Interview: Edge’s Pixel Perfectionist… Gary “Army of Trolls” Lucken

More & more people are getting interested in pixel graphics, especially since the recent release of Gary J Lucken’s poster for Edge magazine subscribers.

So… it’s about time we invited Mr “Army of Trolls” over for a virtua cuppa, to talk pixelling, games, folk music & zombies. (Amongst other things)

I’ve got some pieces of Gary’s work that you may not have seen before… and you’ll FINALLY find out where the name “Army of Trolls” came from…

J-OMG: Gary, you live in Lugano, Switzerland, with your Swiss wife, and a pug called pixel.
Please tell my readers a few other (true) things that people haven’t already read about you?

Hmmm good question.
I also play the Banjo, I am a big fan of old bluegrass folk music, which is in direct contrast to my love of technology and games.

Let’s talk art. How did you get into doing pixel graphics? Was this after a period of doing other styles?

Well I’ve always drawn as a kid; I used to spend my summers making my own comics and creating characters to go in them, I never stopped doing this – mainly in the form of doodles. When I used to work boring jobs, I would end up filling any note paper I was given with little monsters; this got me into trouble on more than 1 occasion.

Eventually I decided to do something with all these little creatures and started doing vector versions of them in Adobe Illustrator. I used to post them on forums in my signature; in fact that’s where the name ‘Army of Trolls’ comes from, someone on these forums saw them and posted that they “love my little Army of Trolls” and the name just stuck.

So eventually I gave pixelart a try, it’s something I had dabbled in before on the Amiga and I found it refined my artwork in a way that was pleasing to me. It kind of “smoothed out” the rough edges plus I could now animate my little creatures – which gave me great joy.

This year alone, your work has appeared in Wired, FHM & Edge magazines. Can you tell us a little about the sort of briefs you get from different publications? How do they differ?

They normally come to me with an article or rough idea and I just run with it. Most of the mags you mention work in similar ways; if they think something fits my style they give me a very loose brief. I’ll start work, sending them a work in progress version as we go along. A few of the art editors I’ve worked with for a few years now – so they know exactly what they are gonna get from me. And – they know I’ll always meet their deadline, no matter how short! :p

One thing I always wonder when looking at a complex pixel piece (like your recent Edge subs poster) is *where* in a picture you actually start? Can you please explain – in basic terms – your process?

For illustrations like the Edge poster I normally do a rough sketch blocking out the places where the buildings will go then go to work on the computer laying out the road, grass and sidewalks. This gives me a pretty good base to get started. Tor that poster I really worked in blocks, for example the Pacman/Zelda maze was built in a separate Photoshop file then dragged into the main illustration when it was finished.

I’m normally pulling my hair out at the start of an illustration like this because I always think they look terrible and get frustrated at the start. Then once things comes together I get much more into it and find I cant stop cramming new stuff in!

Beyond your “static” work Gary, you also do some graphics for games. You’ve dabbled in graphics for game remakes (Pengo/Push Push), phone games (Ixion, Kiki) & flash games. Do you have a preference towards doing graphics for any of those styles at the moment? Is one style/format more challenging?

I really enjoy making games but theres a lot more work in them than doing a magazine illustration. I think the problem with games is you can keep adding and tweaking forever so at some point you have to reign yourself in to stop the “feature creep”. I kind of favour the more simple approach to game gfx; I like working with small characters and few colours. Sure I’d love to be able to do pixelart like Street Fighter Alpha but it’s just not a style I’m comfortable with.

I am working on an idea for a few iPhone games at the moment which have very simple pixel graphics but I’m also trying to animate them well. There’s a certain challenge to doing a run animation when the legs only consist of 3 pixels!

Now that commercial re-releases/updates of retro games are quite common, and the target is often large TVs… there’s the issue of what to do with the old lo-res graphics.
Old-school gamers don’t seem to like filtering/stretching… and sometimes don’t like the hand-drawn “updates” either. What’s your take on this?

Yep I hate it as well. Updating sprites with new hand drawn versions often lacks the charm of the originals – there really is something magical about seeing a well drawn pixel based sprite. I didn’t like the Street Fighter II update on the 360 but I thought they did a good job with Pacman “Championship edition”.

However companies like Vanillaware who did Odin Sphere on the PS2 are doing some amazing looking hand drawn stuff. If more of these updates looked like their work, I wouldn’t have such a problem with it.

Gary, Google tells me… that you’re currently into World of Warcraft. You loved the “Trico” trailer. You’re into J-RPGs like Monster Hunter & Vagrant Story.
But what about the games you grew up playing? Which ones did you love for their pixels? Which games did you “simply enjoy playing”?

I grew up with videogames right from their birth. I used to phone my dad and bug him to buy new games for the Atari 2600 back when the carts used to cost fortune for a 1 screen game. Then – I moved onto the C64 where I played stuff like Cauldron, Impossible Mission, Thing on a Spring, Monty Mole…. back when you would swap tapes with your friends at school and then wait 40 minutes for each game to load. I loved Donkey Kong in the Arcade as well as Crazy Climber, Rampage, Galaga, Galaxians.

My FAVE game though – and one I love for it’s pixels and gameplay – is Bubble Bobble which I still play now. I’ve never finished it but it’s so ingrained in my mind I could probably sit down and draw you the first 20 odd levels from memory! 😀

Bubble Bobble! I couldn’t agree with your more!
Finally, Gary… if J-OMG readers are interested in learning how to do pixel work (2d or Iso)… what would you suggest they do?

Practice, don’t be afraid to hate what you do at first! Study pixelart you like from games, look for tutorials on the web. Isometric pixelart had some rigid rules but these can help sometimes to channel your artwork down the correct path. Do it because you enjoy it.

Gary, thanks very much some great insights. All the best, and I hope you have some of your fullsize works available for sale in the near future.

If you liked the “grid poster” I uploaded last week, I have a special treat for you in the next few days…


3 Responses to Interview: Edge’s Pixel Perfectionist… Gary “Army of Trolls” Lucken

  1. […] in this story or the poster then you should head over to Just One More Game where they’ve scored an interview with Mr. Lucken himself.  Good stuff. // Feedburner […]

  2. […] Interview: Edge’s Pixel Perfectionist… Gary “Army of Trolls” Lucken « Just One More Game The awesome Edge magazine pixel illustrator interviewed. […]

  3. […] Entrevista a Gary Lucken […]

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