The Skinning Illusion

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avatar Roobus
Level 68 : High Grandmaster Pixel Painter
1,791
Introduction

Skinning is all about creating an illusion; making a bunch of blank pixels on the surface of six rectangular prisms look like something else simply by adding color. Careful use of color can create the illusion of detail and three dimensionality. Beyond recognizing, and relating to, the character you are trying to portray in your skin design, features such as asymmetry, curvature, and gradients catch a viewer's eye and encourages him/her to interact with your posting. (There are several tutorials by PMCers on selecting palettes, hue shifting, and shading, so I won't go into those very important topics. Check the skinning forum for tutorials.)


Asymmetry


I'll start with asymmetry. By asymmetry I mean not having the right and left halves of a skin be mirror images of each other. You can't do anything about this with the arms and legs but you should definitely consider it when designing the head and body. Asymmetry is most powerful at the whole body part level but definitely has impact at the neighboring pixel level as well. My "Hummingbird" skin has a high degree of large scale symmetry on the head and body while my "Transplant" skin has no large scale symmetry on the body. The head of the "Transplant" skin is symmetrical in terms of the layout of the eyeball but the shading makes it asymmetrical and gives the illusion of a light source above and to the right of the skin. If you inspect the hummingbird image closely, you will notice that the pixels on either side of the center line are not exactly the same color. Those to the left are a tad darker than those on the right. This slight change creates the illusion of a light source to the right of the image and makes the image appear not to be flat.


eeFCzypng


Using a darker gradient away from the centerline of the "Hummingbird" creates the illusion of the body being more cylindrical even though it is still a "box". By playing with gradients, hue shifting, and shadows you create the illusion of many different shapes. My "Turkey" skin appears to have a fat tummy while my "Red Panda" appears to have more of a feminine hourglass shape.


GqVMVopng


One of my more recent stylistic choices is to try to make heads look more spherical. I tend to go against the convention of making the gradient darken all the way to the corners and instead use a light-dark-light gradient. Comparing the heads of my earlier Emperor "Penguin" skin to my newer "Adelie Penguin" skin illustrates what I am talking about. I use a similar approach when shading shoulders.


lHEUJbpng


One of the odder things I have done with symmetry is to rotate the head of my "Parrot" skin 45 degrees. Most of the comments I received on my parrot dealt with either liking or not liking its unusual head.


qfAArpng


One last thing on symmetry. Too much symmetry can spoil the impact of a skin. Look for skins with strong horizontal bands running across the body and even the arms and legs. These are common on skins that use shading templates. The viewer's eye fixates on the banding and not the overall image. Diddling the color of a few pixels here and there can mitigate this effect and increase the appeal of the skin.




Curvature Illusion


Another illusion technique that I employ is what I think of as curvature. The editing and static previewer tools skinners use get us in the habit of seeing skins as orthographic projections (straight on views from front, back, and side). This severely limits creativity in general and really limits what is done with arms and legs. Since arm and leg surfaces are only four pixels wide it is nearly impossible to create interesting details or get much in the way of a contrast gradient. I like to increase the amount of canvas I have to play with by working around corners and edges. I actually think this approach makes skin much more interesting to look at during game play because we usually see other players from odd angles and not directly from the front, back or side. Notice how the "Turkey" wing wraps around from the front to the side. Likewise, the upper leg of the "Red Panda" looks like a curvy thigh.


WrdpXpng


This approach leads to some design challenges. On the "Turkey" and "Hummingbird" skins, I had to create feet and tails on the front and back of the skin. This works out well when viewing the skins from any angle other directly side on since you can't see the front and back of a skin simultaneously. If you view these skins from the side they appear to be floating.


SGRTSbpng


Sometimes things don't work out so well, like on my "Sunflower" skin - it has a stem on each side of the leg. Sometimes things work pretty well like the "Parrot" skin and my "Santa in the Saddle" skin where it looks good to have the reindeer's leg wrap around the corner.


