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Hello there, I wrote this tutorial to help explain how I make low-res characters from scanned art that i drew. If you don't know much about photoshop, try reading my background art tutorial to at least get a sense of what tools I'll be using them and how i use them. So, shall we begin?


This is the sketch I'll be using. It's just a little alien guy I used to draw all the time, and he was supposed to be the main character to my first game [backrounds can be seen here].

So I drew him and scanned him in.

What I'm going to be doing with him is resizing him to fit into a 320x200 environment. Cause right now he is MUCH bigger than that. The first thing I do [mostly because he isn't inked and the pencil lines might get lost in the reduction] is darken those lines. So I make a new adjustment layer and select curves.

So I just dragged the lower node to the center and it darkened the pencil lines. Now that I can see it a little better, let's get ready to resize it...

all darkned now

The first thing I do to make sure the propotion of my character is right is, I load up a backround that I have already drawn for the game or I draw one quickly. Personally I like to work with a background that has a door in it. Mostly because I think that a character that looks wrong next to a door is one of the worst things in a game.

Alrighty, so we have our quick and ugly background. Now, I'll flatten the alien image and then copy and paste it onto a new layer in the background image.

It's quite big no? So hit CTRL + T and while holding shift, rise the image till the whole thing fits in the background canvas. REMEBER TO HOLD SHIFT.

Then drag the shrunken image onto the door and gauge the character's hieght against the door. When you're pleased withi his height, hit enter...

There we go, now we have an awfully blurry but appropriately sized image. We can now go ahead and copy the newly shrunken image over to a new canvas and get rid of the background, it really serves no further purpose.

Since the image is so blurry some people may not be able to remember what their original image looked like, so if this is the case, just open your original image up and use it as a non blurry reference while the blurry one will act as a guide. No worries.

Now,create a new layer and put it above your outline. Choose the pencil tool and begin to trace. I'm using red because if I used black, the line might get lost in the original image and I'd mess up or not be able to see my traced line so well. So I'd suggest using another colour for the outline and then just changing it later.

Ok, so I went around my character with the red, getting all the important parts and trying to keep the original pose and all that of the line drawing.

I think he looks good even though he doesn't look exactly like my pencil drawing... But that's ok, he's a sprite now, not a sketchbook drawing.

So now that he's outlined, we can start colouring.

Set the outline layer to Preserve Transparency and draw over the outline with some colour, here I made his skin grey and his clothes green.

Then make another layer and choose the flood fill tool [or press k] and with anti-alias turned OFF! and with use all layers turned on, I flood filled in the clothes and skin.

The reason I put the colour on a seperate layer will make sense when it comes to shading.

I didn't like how some of the pixels looked so I went back and changed them just to make it more pleasing to me and to help get his pose better looking.

I flattened his head, fattened his right arm and changed the shoulder on the right arm also.

This, to me, is better.

So, let's shade this mofo.

To shade I make a brightness/contrast new adjustment layer and place it between the outline and the colour, so that the outline is on top of the brightness/contrast layer and the colour is beneath it.

This way, when shading I won't accidentally change the colour of the outline.

Now, just like in the background tutorial, I just start cutting light areas out of the colour. I did my lightest lights first.

Then I added some wrinkles to the knees and took out the dark lines in the middle of the chest. I think it is best if the shadow defines his form and not outline. I also added to the face, giving him more of a character.

I also thinks it's good to not shade the face of your character too much, leave a lot of light on it because that is the face we are going to be playing, so I personally want to see what it looks like.

Now, choosing a lighter grey and drawing on the brightness/contrast layer, I go back in and add my second layer of shadow.

I'm only going to have 3 levels of shadow on this guy, dark, middle and light tones.

Knowing where to place these shadows isn't really what I'm teaching here [and I'm not an expert on it anyway] so just look around you at light and shadow and always remember that light usually comes from 1 direction more than the other. So try and have 1 side of the character darker than the other. This really helps to define form and give the character weight.

Now, because he is an army official, I'm added his medals and random shiny things on his costume.

I just opened up another layer and drew the colours on it. No big deal.

I didn't like how dark the outline was around the character so I lightened it up a little. On both his head and his body.

Now, the outline is where we will focus next. We very well could just leave the image the way it is and it would be just fine I think.

But I want to play around with it a little bit more and try and add some detail to his outline.

What I'm going to do is take a darker colour green and [with preserve transparency ticked on] draw darker colours on the left side of the image.

Then I did the same thing with the grey of the hands and head. It isn't that noticeable really, but I think for the minor bit of effort, it looks better.

All that was really left was too test the character against a couple of colours and see if he looked ok. I used the primaries and then an odd purple just to make sure.

I think he looks ok except for the fact that his head kind of looks weird against the blue and the purple.

So just as another test I used a much darker bit of grey to completely outline the head and hands. This really makes his head stand out but it also detracts from the green in some cases.

I dunno, it's up to you how you want it to look.

And keep in mind that in the upper colour bar test, not many games have large areas of flat colour like that, so there probably won't be a problem with the head getting lost in the background.

So there we have it. A complete character shot drawn from a scanned pencil image. It isn't hard at all really, once you get the hang of it. Total colours used, 14.

I hope this helps...