixel artist iLKke = ILK
DAN: Well, id like to start with thanking you for allowing me to interview you :)
But my first question is:
Who is the man behind the name iLKke?
ILK: Haha, well, you’re welcome.
I thought we were gonna start with the easy questions! :)
My name is Ilija Melentijevic, I am 33 and I live in Belgrade, Serbia with my lovely wife who is a painter, and two kittens named Master and Margarita. I work full-time as a flash game developer (including programming), and I also illustrate books, make vector clip art and sometimes push pixels as a freelancer. I have many hobbies, including making computer, board and card games, composing tracker music, and of course pushing pixels. I have a beard and apparently enjoy typing long sentences in response to people’s questions.
DAN: That makes me lucky! The more you type, the less I have to do ;)
There is no need to ask easy questions to someone who is experienced with hard things so much, such as programming, pixel art and having a wife right?
Now that I know who is behind the name, id also like to know whats behind the name. Where does the handle iLKke come from?
ILK: Actually, I enjoy all of the supposedly hard stuff! To quote the RHCP, “Take a wife ’cause life is beautiful!”
As for the nickname, you asked for it:
iLKke is the pseudonym I took while I was active in the Amiga demoscene. In fact, it is a nickname for Ilija, but I haven’t heard it for the first time until I was about 20, and then I heard it like three times in a single week. That same week a good friend of mine came over and we played some micromachines V3 on PlayStation and we picked the funniest characters we could find and gave them the funniest nicknames we could come up with, ILKE and DEJKO (my friend’s name is Dejan). Since ILKE was new to me I thought it sounded very funny. Now, the trend in the scene was to have really pretentious names like ‘dezecrator’ and after hours of playing the game and laughing every time DEJKO WINS or ILKE WINS popped up on the screen, we decided to change our scene-names to this funny ones cause we were all like avant-garde and stuff. We doubled the K’s to make it sound more exotic which turned out to be a disaster as later I got swarmed with people hitting on me on #pixel ’cause they thought I was a girl from Scandinavia. I’ve been wearing a beard ever since to keep them at bay.
DAN: Haha, I am quite familiar with the ‘oh I thought you were a girl’ thing as well ;)
But 13 years. That’s quite a lot of time for the existence of an Internet pseudonym!
I will promise you to have some easy questions at the end okay? :)
Now, lets go into your PJ history. When you just joined, you were accused of reduces, index paintings and what not. How did you feel about that by than, but more important, how do you feel about it now? When looking back to what they said and why?
ILK: Well of course it was tough for me to get pummeled into a pulp after trying to give something nice to people (that’s how I saw it at the time). Luckily, quickly realized what the misunderstanding was and so I didn’t take it to heart. :)
You have to realize that pixelling on the demoscene years ago was quite a different experience than PixelJoint. For example, once A1200 enabled you to pixel in 256 colors after years of having only 32, of course you were trying to make your pictures as smooth as possible, it was a completely new dimension and you felt you were breaking new ground with it. And it was mainstream, so to speak. Today, most of the people who make pixel art are fetishists of sort, so color conservation and other restrictions are part of the game. Mainstream artists like Kenneth Fejer probably don’t have a clue how many colors they have in a picture, unless they absolutely have to. I really like restrictions of various kinds so I didn’t mind the ‘change in climate’.
The other issue was the change of software. Lots of people here use the (god awful, in my opinion) Paint and they think that anything outside of it’s modus operandi is cheating. This is all a matter of consensus, really. After long discussions with some people on PJ I have come to a conclusion that any tool that gives predictable results that can be achieved by other means is not cheating. For example, using range/shade that changes the pixels color one index to the left or right is not cheating cause you can easily click on the next index then click on the pixel, but using transparency or automatic anti alias IS cheating ’cause you don’t know exactly what color will end up where.
At least that is the PixelJoint (and Pixelation) way. I personally don’t mind the process at all if the result is such that each pixel is perfectly in place, and it has to be put in place manually, one way or another.
However, I am strongly opposed to photo reductions and copying other’s work. I find it uncreative and pointless. Demoscene was full of people with incredible technical skills and a complete lack of creative drive, so I am not impressed with technical skills alone. That’s my opinion at least, and people are entitled to their own.
Deliberately trying to cheat, on the other hand, is without excuse. Recently a member was banned for going out of his way in trying to make fools out of everyone, photoreducing, making false WIPs, even thread hijacking. I happen to know him personally and I can’t imagine why he would resort to such methods, cause he sure as hell can make proper pixels the ‘honorable’ way. I’m far from glad that he got banned, but getting away with cheating just makes others want to do it, too. That’s exactly what happened to the old pixel scene.
