Is That Dithering?

3D things are still strange to me.

I grew up during the transition from 2D gaming to 3D gaming (well, in terms of major productions – it seemed to me that N64 crossed a threshold). 3D was amazing, but at the same time – the level of detail that 2D had come to expect – especially from pixel artists – it aged better, it had more refined artistry because the tools had just existed longer. A good example is Ocarina of Time (which felt amazing at the time – and holds up better than some) and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night which were released only about a year apart.

I also grew up during a time when Toy Story was still what I thought of when I thought about 3D, and so when I went to college to do graphics it simply had no appeal for me. I didn’t want to make that kind of thing, and moreover – there was an awful lot of technical knowledge that went into it that I just found boring. Lots of the graduates who came out of that program if they got a job at all it was as some kind of technical specialist doing a certain kind of lighting or designing custom shaders for one scene of one movie or working on textures and bump maps or something for bigger production houses. That’s a kind of artistry, I admit, but it just wasn’t for me – it felt more like digital stagecraft. Making 3D models is it’s own kind of skill too – like sculpting, really, and programs like Zbrush barely existed and 3D modeling seemed really difficult and dull for people like myself who weren’t fascinated by 3D Max or some kind of relatively cheap software as adolescents.

At the same time, living through that transitional state meant that I had seen a lot of baked 3D animation in old computer games. Notice – the pixel art has a distinctly 3D feel to it, and the 3D is still often dithered and pre-rendered due to system limitations. It meant those two worlds of 3D and 2D pixel art were still blended and moving between eachother.

It’s a strange place to be – and I hadn’t really thought about it very much until I saw some Fornax Void work on Hic Et Nunc. When I first saw it I thought to myself that it was just one of a million examples of people using some old free or crappy models and throwing some stock colors on them and clicking render – but the more I explored Fornax Void’s gallery, his renditions of nostalgic scenes and ideas of that transitional period: say, 1996-2003 – he made real artistry out of it. His gallery even included a secret game area that was like an old adventure game. I was blown away. He even included some legacy palette indexes on his website so you could make artwork that was using the palettes of old systems, dithering to match their limited colors.

From the master of making fun of me, robek.


I started experimenting right away with doing designs that matched old systems – ones I never owned – combining one systems palette with another for different shapes in one composition, trying out lines and shapes and textures. These were the colors and patterns and familiar objects of about a decade of my life. I spent a lot of it looking at computer screens, I realized. I remembered my grandfather’s basement where he (an exceptionally tech-savvy person considering his age) had built a home PC and bought some cheap games for us to play. That meant we got to play the strange demos, old and obscure games, and occasionally the lost gem. I thought about just how much time we dumped into that screen as kids – and now that my grandfather is gone – do I wish I’d spent more time talking with him? Sitting with him instead of playing some dithered mess of a CG strategy game?

Honestly – I’m not sure. I think my grandfather would’ve been just as baffled about what to talk about or do as we were – and he got a gas out of us enjoying his computer. Still, though – it’s hard not to imagine that there was something more constructive we could have done. The graphics and moods of that decade are burned into my brain now, though, so going back makes me giddy – and creating something new that looks like it was from that era evokes that same feeling. It was really the introduction of dithering on 3D work and 2D designs that made it feel like that moment that I wanted. It also let me capture the sentiments I wanted – I really do probably have a few files on floppies in my dad’s old boxes of computer junk. I really did spend a lot of my childhood looking at dithered patterns on screens. It feels authentic and mournful at the same time that I’m making work that should feel light and playful – and that’s exactly where I like to reside.


I started the idea_on_floppy series on that robek turned me on to, and it felt like an obscure and new enough place to try doing something in 3D for the first time. The first couple were just okay, I think, and they live there – and when I tried using that style to make something more static while still being 3D, I think I hit the sweet spot. Don’t get me wrong either – these are not sophisticated 3D compositions with good lighting and excellent geometry – they’re crude. It’s a design choice at the same time that it’s just a plain limitation – I never really got over my distaste for sophisticated 3D stuff.

The last piece so far from the idea_on_floppy series is a collaboration with letsglitchit aka Dawnia Darkstone – the notorious glitch artist who sent me circuitbent camera images and helped break some encoding to make this piece that conjures the idea of a corrupt floppy (again, a real thing I recall).

Sometimes I still dip back into on UBIQ to make something when the mood strikes me. I’ve come to really enjoy a simple dithered composition – it’s not rocket science to make one, but it sure is satisfying to see when they come together.