Photoshop tutorial: Turn a photo into a 16-bit arcade game character

For the recent music video for hip dubstep-rock act Nero’s first chart hit, Me & You, James May – aka Smudgethis – created a fictional arcade game from the early 90s, featuring Nero’s two members. The game was a sideways-scrolling beat-em-up with 16-bit graphics, similar to Double Dragon, but far superior to the 8-bit games of retro classics like Super Mario Bros.

To create this style, characters should still be blocky, but more complex than older games – and while you’ll need to use a limited colour palette to achieve the look, remember that these games still had 65,536 colours to play with.

Here, James shows you how to create a character based on a photo, using a simple colour palette and the Pencil tool.

As well as an animation guide, you’ll also need a photo of a person. James has used a photo of a punk (18888111.jpg) from this month’s stock selection from Photos To Go.

Next month, James will show you how to take this character into After Effects, animate him and apply retro game effects.

Step 1 Open up the Animation Guide (16bit).psd and the 18888111.jpg (or a photo of your choosing) to use as a basis for the character. A full-length profile photo will work best and help with obtaining colour palettes and styling for your 16-bit figure. The animation guide has a number of poses across separate layers. Select the one that best fits the pose in your photo – as ours doesn’t have legs in shot, I’ve gone for the standard pose on Layer 1.

Step 2 Using the Rectangular Marquee tool (M), select the head from your photo and Copy (Cmd/Ctrl + C) and Paste it (Cmd/Ctrl + V) into the Animation Guide (16bit).psd.

Scale the image down to fit, proportionately. You will notice that as the PSD’s dimensions are very small, the image will instantly take on a pixel art look.

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