Learn about the creative possibilities of voxel art, a technique connected to but different from pixel art
To understand what voxel art is, we must first understand what a pixel is. In 2D graphics, a pixel is the smallest visible part of an image. If you zoom all the way into an image, you will notice a grid formed by hundreds of small squares. Each of these squares, all of them in a single blocked color, is what we call a pixel.
A voxel is the equivalent of a pixel but in 3D. Think of the pixel as a square and the voxel as a cube. It's as simple as that, and the reason why many artists start their modeling and 3D animation careers by working in voxels. It represents, after all, a fun process for experimenting and creating.
To explain voxel art and its applications in-depth, we have interviewed voxel artist Zach Soares (@voxels), who has been busy creating characters, animations, and video-game art for over eight years.
What is voxel art?
Voxel art is made up of ‘volumetric pixels,’ or 3D pixels, as seen in Adam Sandler’s movie, Pixels. They should have called the movie Voxels, but no one would have related to it. In general terms, voxel art is a type of digital art that uses those 3D pixels to create illustrations, animations, and video games.
What can you create with this type of art?
Basically, you can do whatever you want. Although it originally started as a technology for video games, at the start of the nineties, over the last decade, it has found a place as an art form. You can create illustrations by rendering voxel scenes in common editing software, such as MagicaVoxel, or you can create animations, as I did in the past, using additional tools like Maya. What used to be a very limited technique has now turned into a super easy art (to start with)!
What software do you use for creating your work?
I am currently using Qubicle for modeling and Maya + Unity for animating.
Although this is what I personally use, there are many other tools available to create voxel art—a lot more!
Which artists inspire you in this field?
Good question! I usually get inspired by artists outside of this field, which helps me solve problems I encounter. There are, however, a few voxel artists I refer to:
This is an amazing Japanese voxel artist who masters color and scale brilliantly.
This artist uses color and low resolution really well. I always enjoy his animated images.
His work with text in voxel art is incredible. All his stuff is so alive, even if most of his work doesn’t have any characters in it.
This old friend of mine has invested a lot of time working in voxel art through illustration. I love how his voxel art looks like the artwork you could see in a gallery.
I always look forward to any new work from them. They create really lovely stop-motion voxel animation.
These are the artists that come to mind, and it’s great to have watched them grow as voxel artists from their first pieces until now. Their growth as individual artists is what makes them so inspiring.
What advice would you give to anyone who wanted to work in voxel art?
My first piece of advice is to create what you see. People are often held back because they do not know where to start and what to do. Be direct, start with what you see around you, go out for a walk, take some pictures. What you capture could motivate you. I remember one of my first voxel art creations was a parking lot. It does not have to be anything special.
Also, start little by little. Don’t let the scale of the model hold you back. My rule is to start with something 20x20x20, as you can add or get rid of it much more easily than if you start with a 100 scale.
My last piece of advice is to break barriers. This may sound a bit vague, so I’ll explain:
Show what voxel art can be for you. It does not have to be something that is already there. If you like photography as well as voxel art, for instance, then take pictures and include them in your voxel art. Find your own way to express yourself through art, and you’ll have more fun with it. This is precisely how I achieved my own style.
You do art for yourself, not for someone else, so try to have fun with your creations.