90 minutes to kill spriter’s block and improve your mad skills

Ever find yourself lazily browsing through crappy review shows and vlogs on blip.tv while a blank white canvas stares you in the face from your periphery, only to glance at the clock a moment later and find that two hours have passed and you’ve got exactly nothing accomplished? Ever do this like, eight times in a row, and waste an entire day? Yeah, we all have. Whether you’re a writer, a painter, a sculptor, an architect, or if you’re reading this, probably a game developer, if you’re working in a creative field you’re bound to suffer times where your brain pipes are clogged worse than Sephiroth’s shower drain. It’s frustrating, demoralizing, and tortures that waning motivation, creating a vicious death spiral of doom. But never fear! The one good thing about spriter’s block is that it’s never permanent, and when you knock yourself out of it you’re likely to be more productive than ever.

I’m gonna show you a quick exercise that’ll not only get those creative juices flowing, but in just 90 minutes will make you a faster, more efficient, better spriter!

16x16 (128x128)

20x20 (160x160)

24x24 (192x192)

1)  First, whip yourself up a new sprite sheet. Size doesn’t matter much, but start small because we’re going to fill them in quickly. 16×16 or 24×24 tiles are always good, and anything bigger than 32×32 is going to be hard to use for this exercise. Set it up the way you like – I prefer to create a background layer with the squares filled with alternating light pinks because it’s quite an easy color to draw on – or just grab one of the above blank sheets. I started with 20×20 simply because that’s the size of Wyv’s and Keep’s sprites, but it’s not too important because we’ll adjust as we go. As you’re getting things set up, think about what it is you want – could be a character sprite, an enemy, a ground tile, a shrub, pretty much anything. It doesn’t even have to be for your current project, because maybe that’s exactly what’s putting the vice on your brain organ. This is only gonna take ninety minutes, after all, and we all know you’ve wasted much more time than that doing nothing at all. If you can’t decide what to make yet, don’t worry, we’re going to go ahead anyways.

Okay, ready? What we’re going to do is use three colors (best is a main, a darker shade of that main, and a sub) and create as many sprites as we can in thirty minutes. DON’T WORRY about them being perfect. That’s not what this is about. Aim for about ten sprites – that’s a measly three minutes each. Try not to go over that time limit. Set a timer to 30:00. Even if you don’t know where to start, just start drawing. It’ll happen. All set? Go!

~ Intermission ~

Doo da doo doo dum da dee dah
Doo doo dum dee dum da dee dah dah
Tall and thin and tan and lovely
the girl from Wimbledon goes walking
and when she passes each one she passes goes, ahh… 

~ Intermission ~

So here’s what I made. Ten sprites (ignore the fish, I’m not sure what he’s doing there) in thirty-two minutes. Yeah I went over, but only by two minutes! Not too bad.

I went with a main characterish sprite in side view for something like a platform adventurer, since we all love those. As you can see, most of these are quite horrible. But that’s okay! They’re supposed to be at this point. It’s much more important that we get ideas out there. At least one or two of em’ll show promise, and that brings us to our next step! Of the ten or so you created,  pick your favorite three. Examine them. What works about them? I chose these three:

Their form, proportions, and poses were working the best, and their designs interested me the most. I like beardie’s cap and large stature, the pajama ninja quality of the more distorted left sprite, and the anonymous farmer boy overalls and cap of the sword-wielding adventurer who was up top. Remember these three, and even pick one favorite if you like, and get ready for step two!

2)  Create a new sprite sheet. It can be the same size or slightly larger. Could even be smaller, but we’re going to base it on the last step, so it probably won’t be. I’m moving up from 20×20 tiles to 24×24. We’re now going to use what we liked best about the last sprites we picked and expand and refine by adding a bit more color, using varying palettes, and upping the detail. You can base them on one or all three, but we’re still only going to spend about five minutes on each. Set the timer to 30:00 again, and aim for five or six sprites this time. If you want, copy over one of your last sprites to start off. Ready? Go!

~ Intermission ~

Doo da doo doo dum da dee dah
When she walks her hips they swivel
her pistols swing and bob and glimmer
that when she passes each one she passes goes, holy shit… 

~ Intermission ~

How’d you do? My second step went well, but I did go over by quite a bit, finishing at thirty-seven minutes. This is probably more than you should allow yourself, but my excuse is that I had just started the sprite that I knew I was going to like the best and didn’t want to cut it short. Anyway, the point is just to keep you from spending an hour on each sprite, so going over a bit’s fine.

I decided from the first part of the exercise that the farmer boy sprite was my favorite, and so I started my thirty minutes by copying him over and adjusting him for the 24×24 size, and adding two more colors: a darker shade for the pants and a highlight shade. In the other sprites I used similar leg poses while adjusting the arms, and similar color values while adjusting the hue. I thought about the other two sprites I picked a bit while creating them, giving a bit of a stronger stature, from beardie, and playing with outfits a little like I did with the pajama ninja. Some of them have extra detail and color in their skin, but overall they’re still quite simple and took about six minutes a piece, with the bottom right being the one that took me well past my time limit. In general they’re starting to look pretty decent. Now we’ll repeat what we did at the end of the last step, and pick two or three favorites again.

Overalls boy didn’t quite make the cut, as I thought these three cool dudes were much stronger sprites. I like their powerful stances, and the sympathetic androgynous anonymity in each of them. Each would be worth expanding upon, and I bet you know what we’re going to do next!

3)  In our last thirty minutes we’re going to try to make three sprites in about ten minutes each, based on our favorites from the last round, just like before. If you want to go up in size again, feel free. I’m going to use 32×32 tiles so I have more room to work, but I don’t think I’ll change the sizes of the sprites so much. You’ll want to keep things like pose, style, structure, proportions similar to last round, and concentrate on adding more color, more detail, and further refinement. This time it’s probably wise to copy your favorite one over and start with that, but you don’t have to. Okay, final 30:00. Go!

~ Intermission ~

Doo da doo doo dum da dee dah
Ooo, but when I watch her so sadly
how can I get my hands on those crazy titties
Yes, I would give my heart gladly, to those titties…

~ Intermission ~

And we’re done! Ninety minutes later and I’ve bet you’ve got some pretty nice sprites there. Let’s see em!

I ended up taking the pose and anatomy from the piratey sprite as that was my favorite, and then applying it to the other two characters as well, because I liked them enough that I wanted to see what they’d look like. I added another few colors to each, detail to armor, headgear, and boots, and weapons to some of them. They could all still use work, but I feel that each one is pretty successful, and could easily be a character for a game.

So how’d you do? No matter what you’ve ended up with, in just ninety minutes (well okay, maybe a little more) we’ve created loads of sprites when before we were creating none. Not only that, we’ve gotten faster at conceptualizing and executing ideas, and improved our spriting itself.

And most importantly, how’s that spriter’s block?

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