I would like to share an interview that took place between Slymantis and the Graphic Artist of Medivia, Saphron
We learn about Saphron's journey through art. Here we get an insight of his design background, inspirations, examples of some projects, the challenges faced and more!.
Hope you enjoy :)
1. How did you initially become interested in video games? Was Tibia one of your first gaming experiences, or did you come across it a fair bit after you got into the hobby?
Around 2000 there was a popular copy of NES in Poland called Pegasus, it was a cheaper alternative which our people could afford at the time. My dad bought me one when I was just a little kid, I remember that the first game I played was Super Mario Bros, then Duck hunt and plenty of other games as time went on. Then me and my older brother got PlayStation 1 on which we spent hours playing Tekken or Final Fantasy 7. I was around 6 years old at the time and we got our first computer, it was in english and thus was almost impossible for me to use it. My brother tried to install games but it was a very old and crappy PC. One day he came from school with a CD and said that a friend gave him a interesting game he should try, it was Tibia along with some photos and music. He installed it and till this day I remember my lack of ability to understand the perspective nor understand anything what was going on the screen, then I kind of got used to what I saw and started understanding it. My brother was playing a lot, and as a kid I remember that I was getting angry that I wasn't allowed to play just a bit, but this quickly faded and was replaced by me just sitting next to him and observing him playing and learning alongside. During next years Tibia became a big part of my life, I started learning how to create servers, maps, and started my isometric sprites inspired by certain "fake" stories forums of Tibia.
2. Tell us a bit about your design background. How long have you been doing design for and which program do you mainly use? Furthermore, what encouraged you to start creating pixel art and what resources did you use to help you?
I was working with all kinds of things which allowed me to artistically express myself. Creating isometric and top-down projects, mapping, writing. There were many areas which I was a part of for a very long time, but they never gave me as much freedom to express myself as creating sprites.
I started creating pixel-art around 2002. My first works were copies or reworks of artworks from Legendary Saiyan Warriors game for GBA. Those were really horrible sprites but that never made me quit and so day after day I was creating from two to three hours daily.
The top-down perspective was my favorite till 2007 when I started creating my first isometric sprites which were way harder to make and pushed me to my artistic limits.
The reason why I was creating art was mostly because I could express myself and share it online with people to see what they think about it. That was pushing me forward always.
Till 2011 I was using Paint, which now seems quite silly considering possibilities which other softwares provide. Then I started learning Photoshop which allowed me to make my workflow faster and quality of sprites better.```
3. What made you start creating art for Medivia? Did they approach you or did you approach them? And moreover what’s been the best thing about working with the team?
In 2015 I was a freelancer working for plenty of different projects. That helped me to make friends. Between us freelancer there is a unwritten rule that when we get a assignment which we don't want to create from whatever reason then we give it to another freelancer. Because of that we could divide amount of work between us all and involve into projects in which we were interested. One of friends from work was Shiva Shadowsong with who I was working for some time on his own project called Necronia. In 2016 there wasn't much work around and I remember that I was quite worried that it will be like this for a long time from now on. That's when Shiva wrote to me and asked if I would like to replace him as artist for Medivia. Without hesitation I said yes and became quickly part of the team.
Whole work with this team is really fun. Our jobs are divided on separate specialization so everyone has freedom to express himself in his area of work which translates to fast and smooth workflow since there are no misunderstandings or argues.
The best thing in this is that each on of us is almost constantly around, if we need to discuss about certain ideas or create content. Everyone is very hardworking and spends a lot of time and effort on doing their job to provide best experience for players.We talk a lot. almost every idea from forums is discussed, I love this communication, everyone is honest and kind to each other, we don't treat each other like another workers but as friends.
4. As a designer it must be difficult to satisfy everyone since opinions vary from person to person. What do you consider before designing a brand new sprite or even remaking one?
Definitely. My expression through pixel-art doesn't always meet expectations of players but still I go on compromises and through cooperation with players which talk about what they think and share ideas I can connect my vision with theirs and create something that will satisfy everyone.
When I receive a new assignment to rework old sprite I always consider firstly vision of players and work as long as I can till I feel it's good enough to add to game. Everything is made through trial and mistake, I don't think much during working, I let myself calm my mind and focus on basic idea which I want to achieve.
During creation of new sprite in the beginning its purely chaotic process which then transforms to something full of balance. I start with collecting reference material which aids me to bring realism to work and have something to work with, then I start with very quick and rough outline, sometimes few. After that I pick the one which looks best, clean it till outline is one pixel wide and fill the inside with one color. Then I think about what kind of materials are there and how should they reflect light coming from top left corner. After that it's just shading and trying to bring as many details as possible. It may sound quite easy but it's a really time consuming process which takes years to master.
