Aled Lewis is an illustrator, designer, and dedicated gamer who is a fan and practitioner of pixel art—that all-encompassing visual style that taps into our nostalgia centres with its simple yet striking aesthetic, reminding us of a youth spent mashing buttons and pretending we were racing Mitsubishi FTOs around a racetrack.
His latest series, The Challengers Appear, was commissioned to celebrate the release of PlayStation’s All-Stars Battle Royale game, which features icons from PlayStation’s 15 year history duking it out in the ring to see who’s the last icon standing.
In Lewis’ series he recreates iconic moments from cinematic history using video game characters, mashing up these two forms of popular culture to appease your inner nerd. So we get God of War’s Kratos squaring up to LittleBigPlanet’s Sackboy to reinact a scene from 80s fav Karate Kid. Fat Princess takes on Rocky and the 72 steps of the entrance to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, while Rachet (from Ratchet & Clank) faces off to Jak (from the Jak and Daxter series), imitating Mr. Pink and Mr. Orange from Reservoir Dogs.
We had a chat with Lewis to find out about his love affair with the pixel and how he came to create the series.
The Creators Project: So how did you get into pixel art?
Aled Lewis: I used to play a lot of video games and DOS games when I was about 7 years old and I used to love them, so I have a kind of affinity with and respect for that. When design software technology came along that made it easy enough to switch from doing traditional drawing using a tablet to working with pixels, I started to experiment.
What software do you use to create them?
Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Illustrator’s best for the cruder stuff when you’re working in vectors and Photoshop is better for the bigger canvases, with more details.
Karate Kid: Kratos vs. Sackboy
So how does a new work start?
Composition comes first. I sketch it out roughly, penciling it, then shrinking it down and then work within that framework. And to create the pixel effect you basically zoom in to the smallest level you can get to, zoom right in to the pixel scale, then use a one-point brush and literally do a square at a time or draw lines.
How did the PlayStation compositions come about?
At first we discussed generic iconic pop culture images, then that kind of progressed and I was interested in doing film references, which I thought would be more fun to pastiche—mixing up game characters in film—and it also gives it that pop culture narrative. A lot of the stuff I do is mashups, I just enjoy finding ways to connect different aspects of pop culture. It can be a challenge, but then every now and then you see a link between two disparate things and you can link them visually and people look and understand the references you’ve made.
Reservoir Dogs: Ratchet vs. Jak
How did you choose the characters for the PlayStation images?
You have to balance your personal choices with what people will recognise. I recently worked with Insomniac Games on Rachet & Clank, so I thought it would be fun to do Rachet and Jak facing off because there’s this battle, at least between the fans, between those two games. And for Fat Princess, I wanted to use the Rocky image and using her provided the most humour—she’s perhaps not the most widely known, but she has a really hardcore following of fans. For Kratos and Sackboy I wanted to do a combative scene referencing the All Valley Karate Tournament, so it seemed natural to have Sackboy being the underdog and there’s a novelty visually, one’s a favourite in that battle.
Any video games in particular you take inspiration from?
Prince of Persia is one of the early games I used to play. But any of those crude, colourful, exciting games where your mind has to fill in the blanks to create something on those abstract pixels.
American cartoonist Scott McCloud remarked that the more specific you draw something, the less likely people are to identify with it.
I completely agree with that, it’s very true. I was reading something similar about how comics that give you something simple like a round face, allow the reader to project themselves onto it much easier than a character drawn with very clear, defined features. And it’s true of pixels.
Fat Princess as Rocky