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The Science of Skinning: Steve-olution, the Geometry of Body Styles

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avatar Roobus
Level 66 : High Grandmaster Pixel Painter
1,769
In a previous post I discussed the geometrical basis for head and face skinning. In this post, I am going to look at the geometric basis of various skinning styles for the minecraft body template (commonly known as "Steve") with a focus on developing a "realistic" style.



The Evolution of a Skinner's Vision of Steve


Skinners appear to go through a similar evolution in their thinking about skin design. Beginners see the Steve body for exactly what it is - a series of blocks, and develop skins that reflect exactly that. They use flat shading for blocks or they may will add a little noise or blurring to add some contrast.


zwiGFWpng

The first evolutionary step toward a more realistic skin is the "blocky" body. The edges and corners of the blocks are made to look beveled by shading in two darker tones. This makes Steve look more 3D.


ggtpng

As novice skinners compare their work to skinners making the pop reel, they begin to see that by increasing the number of beveling shades (making a gradient) they can make the blocks look like cylinders. Darker pixels are placed in the vertical crevices where the arms meet the body, and between the legs. Lighter pixels are placed where light shines on the figure (the front of the cylinders).


LiznVpng

The next thing the evolving skinner realizes is that Steve represents a human figure with locked elbow, wrist, knee, and ankle joints. These joints form a narrowing in the anatomy of the arms and legs. The interpretation of Steve is has moved from straight cylinders to segmented cylinders with curved ends. Therefore, shading is used between horizontal joints. This is a fairly typical interpretation; one that allows good to high quality skins that look plausible from every angle in game play.


kIVWwpng

Beyond this level, lies the vision of "ideal Steve", one with body proportions scaled to what a human would look like if he/she was confined to the boundaries of the Steve frame. I want to be very clear, this is the holy grail of realistic skinning style artistry - completely unattainable because pixels are surface elements and not tiny blocks that can be removed or sculpted to our whims. This is the level where a skinner thinks deeply about using shading to create the "illusion" of the underlying bone structure, the overlying muscle definition, and the draping of any clothing on top of all that. The end result is always more sophisticated details than a "Jointed" Steve but considerably less formed than an "Ideal" Steve.


DJqoYgpng

sTZNYpng

In my model of the "Ideal" Steve, I scaled human body proportions to fit within the dimension of the Steve blocks. I've labeled muscle groups that can be mimicked by shading (these are just representative muscles, there are many more...). It isn't important to memorize the muscle groups, but you should observe their locations and how their interplay affects the degree of shading necessary to illustrate them.


Lets see what attempting an "Ideal" Steve looks like in practice. My "Satyr" skin is a good example of the points I am trying to make. On the upper body, I shaded the deltoids, biceps, pectorals, and obliques on the front view and the trapezius and latissimus on the back view. If you look at the goat-like legs you can see that I shaded a goat's equivalent of the gluteus and leg muscles.

qlFLGpng

Kitty Softpaws is an example of creating a more feminine form of the "Ideal" Steve. See if you can identify how many "ideal" features the skin contains.


eBUPMrpng


Skinning for realism is always risky, experimental, and subject to criticism, as too are all skins, such as animals and inanimate objects, that try "not to be Steve". Every illusion used to create these types of skins has hidden penalties that the skinner needs to minimize or disguise if the skin is to look good in motion and during game play. I will be discussing these trade-offs in future posts. To me, the thrill of skinning lies in dancing on this edge between pixel art and functional game avatar.
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I've created a base using your "Jointed Steve" as a reference:

http://www.planetminecraft.com/skin/jointed-minecraft-human-test/

What do you think?
I made a new skin and put in a link to this blog!
I know this is stupid of me, but how does one bevel the edge of each joint? I know what bevel means, but I don't understand how to do it or what he means. Once again, I know it's stupid, but an answer would be appreciated.
  • hashfan
  • Level 7
  • Apprentice Archer
  • November 3, 2013, 12:08 am
It's a late answer, but check out Peytonisgreat's skins. See how they bevel when they meet new parts?
  • pat58339
  • Level 23
  • Expert Artist
  • July 28, 2013, 10:46 am
Bravo this has really improved my skinning to a "Intermediate" level.
  • Remmicious
  • Level 34
  • Artisan Botanist
  • September 4, 2013, 7:52 pm
an*
  • pat58339
  • Level 23
  • Expert Artist
  • September 9, 2013, 5:41 pm
Thanks for saving the world by adding AN n...
  • Remmicious
  • Level 34
  • Artisan Botanist
  • September 10, 2013, 4:37 am
youre welcome. :3
  • Cocoloco
  • Level 25
  • Expert Pirate
  • June 16, 2013, 3:02 am
well, but with a dark background your "ideal" skins wouldn't look so good...
Wow, It turns out my shading has been backwards. I shall definitely experiment with these techniques. I'm in the "Blocky Steve" Area. Thanks for making this. This really helps.
  • Roobus
  • Level 66
  • High Grandmaster Pixel Painter
  • May 19, 2013, 5:06 pm
Great! I look forward to seeing your work :)
I just finished my first skin attempting to use the ideal style of shading. I'd appreciate it if you'd take a look at it and give me some advice. Thanks! http://www.planetminecraft.com/skin/gerbor12---shaded-original-by-gerbor12/
Thanks!
  • Seertwin
  • Level 13
  • Journeyman Fisherman
  • May 13, 2013, 4:31 pm
This actually helps a lot! Thank you!
  • Roobus
  • Level 66
  • High Grandmaster Pixel Painter
  • May 13, 2013, 4:54 pm
You are most welcome!
  • GLaNDYTehBro
  • Level 3
  • Apprentice Network
  • April 4, 2013, 7:39 am
I prefer to shade using the ''Blocky'' style. Only just not as blocky.
  • Pixel_King
  • Level 39
  • Artisan Pixel Painter
  • March 14, 2013, 3:54 am
Roobus <3 I have a question, I am working on smaller colour palette skins... how would you go about getting the detail in body shapes?
  • Roobus
  • Level 66
  • High Grandmaster Pixel Painter
  • March 14, 2013, 11:52 am
Can you explain what you mean by smaller colour palette? Do you mean that you are using only 2-3 colours and they can have lots of lighter and darker levels (to make a gradient) or do you mean you are using a only a few different color pixels altogether? Send me an example palette to look at if it helps.
  • Pandora
  • Level 25
  • Expert Pixel Painter
  • February 23, 2013, 12:21 pm
Wow.
This is a really good tip guide. x'D