All in all, I find PJ a fair and stimulating place. It’s what’s gotten me back into pixels, and I’m having more fun with it than I ever did before.
DAN: I knew that was a hard question, but I did not expect an even harder answer!
Now about those color counts. Your works always have perfect numbers of colors. 8, 16, 32, how do you make sure that at the end you have the exact amount you want? Do you often need to add colors at the end or remove some? Do you start with making your palette?
ILK: That’s an easy one, I was starting to worry that my answers were gonna get exponentially longer :)
I’m fond of round hex numbers from Amiga days. The way I usually end up with such numbers is that I tend to set a limit beforehand and then try to get the most out of that many colors. The other option is that I just add colors while sketching a picture, and then round up or down to the closest number. Like, if I have 28 colors, I’ll add four more as that can break the chromatic monotony or smooth out a really rough value gap. Also I tend to save an index or two for the very end, to give the pic a nice finishing touch with it.
Often I feel like not giving a damn about color count and making it easier, but since I’ve learned a trick or two to help work in very few colors I mostly end up with 8 or 16. It’s also much faster to pixel a picture with fewer colors, so there’s a better chance to keep things fresh. I think that it shows if you had fun while drawing something. :)
DAN: You indeed know how to work with low counts. I can still hardly believe this was 16, this was 8 and that this was even just 4 colors! Often its much easier to see such things!
So, about dithering, you seem to be able to use it perfectly. Not too less, not too much, and you won’t notice its existence without zooming in. How do you do it? Do you have some tips or tricks on how to make the perfect texture, and saving colors?
ILK: Thanks, I’m pretty proud of those pieces, especially that 8 color one.
I’m not so sure that dithering is my forte. The only real advice I have is: don’t dither every surface and material in the same way and amount. Usually it’s best if dithering is not much visible, unless you’re aiming for a grainy material. Also, some styles simply work better without it.
As for color conservation, there are a number of methods. Sometimes you want to lessen the gap between the indexes so you can just lower the contrast of the entire picture, like on that giant mushroom thing. Sometimes you just get lucky, like with that disco dimension pic. I use color intuitively and mainly based off the atmosphere I want to get, so I guess I’m not that advanced in that department.
My favorite color conservation trick is global hue shift, which is really a great practice even when you don’t want to save colors. Just consider that light and darkness have their own color, instead of being black and white. Let’s say that darkness is brownish, and that the light is yellow, for example. Then whatever colors you have in between will darken and brighten towards these two colors, and you’ll be able to reuse several of the darkest and brightest indexes no matter what color ramp they are in. This looks much better than having separate colors for every ramp, and it also uses less colors. On the mushroom pic, for example, there is only one green.
DAN: That is an amazing way of thinking about it! I am surely going to try that myself too some day :)
Does your pixel knowledge help you in your job?
ILK: Actually it does, although not in a direct way.
A couple of years ago, before I discovered PixelJoint and before I rediscovered pixels, I noticed how much my treatment of color had deteriorated, for example in my book illustrations. I used to set the basic underlying colors of things, then just shade them with black and white. Later when I started pixelling again, I got my sense of color back. This is just an example, I’m sure there are more influences.
Also, it always helps to be inspired by a bunch of great artists and great people.
DAN: Yeah, you surely learn how to use colors when making pixel art!
What (or who) inspires you? And what would you do if you had an artist block?
ILK:It’s probably a corny answer, but I’m inspired by a lot of things. Nature (so wonderful and psychedelic), dreams, music, other people’s work… I tend to like the work of people whose minds work either very similar to mine, or very different. I’m really inspired by diversity, and maybe that’s why I often experiment with different styles. I just can’t settle on doing only one thing, or doing things only one way.
‘IF’ I had an artist’s block? I have it all the time! Well, sort of…
Since I’m pretty busy, the moments when I have the time to pixel and the moments when I’m really inspired rarely overlap. It’s the same with music or other things. I usually get ideas flooding in if I’m awake late at night, and then I’m probably out with friends, so it’s kinda antisocial to introvert and start drawing. Instead I write down my ideas for later, either as notes or doodles. Sometimes I get such a rush that I am constantly writing something down or typing it in my mobile phone. Everyone thinks I’m weird and they tease me for that :D
Later I can go through my notes and see if they are indeed worthy, or simply crap.
DAN: Of course you are weird! You prefer to work with 16 colors even though you can use a million! ;)
When you are talking with people, and you suddenly have to write something down. They might ask you things like: ‘What is pixel art?’
How do you reply?
ILK: Well most of my friends have an idea what pixel art is, cause I like to show my work to them, and besides, they can see it on my blog, among other things. They think that anyone doing it is pretty crazy as it seems very hard, time consuming, and overall masochistic.
