November 30, 2013

Pixel Orcs #1

The Making of Helm’s Deep Pixel Art


When I was working at Abbey Road Studios, I was incredibly lucky enough to do a little bit of programming for the Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.  To celebrate I decided to make a picture in my favourite art style: isometric pixel art.

My own pixel art style of is a bit different. Many “hardcore” pixel artists work with very limited palettes (often just 8, 16 or 32 colours in total), evoking an amazing 16bit console late 80′s/early 90′s video game feel. Myself, I’m not that fussed so I use whatever colours I like, although most of the colours are sourced directly from the film stills.

Once I had finished the picture, I got several requests asking how I made it, so I’ve put together this page showing how the elements in the picture were composed together. I find the actual construction and composition of complex things quite fascinating, so I hope you will too.

The composition
What to draw?

I had to pick a scene from the Lord of the Ring films.  Isometric pixel pictures often show a large area containing many small but detailed individual characters.  However during the most of the trilogy only a few characters are ever on screen at once.  The only time there are lots of people is during an battle.  One of the most epic battles is the pivotal moment in The Two Towers film when thousands of Uruk-Hai attack Helm’s Deep.  This seemed like a perfect choice.

How to start?

There’s only one place to start – by watching the film. I was looking for some decent still frames that would help me understand the scene.


The Uruk-Hai march on Helm’s Deep

After watching it, I was able to work out the general geography and layout of all the various elements.  I then had to consider the picture composition – I had two choices:

1. Behind the wall, looking at Uruk-Hai army

1. Behind the wall, looking at Uruk-Hai army

2. Behind/next to the army, looking at the defenders

2. Behind/next to the army, looking at the defenders

The isometric view means the view point is either from behind the defenders army or looking toward the fortress from the view point of the Uruk-Hai.

Choices, choices

Considering the first idea, the ‘hero’ of the image is the immense army standing in front of the fortress with it’s few (and mostly doomed) defenders, which is pretty interesting and bleak picture.  However, the majority of the Uruk-Hai army are just queuing to get to the front line to attack, so there won’t be much going on in the picture.  The Uruk-Hai that do make it to the front line will likely be obscured by the wall.  And finally, all of our heroes, Aragon, Legolas, Gimli, etc, have their backs to us.

The second picture has less of the army, but all of the film’s heroes (Aragon, Gimli and Legolas) are visible. Also the wall’s weakpoint, the drainage grate is visible, which allows us to set the time frame for the scene to moments before the wall is destroyed.

I decided to go with the second layout as it meant I could drawing the heroes from the front.  Next, the fun bit – the drawing..

Read on for part two

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