I made some ducks, in 2-d and 3-d iterations. I had originally planned to make pixel art ducks, and so I used Photoshop to create the first 2D pixel ducks. Since Photoshop uses bitmap rather than vector imaging, it was fairly easy to create some small pixel ducks.
Sidenote: In Photoshop, images are made with a ton of tiny pixels -bitmap- rather than mathematical formulas. Adobe Illustrator typically uses vectors, and vector art is useful because you can stretch the art, and it won’t lose its resolution. I find Photoshop easier to use because it translates more easily to analog drawing/painting.
After that, I made 3-d models of ducks in two modeling programs: MagicaVoxel and Blender. MagicaVoxel is “ a free lightweight 8-bit voxel editor,” so it’s comparable to digital Legos. The interface is fairly easy to use, but if you want to download it on your laptop, I highly recommend buying a computer mouse. Blender is an open source 3D modeling software. Blender is great because it has so many features, but, 1) it is impossible to use without a mouse, and 2) it is ridiculously easy to get lost in its mechanics. A good tutorial is necessary in navigating Blender, and so I really recommend this one- from just this tutorial, I knew enough to create a 3d model of a duck.
Some tips for using MagicaVoxel: the extrude function extends surfaces easily and saves a lot of time; I didn’t know about the mirror function before creating my duck, but if I did, the large pixel duck would have taken less time. The only advice I have for using Blender is to keep going even after being discouraged. Even though Blender’s interface is terribly un-intuitive, it’s a great resource for making art, and you can probably make any model that you can imagine.
Once the models were made, I wanted to animate them in a walking motion to add a time-based component to the duck art (so essentially, I would’ve had 2-d, 3-d, and 4-d ducks). Since Blender has animation capabilities, I used Blender to do this. I saved the pixel ducks as .obj files and imported them to Blender (using this tutorial). From there, I had to create an rig to control the duck. The models that I created are meshes, and they’re comparable a person’s outer skin. Rigs (also called armatures) are the bones that control the movement of the mesh.
If you watched the videos above, you probably noticed positioning the bones caused unwanted deformations in the pixel-duck meshes, and that’s bad because that creates awkward animations. I suspect that the imported MagicaVoxel meshes have planar outsides and empty insides, causing weird deformations from a rig. I haven’t yet figured out how to fix this, but expect an update soon.
I realize that the pixel-model ducks don’t have knees to bend, so the walking motion would be a little strange. Luckily, I have a low-poly duck model that I can experiment with by creating knees. The armature for bendy body parts (like knees and elbows) is much different and more complicated to rig. I recommend watching this video to learn the basics of rigging.
Unfortunately, this is as far as I got before my deadline for this article came up, so I wasn’t able to make an animation of my ducks walking. As I continue this project, the first priority is to make an armature that minimizes deformation to the MagicaVoxel meshes (and maybe adding knees to these pixel ducks) as well as fixing the low-poly duck’s inverse kinematics. I will also make walking animations of these ducks. After that, I would like to continue this project by making 2-d sprite animations of the pixel ducks, and potentially further the project by making a 3-d print of a duck, and making a virtual reality pixel duck. Look forward to updates on this project.
Some fun things that I learned while doing this project: Windows has its own 3d modeling app called 3d builder, and it seems like it can be used to print 3d objects. On Blender, don’t ever try to keyboard-smash; you will mess up your work. MagicaVoxel looks relaxing to use, but you will struggle to put your pixels in the correct location. Also, surprisingly, perspective view on 3d models looks better, but the orthographic view makes modeling easier.
Finally, I’ve been working on Kermit pixel art, and I think that he also should be translated into 3d pixel and low-poly models.