When I was working at Abbey Road Studios, I was incredibly lucky enough to do a little bit of work on 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 to other people’s. 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 bashed 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.
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.
I started by watching the film looking for some decent still frames that would help me understand the scene.
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; the isometric view means we are going to have the view point either from behind the defenders in the fortress looking at the Uruk-Hai army (figure 1) or looking toward the fortress from the view point of the Uruk-Hai (figure 2).
At this point, it’s down to the artist’s personal preference as to which would make for the most interesting picture.
The first idea’s major element is the immense army standing in front of the fortress and its few 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.