Mixing Volume and Pixels - The World of Voxel Art.
5 min read

Mixing Volume and Pixels - The World of Voxel Art.

In this article, Sophie will explain what it is like to work with Voxels, a slept-on medium that could take your creativity to the next level.
Mixing Volume and Pixels - The World of Voxel Art.

Hi everyone! My name is Sophie, I'm a game artist, and in this article, I'll try my best to give you a small breakdown of my approach to Voxel Art and how I think my projects through.

What is Voxel Art, you might be asking?

Voxel art is basically like pixel art but in 3D. The word voxel is composed of volume and pixel, which is essentially how to think about this type of workflow.

At the beginning of my career, I focused on pixel art but fell in love with the concept of making it 3D, taking me to start working with voxels.

Pixel Art by Sophie Alicia H.

Every Idea starts somewhere.

Usually, when something pops into my mind - let's say a little teashop with a quirky name or a retro game console - the first thing I do is look for visual references. It's one of the most important steps when replicating something on a canvas.

For the GameBoy, I luckily had the physical object right in front of me so I could see and feel its form from every angle. In other cases, I'll just collect pictures from the web and examine them while voxeling.

Another fun part of the pre-production is looking for color palettes. It helps to have a certain amount of hues that work together and/or even specify the idea in your head.

When creating color palettes, my go-to site is the Lospec Palette List. It often saved my butt when picking cool palettes! I also like going crazy and picking a palette from image references.

All the above is cool and all, but how can you start with voxel art?

The most common program for Voxelart is called Magicavoxel. It's free, it's fun, it's wonderful. I found it easy to get into when I first started. I highly recommend this program to any artist interested in starting to create art with voxels, especially if you are into pixel art and want to explore the depths of 3D.

One of the tricky parts of my workflow is finding out the best canvas size that suits the project. Should it be small and limit the level of detail, or should it extend to the max and give you wiggle room for more specifics of the object?

Magica Voxel has a limited canvas size for each object, so I like to experiment around and see what looks the coolest and what fits my concept the best.

Choosing the right camera and lighting is also an important step. I often use the orthogonal lense, but depending on the scene, other perspectives can achieve a more dynamic render.

The lighting situation is a playground in itself. It can be adapted by color, direction, etc., and even add glow to your colors and materials! It helps a lot to switch modes from editing to rendering to check on what the end result would look like.

Needless to say, each style has their charm and can lead to neat results - It's up to you, the artist, to find out which suits you project best!

As an extra, here's a timelapse for the GameBoy.

A few notes on this video:

Because voxel art is pixel art in 3D, it limits the 'smoothness' of the models. Meshes have hard edges, and they can look blocky, so I decided to leave the monitor of the GameBoy straight up instead of tilting it back like you'd normally use it.

These, among others, are the sacrifices you need to make to get the models looking right in voxel art.

When the model was almost finished, I started to think about the screen. It should be on and projecting something.

I thought about games that I liked to play, but none came to my mind for what I wanted to implement here. So I went to my bookshelf, another big source of inspiration and references to my art.

I ended up picking Philip K. Dicks "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" aka "Blade Runner," and gave it a go. The Movie font fit the screen and the mood of the render pretty well, and the project was almost complete.

I added the cartridge as a separate object and put it inside the GameBoy slot. It didn't fit 100%, but I was pretty happy with the overall result, and that's the most important part.

An artwork doesn't have to be perfect to show through your passion for it.

Failure is an option tho. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. You're probably sick of hearing it, but it's true - it's part of the process.

Sometimes it all happens to fit right away. Other times, I struggle and start questioning my existence, but generally, when I notice something isn't working, I'll just go back a few steps and try a different approach.

It also helps to just let it sit for a while and come back to it later or continue with a different part. Many times I go back to my references and adapt the idea in my head.

If nothing seems to help, I just discontinue the project and start something new, as maybe I just have to practice some more to try again in the future!

Often I don't over plan my projects and start with the basics. My chain of thoughts ends up looking like this:

I want to model a retro console. That's established. Great. But what ends up making it more.. me? How can I make it more unique and not just a neutral prop?

In the case of the GameBoy, I had modeled a NES and Amiga Computer beforehand, and the color palette was still in the project. So the idea of using old-school-GameBoy colors came to mind.

Most of my ideas come from input from all over the place. I get a lot of inspiration from what's already out there. I take ideas from other great artists, and my brain mixes them all up.

I don't have much more to say for this one. I started with small blobs of voxels and am still trying out new methods to improve my art.

Some advice I can give is that you keep an open mind and ear. Criticism is an important aspect of your journey as an artist, and I think this journey never ends.

Just keep going, meditate and be kind to yourself and others.

- Written by Sophie, Edited by Javier Benitez.

So what do you think, friends? I personally can't wait to get my hands on something like Voxel Art when my schedule frees up!

Thank you so much, Sophie, for putting this together. It was amazing to get you on board!