NUpZcoBpng


The curvature illusion goes beyond working around corners, it extends to using color to create eye catching arcs that can span multiple body parts. "Kitty Softpaws" has a continuous curve (dashed red line) down her back that stretches from the top of her head all the way to the bottom of her feet. She also has a curve that wraps around her body when seen from an off-axis view. Notice that the intensity of the curve varies from heavy to faint which makes the curve seem more 3 dimensional and allows the eye to puzzle out the continuation through the fainter places. The spherical head illusion, mentioned before, really adds to the curvature illusion. Curves that branch into secondary curves and tertiary curves give the eye more paths to follow. The "Orca" skin (on the right) capitalizes on curves as well. One of the things I tried to incorporate into this skin was a symmetry between the top of the snout and the bottom of the lower jaw.


XAzCHlpng


Gradients


Some viewers mistakenly believe that I am doing HD skinning because I go for smoothness and realism in my designs. The HD appearance is another illusion. By carefully blending colors in a gradient, it is possible to give the illusion of using pixels that don't exist. It may sound weird, but by picking intermediate shades, the eye is tricked into believing that the same pixel is two or more different shades - which it can interpret as more pixels. If you look at the area outlined in the "Hummingbird" skin, you will see some pixels that are intermediate between the surrounding green and the surrounding white. The eye interprets the pixel as partially green or partially white depending on whether you are focusing on the green body or white breast of the bird. Also notice the transition between green/white and red/white that occurs just below the shoulder. The two colors have about the same gray scale value where the transition occurs which makes the transition feel seamless. Looking at the closeup of the "Red Panda" arm, you can see a transition between red and black going on. By carefully working on the ratio of red to black in any pixel it is possible to make the eye think that a fairly smooth curve is present when the skin is viewed as a whole even though the pixels are quite jagged when viewed this close up.


mnVRXzpng


A number of viewers have suggested that I move to making HD skins because they have more pixels and would allow me to create even more realistic skins. While that is somewhat true, I haven't made the move because the illusions I use would tend to breakdown at higher pixel count to box dimension ratios. In my opinion, HD skins don't look curvy, they look like pictures (highly detailed pictures) pasted onto boxes.


Concluding Thought


Now that I have explained some of the illusions that are possible, go out and look at your skins, and the work of other skinners, to see if you can spot the illusions being used either intentionally or unintentionally. Remember, knowing how an illusion works doesn't mean you are no longer susceptible to the magic it appears to create.
Tags