Now I'm thinking how I shade. :U
  • MunsterMan
  • Level 46
  • Master Skinner
  • February 17, 2013, 10:06 am
Roobus, This is a great blog and all your blogs and skins at that, are brilliant please keep up the work.
  • Roobus
  • Level 66
  • High Grandmaster Pixel Painter
  • February 18, 2013, 2:42 am
Thanks.
  • Seska Rotan
  • Retired Moderator
  • Level 38
  • Artisan Grump
  • February 17, 2013, 9:28 am
This is a brilliant blog. Very nicely set out, extremely informative, and it actually inspired me to make a skin after a long absence from doing so.

Diamond'd, Favourite'd, and consider me a subscriber. Keep producing great content, Roobus. :)
  • Roobus
  • Level 66
  • High Grandmaster Pixel Painter
  • February 18, 2013, 2:42 am
Thanks! I'm glad it inspired you. I wrote the blog to help others so I appreciate knowing that it is making a difference.
  • Seska Rotan
  • Retired Moderator
  • Level 38
  • Artisan Grump
  • February 18, 2013, 2:48 am
You're welcome! Exactly, and that's exactly the attitude we need more people to have on PMC.The people who go out of their way to help others and actually aid the community are the keystones of this Site. So keep it up, man. :)
  • Aximili
  • Level 74
  • Legendary Snark
  • February 17, 2013, 7:38 am
I think I did it pretty well on my Gollum skin.
  • Roobus
  • Level 66
  • High Grandmaster Pixel Painter
  • February 18, 2013, 2:41 am
Agreed :)
  • the_soup
  • Retired Moderator
  • Level 70
  • Legendary Button Pusher
  • February 17, 2013, 6:53 am
  • MunsterMan
  • Level 46
  • Master Skinner
  • February 17, 2013, 10:05 am
I like it :)
  • SlenderBro
  • Level 1
  • New Explorer
  • February 17, 2013, 2:53 am
Gluteus Maximus.
  • Seth_Reed
  • Level 57
  • Grandmaster Skinner
  • February 16, 2013, 6:53 pm
These blogs look really helpful in improving skin shading! I may try to practice with a few skins and see if I can improve some. I think I may have to give up another diamond!
  • Roobus
  • Level 66
  • High Grandmaster Pixel Painter
  • February 18, 2013, 2:43 am
Great!
  • Phrozenbit
  • Level 13
  • Journeyman Miner
  • February 15, 2013, 9:48 pm
That's really something :) Thanks, favorited because this may come in handy.
  • Arty
  • Level 6
  • Apprentice Grump
  • February 15, 2013, 7:48 pm
Once again, truly brilliant.
I try to follow all your blogs and improve my skinning, and you really do help, even though my skinning isn't very good yet ;)
  • Endertemplar
  • Level 30
  • Artisan Dragonborn
  • February 15, 2013, 9:09 pm
So totally true, you are genius Roobus. You're really good too Artist, don't put yourself down.
  • Arty
  • Level 6
  • Apprentice Grump
  • February 16, 2013, 1:06 am
Haha, I'm not really good xD
  • akashi
  • Site Moderator
  • Level 41
  • Master Bunny
  • February 15, 2013, 5:19 pm
Very nicely done.
This blog is really well done, good descriptions and nice pictures, love it :)
I guess my skins are a combination of "Blocky" and "Jointed"... I think... :l
  • ventie81
  • Level 2
  • Apprentice Miner
  • February 15, 2013, 1:28 pm
Awesome tutorial mate, really nailed it...
But why does " ideal Steve " have trapezius and latissimus on front? :)

almost forgot the diamond for ya :D
  • polaristar
  • Level 40
  • Master Hunter
  • February 15, 2013, 1:13 pm
Nice.

Edit: Woo!! First comment!
Have you been on Reddit a lot?
  • polaristar
  • Level 40
  • Master Hunter
  • February 15, 2013, 1:19 pm
Reddit?
Oh. It's a website. It's just most people on it say Edit: every time they edit something.
It's not just on Reddit.
  • polaristar
  • Level 40
  • Master Hunter
  • February 16, 2013, 5:51 am
Oh i just say that for some strange reason.

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