Sunday, November 29, 2015

INTERVIEW: The 8-Bit Artist on Painting Pixels

Chris "Eightbit" Olian has been making his rounds for the past 10 years. He's been featured in Nintendo Power, on Kotaku, and is in the upcoming documentary, Console Wars.
So what does he do?
He creates art, with painstaking dedication, out of pixels with acrylic paint. Yes, every canvas, with sizes ranging from 8x8 to 9 FEET LONG, is created by hand.
How does he do it? Well, that's why I interviewed him, so without further hesitation, here's what he had to say:
First of all, who are you?
My name is the 8-Bit Artist and I have been doing pixel paintings for over 10 years now.
What video games did you play in your childhood and how did they influence you? 
My childhood was the NES and SNES. I had some exposure with the Genesis since my neighbor had one, but I was never that big into their game library. I probably played Final Fantasy 3(6), A Link to the Past and Mega Man 2 the most. I can't really pinpoint their exact influence on me, but they obviously had a big impact on my childhood and I have quite the NEStalgia for the old games.
What are your favorite and least favorite video games? Which ones left the most lasting impact?
My favorite games are probably the same 3 I listed as the most played. On my old FF3 cart, I maxed out the clock and the steps taken. That just goes to show how much time I put into that cart. I always admired the intricate sprite work in the Final Fantasy SNES games. I probably played and beaten A Link to the Past the most. As for my least favorite game, I vividly remember renting the SNES game Rise of the Robots and thinking it was the worst SNES game I had ever played. I think that fighting game is worse than Shaq Fu.


Idolatry, 2015
Did you always know that you wanted to be an artist? 
No, and in fact, I never did art in elementary or high school. Becoming an artist (which isn't my full time job, just a hobby I dedicate a good chunk of free time to) was completely by accident. I just started doing pixel paintings and posted them on MySpace and it got popular. I think it was the right place and the right time because I started right when the video game music rock scene was just starting to gain popularity with bands like the Minibosses.
What made you choose pixel art?
I wanted to paint old school video game scenes but keep them how they looked on screen, so I didn't necessarily choose pixel art. It was just the art I wanted to produce was already in that style.
Explain the process of creating one of your works. Is it difficult to create such meticulous works?
I'll get ideas just playing through old NES and SNES games for the most part. I'll see a scene I think would be a really eye catching painting and screen cap it with my emulator. After that I'll move around some stuff to make sure the scene is even and symmetrical. Once I have a general scene, I'll see how many pixels it is and do the basic math on what size canvas I would have to use with what pixel size. Once that's figured out, I'll just grid the canvas and start painting. Pixel painting like this isn't difficult, although it does require great patience and a steady hand doesn't hurt either. I personally dislike pixel paintings with very sloppy and squiggly lines. It comes off to me as lazy, so I make sure mine are pretty straight. It's always nice when someone thinks my stuff is a print of a screen shot and not a painting done by hand.
Part of Kefka's Tower, 2014
What were some of the most difficult pieces to create?
Custom ones will always be more difficult and time consuming to make, but once it's done, the actual process of painting it is no more difficult than stuff from existing games. I mean, if I had to choose the most "difficult" piece I have done, I would say it was the 9 feet tall Kefka's Tower triptych (although they aren't hinged together). Just the sheer size and complexity of that piece made it the most difficult. 70+ custom colors/shades with over 100,000 pixels and 300 hours of work almost made me go insane, hahaha.
What's it like to have received such large publicity from Nintendo Power, Joystiq, etc., let alone making an appearance in "Console Wars?" 
It's awesome to get featured on bigger named sites and stuff. The Kefka's Tower piece was on Kotaku which gained me some new followers for sure. As for Console Wars, I'm not sure what is going on with that. My friend Dr. Octoroc and I were interviewed back in the summer of 2013. There will actually be two Console Wars movies; one that is being made by Seth Rogan and the other (which is what I was interviewed for) being made by Blake Harris, the author of the book. I'm hoping that footage comes out soon, but I don't have a hand in that project so I can't really say for sure.
What do you think your future is gonna look like?
My future is basically just keep painting until I feel like it. I have a regular job that pays all my bills, so the painting gig is just for fun. While I'll never try to pursue art full time, so long as people keep buying paintings from me, I'll keep painting them! I'll be doing a con in Vegas in May called LVL UP Expo and I'll also be doing Phoenix Comicon in June again.
Coming for Jaquio, 2015
Lastly, what do you think the future of gaming holds? Any thoughts on the Nintendo NX? 
The future of gaming is very uncertain. I'm actually not a fan of where gaming has/is headed which is why I tend to stick to either NES and SNES or Indie games like Shovel Knight. I do have a PS4 and while there are some really great games like Bloodborne that come out for it,  I don't play it a ton. Between multiplayer-only games that will basically be coasters in 10 years, to DLC that is either locked on the disc already or taken out of the main game to sell at a later time, to season passes where they want you to pay upfront for content when you don't even know what you're getting, to games that are just basically shipped broken and then patched to hell later on... I just really disagree with lots of stuff going on right now. As for the NX, I haven't really followed any news on it. Nintendo lost me with the Wii, and although there are some cool games I'd like to play on the Wii U such as Mario Maker, I don't have much interest to buy one. Nintendo has baffled me for quite some time though with some of their decisions like no new Metroid game (2d or FPS) and basically going after Youtube channels for showing their game and having to partner with them. It just all seems like bad decisions to me, but that's just my opinion.
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Don't forget to check out more of Chris' work on his Facebook  or Instagram!

Interested in more interviews? See the last one on constructing Animal Crossing 'horror towns' here!

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