1
08/07/2019 3:37 am
Level 32 : Artisan Loremaster
047Gaming
Coool!!!
1
08/20/2018 6:52 am
Level 3 : Apprentice Crafter
ThePixelCrafter111
Thanks!
1
06/09/2018 10:48 am
Level 54 : Grandmaster Architect
FabryFF
I can t see the illusions :,(
1
04/12/2018 10:24 am
Level 6 : Apprentice Miner
FridayTheThirteen
Wow cool!
1
09/11/2017 12:23 pm
Level 20 : Expert Dragon
FangABXY
Quite interesting. Will look here when I make my newer skins... provided that I can conquer my procrastination issues.
1
03/01/2016 1:13 am
Level 38 : Artisan Modder
GiantNuker
Nice Skins!
1
08/28/2015 9:58 pm
Level 14 : Journeyman Miner
enderman65
these skins all looked amazing!
1
06/13/2015 5:30 am
Level 3 : Apprentice Hunter
phantomcreeper11
wow.. these are awesome! What skin maker do you use??
1
10/26/2015 5:11 pm
Level 19 : Journeyman Pokemon
chu_chu_pikachu
I wanna know as well!
1
01/01/2016 5:10 am
Level 21 : Expert Dragonborn
Shquaz
I think he uses MCSKIN3D developed by paril
1
01/01/2016 9:49 am
Level 19 : Journeyman Pokemon
chu_chu_pikachu
thank u!!!!!
1
07/02/2014 6:16 pm
Level 31 : Artisan Toast
Bawne
i miss u :C
1
05/20/2014 7:18 pm
Level 40 : Master Musician
AquaGirl
wow no one makes skins like you anymore, roobus
1
06/25/2013 7:53 pm
Level 12 : Journeyman Dragon
Dragonshayed
good tutorial it didnt help me much since aint artistic an i mess up every few seconds when i try to make a skin but you know what you are doing
1
10/31/2015 11:19 am
Level 21 : Expert Explorer
PerryAndChoyito
I like this tutorial alot. I was kind of doing something else so I didn't read through it very much but I like it.
It's really good.
1
06/25/2013 4:04 pm
Level 24 : Expert Artist
pat58339
You sir... deserve an award, almost a noble prize.
1
06/25/2013 5:31 pm
Level 68 : High Grandmaster Pixel Painter
Roobus
XD Thanks!
1
12/13/2013 7:42 pm
Level 18 : Journeyman Taco
RedGlock
Noble prize in the category of education, for teaching thousands of people how to increase the realism of people's skins, making people happier, leading to a smaller suicide rate on this planet.
1
05/13/2014 10:49 pm
Level 46 : Master Princess
OreoVal
Pretty sure it's *Nobel, after Alfred Nobel.
1
06/20/2013 12:21 am
Level 12 : Journeyman Skinner
ImpossibleCube
Wow, Amazon blog Roobus it went for the contest tutorial congrats your work is amazing please reply if you have something to say... YOU DESEREVE A SUBSCRIBTION :D keep up the good work
1
06/20/2013 7:12 am
Level 68 : High Grandmaster Pixel Painter
Roobus
Thanks for your subscription and support :)
1
06/20/2013 7:47 am
Level 12 : Journeyman Skinner
ImpossibleCube
My Pleaseure :)
1
02/10/2013 8:28 pm
Level 12 : Journeyman Narwhal
Happy Quack
how long did this take you to write this blog is super long!
1
02/17/2013 5:04 am
Level 38 : Artisan Button Pusher
Nixel
If you want a long blog, try mine!
1
02/07/2013 2:24 am
Level 20 : Expert Prince
EricValor
top skinner :)
1
02/06/2013 3:36 pm
Level 40 : Master Mage
Speedguy14
This is on the Contest "how to make skins" part! Congrats!
1
02/06/2013 3:42 pm
Level 68 : High Grandmaster Pixel Painter
Roobus
Thanks, I didn't know :D Hopefully, it will inspire some skinners to try new things.
1
01/30/2013 10:11 pm
Level 37 : Artisan Grump
Doughty
This is amazing... I didn't read all the way through, but I got the gist of it... It really is an original and different type of tutorial and really puts attention on the parts of skins that truly make them stand out above others.
Great job, diamond from me
P.s. if you want to see some heavy curvature, look at my Lumiere skin... Haha, possibly overdone but oh we'll :P
1
01/31/2013 6:19 am
Level 68 : High Grandmaster Pixel Painter
Roobus
Thanks for the support :D I'll check out Lumiere.
1
01/30/2013 9:10 pm
Level 24 : Expert Spleefer
LikaBowssFreeze
There are such things as skins with more pixels? How does this work? I thought that skins had to be a certain number of pixels for them to work.. please explain. (btw diamond added) (and favorited)
1
01/31/2013 6:18 am
Level 68 : High Grandmaster Pixel Painter
Roobus
Technically, no - all Steve-based skins have the same number of pixels (unless you work with HD, which are not PMC uploadable). The illusion that I am talking about is the eye seeing the same pixel in multiple ways due to blending. When the eye focuses on one area of the skin, the pixel appears to be one color. When the eye moves to an adjacent area, the pixel appears to be the other blended color. Kind of like two pixels for the price of one. Hopefully that clears things up and thanks for supporting my posting :D
1
01/31/2013 6:23 pm
Level 24 : Expert Spleefer
LikaBowssFreeze
oh i get it.. btw i was wondering if you could PM me a few tips about shading.. i really am having trouble with shading no matter how many shading blogs i visit
1
01/30/2013 7:13 pm
Level 25 : Expert Grump
IceCream_Sundae
OMG Love the sunflower!
1
01/30/2013 8:38 pm
Level 68 : High Grandmaster Pixel Painter
Roobus
Awesome! I feel it is one of my really crazy skins. I think it looks like some sort of cool armor when in motion.
1
01/30/2013 5:04 pm
Level 8 : Apprentice Engineer
EmeraldAdmin
nice skins.
1
01/30/2013 2:39 am
Level 18 : Journeyman Miner
Phrozenbit
Very informative, favorited too because it may come in handy. Thanks :-)
1
01/30/2013 7:26 am
Level 68 : High Grandmaster Pixel Painter
Roobus
Thanks, I am glad to hear you found the blog informative :)
1
01/30/2013 2:13 am
Level 61 : High Grandmaster Hero
GarretSidzaka
wow im an old artist, but this is some good info