Not all my ‘notes’ are pixel art related, perhaps only a few.
Sometimes people insist that I show them “what’s so important” and then they stare blankly into weird diagrams and unintelligible scribblings. Serves them right!
But to answer your question directly, I’d reply that pixel art is ‘when every pixel has been used to it’s full potential’ :D
DAN: What a wonderful description! I never really looked at it that way!
According to your blog, you have been exhibited lately. How come so?
ILK: Well I’m not really sure. Apparently, this very nice guy saw my blog and asked me to participate. I am quite glad he did, I consider it a great honor. It was a pretty neat gallery in a subway station in Melbourne, with tiny pixelled pictures on tiny screens. Helm’s work was also featured, by the way. One more reason for me to feel proud :)
Ah, yes… There was another exhibition, a more traditional one, here in Belgrade. It was part of a Sci-Fi festival of sorts, and various stuff from my blog was featured. I took this opportunity to print some of the avatars in 100x100cm format :D
DAN: I did not know about the one in Belgrade! I should have done my homework -_-
You stated that all graphics editors on PCs are missing one or 2 important feature that you do seem to have on your Amiga paint program. What programs do you use, and what features are so important?
ILK: When did I say that? I know I did, but I wasn’t aware the whole world was listening :D
It is true, though, at least for me. Everyone has their own work flow, and when you do things a certain way for years, you get real quick with it, and it sucks when you change the software and have to, say, move your mouse away from the image and click on an icon instead of using a keyboard shortcut, or having to click-move-click the mouse instead of click-move-release. On Amiga we had DPaint as standard, and Brilliance was an even better program. It was really frustrating that certain things that were standard 10 or 15 years ago were still not implemented in contemporary software. I guess this is usually because the programmers are not using the program themselves and they go “who’s gonna ever need this?” even when they make clones of DeluxePaint. This program has layers, that one can do this-and-that, but if I can’t find a comfortable work flow in it, it’s pretty much useless.
I could make a list of features that I regularly use, but I’m not sure anyone is interested in reading it.
But things have changed, in a way. I recently found out about the new open-source version of graFX2 being developed by a duo of very nice people (hi, yrizoud!). They are also open to suggestions, so I finally got my contour fill after years of abstinence! Yay! Some programs boast more professional look or fancy features but for me the most important thing is that there is less ‘distance’ between me and pixels. GraFX2 will probably not please everyone, because it is practically a clone of very old programs (it is halfway between DPaint and Brilliance), but I recommend that every pixel-pusher at least give it a try. Tomic, Jamon, Frost and I really like it :)
DAN: I lied, I did do my homework, and searched the whole Internet for information about you :)
I have tried DPaint a few time. It really is totally different from current standards, but yeah, if you are used to it the same goes for the stuff I use ;)
Your gallery clearly shows you are friended with Jamon. I just figured out you live quite close to each other too. Did you meet each other via the pixel community (PJ or Pixelation) or what?
ILK: We’ve known eachother for years. First we became involved in the scene together, then we worked on a game (together with Pain), and then we were out of touch for years but by a curious stroke of destiny we now work at the same place, in adjacent offices. We go out to lunch together almost every day, so we have an opportunity to discuss pixel art at length. We regularly comment eachother’s pictures while they are still in the making, and we also often analyze other people’s work.
DAN: Combining knowledge! So thats why you both are that good ;)
Any specific artwork(s) in your gallery you like most? If so, why?
ILK: My favorite own work surely has to be the entry for Natalie’s drawing weekly challenge. I think I’ve done a nice job with colors that are not really my standard palette. Also it has a feel to it that I really like, perhaps it sums up my fondest memories of the demoscene spirit.
DAN: I belive that that is one of those pieces that show your style (which you certainly do have) the best :)
I believe we are quite much at the end of all the interesting stuff.
Of course there is way much to ask, but the article has to be readable too. Is there anything you would like to ask to the community?
ILK: Nah, I don’t really have anything to ask or ask for. Perhaps a support for coops on PJ? That would be nice.
DAN: What is your favorite color?
ILK: I generally like and dress in muted or earthy colors, but my single fav color is red.
DAN: Thanks for enabling me to interview you! I found it very enjoyable, and you had some informative stuff to say about color conservation, your thoughts about pixels and your experiences :)
This interview was done by sending PM’s to each other for 3 days long.
I would like to thank iLKke again very much for telling so much about himself and pixel art, and thank you Pixelblink for correcting some spelling errors :)!
Check out iLKkes blog too
In the comments there is room for discussion!
-Daniel & iLKke, 2/12/’09 – 2/19/’09