5. Let’s talk a bit about the upcoming Mainland revamp. So far we have seen some really great work with Mittenhoff, Lucindel and Thoris. Which City has been your favourite to work on and why?
My favorite city is the Elven Kingdoom Lucindel. It was very problematic to create because each one of us had different vision on how it should look like. I remember that for whole month we haven't managed to do a thing because the idea was not consistent and till the end we were not aware what should we chose to satisfy players and create a distinct area, other than anything people seen in game.
I remember that during that monthly period I told Xuna to start working on the city using sprites we made for other locations and the rest will be added and replaced with time. And that's how we started the work, what he made inspired to create what we see on teaser. I knew one thing, this area cannot be like others, I had to think outside the box and use fresh and brand new ideas. That's when I started working on gigantic trees and decided it would be interesting to make houses out of them, I made basic drawings of how they should look like, what kind of sprites I would need and I started working. The final result was astonishing. We decided to create just few of such houses to not destroy unique feeling of these structures. Another interesting project was Great Tree in the middle of Lucindel. It took so much time, the base is made of 36 frames. Its 7 floors high and its branches spread across the city. Final step of the city was the Great Gate, the greatest protection against evil forces in all lands of Medivia. Both watchtowers near the gate were created in 3D software called Blender. Then I added textures and rendered them in isometric perspective. It was the first 3D object that was actually added to game as a sprite, I really enjoyed the final result and gladly players as well. The main entrance of this gate is made of magical stained glass, which allows only kind souls inside or outside. It's a isometric representation of my favorite stained glass made by Stanisław Wyspiański called Apollo. It was the most complicated city, but the outcome outmatched our expectations, in the end it's my favorite city because of freedom and possibility to think outside the box.
6. Not many pixel artists are known by name. What do you think it is about your style that makes it stand out?
Personally I see my style as something that changes constantly over time, you can see graphics which I made for Medivia back in 2017 and compare them to those in 2018. It's a completely different style, back then it was pure pixel-art, then I understood it would be better for everyone if I would mix it with brushwork and thus the workflow and effects were way better.
I think what makes my style stand out it that I mixed certain amount of pixel-art and brushwork which most artists do, but instead doing blurry sprites I have tendency to make them look as sharp as possible. That's why they have a lot of depth, its visible on items, for example Magic Plate Armor or Mastermind shield.
7. Walk me through some of your work. Which pieces are you most proud of, and why?
Well the one im most proud of is I think Fellbeast from Lord of the Rings made in 2007. I made the lineart and Xedrai helped me to shade it, it was one of my very first works and it turned great. Personally if I would make such quality sprite now I would really be satisfied with outcome.
The next sprites im proud of were made in timespan of three days, those would be the ones we know in game as Omens and additionally one Demon king which haven’t been seen in game yet, maybe he will one day who knows ;)
8. And on a less positive note, have there ever been any people ripping off your work or trying to claim it as their own?
When isometric artist releases complete sprite it's certain that it will be stolen and used in some random server. That's why we release usually only fronts or items with watermarks. It's a big issue really, we can't really show much usually because some pathetic servers always try to make money for free out of us by stealing our works. Certain servers are stealing hundreds of sprites from all kinds of artists and other games, but looking at quality of their servers even that won't help them to make a good game.
9. Continuing on from that point, are there any sprites you’ve created that you’re not too proud of? Perhaps because you think it doesn’t live up to what you’re capable of, or doesn’t portray an item/creature very well?
Well. There are many sprites that I am planning on reworking in game which i'm not happy with. Back in a day I didn't had that much of time to produce the graphical update with such quality as i'm doing sprites now. The most infamous example would be the stone golem which turned out to be so horrible that it became main meme of the game. Also - became logo of our wiki.
Thanks Reinhard ;)
10. Do you think there’s a growing or shrinking demand for pixel art?
Personally I see a trend that the demand is rising rapidly, it's way cheaper to produce game using pixel art than do make one with 3D objects.
11. What were some of the biggest lessons learned in your design career? Were there any specific books, mentors, or techniques that drastically improved your skillset?
To be fair there aren't any books about pixel art. There were no mentors as well, but every single artist had a certain authority. For me it was Erick Etchebeur and Xedrai back in 2008. Then after some time my friend which I see as best artist around - Anevis. For me it was all about listening to feedback and improving over time, sometimes some artist reworked my sprite and showed me the right way. In the end what improved my skillset was watching other works of artists and learning from them.
12. Could you share any final bits of advice for artists & designers interested in learning pixel art?
Talent is just a boost in the beginning but in the end, you will have almost same results after spending a thousand hours doing pixelarts as person who started with basic talent. Just focus on mistakes and try to fix them all the time.