Favorited
1
01/30/2013 7:25 am
Level 68 : High Grandmaster Pixel Painter
Roobus
Thanks :)
1
01/30/2013 12:42 am
Level 56 : Grandmaster Baconator
coolkevin867
Amazing blog! A real eye-opener, I will think about this blog every time a make a new skin from now on :)
1
01/30/2013 7:24 am
Level 68 : High Grandmaster Pixel Painter
Roobus
Awesome! Thanks for the feedback :D
1
01/29/2013 9:39 am
Level 30 : Artisan Cake
Geppetto
I believe this blog has an incredible potential for every skinner.
It shows pretty good the evolution of your style as well as deeper knowledge of art, nature and points of view.
So, it should be a basic guide for those who want to become better.
Well done!
1
01/29/2013 5:51 pm
Level 68 : High Grandmaster Pixel Painter
Roobus
Thanks for the compliments, I feel like the blog has reached quite a few people. It will be interesting to see if skinning practices shift at all.
1
01/30/2013 1:17 am
Level 30 : Artisan Cake
Geppetto
Tried to work after this...
pretty hard to leave old behaviours behing :)
1
01/29/2013 1:16 am
Level 49 : Master Necromancer
Juggler37
Absolutely brilliant insights.

Ugh, all this time I've been wasting my corners, and it's never even occurred to me to give skins underlying shapes. I've been drawing them as a collection of different parts, barely ever stopping to consider the connection.

I cannot wait to put these ideas in action. Thank you.
1
01/29/2013 7:09 am
Level 68 : High Grandmaster Pixel Painter
Roobus
Thanks! I look forward to seeing your results :)
1
01/28/2013 8:48 pm
Level 68 : High Grandmaster Warrior
Hybrid Warrior
One of the best articles I've read on skinning in ages. You really understand the founding principles of shading and depicting instead of just describing. Hopefully this helps any rising skinners get used to defining dimension in their skins instead of just adding gradation!
1
01/29/2013 7:08 am
Level 68 : High Grandmaster Pixel Painter
Roobus
Thank you for the compliments, it is nice to know one's work is appreciated. Hopefully, some people will see that skinning is a form of digital art and can be expressive as well as functional for game play.
1
01/28/2013 7:52 pm
Level 36 : Artisan Skinner
terreen
epicccc
1
01/28/2013 7:38 pm
Level 32 : Artisan Steve
MrMcAwesumz
Also, don't forget a shading technique that involves slightly randomizing the shade of a certain color. This is really helpful when making a skin that looks natural to the vanilla texture pack and when you are trying for a gritty look on certain parts of your skin. This also looks absolutely GREAT on Steve edits.
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