A vast universe of unlimited possibilities lies beyond our lonely little planet. When I gaze at the distant lights in the night sky I feel my ego slip away and wild imaginations guide me into the cosmos. Majestic starscapes full of alien worlds and life forms fill my mind. Anything you can possibly think of exists out there somewhere. The universe is truly awe-inspiring and a source of much great art. Ironically, little dots on a computer screen do well to capture this magnificence.
Even at optimal clarity our naked view of the stars from Earth is only a small glimpse at the beauty of space. Without the hindrance of the atmosphere and surrounding lights, the view becomes a mosaic of countless stars and luminous nebulae of all shapes and sizes. Don’t hold back in your creative translation of this cosmic backdrop.
These are the typical elements I use when creating starscapes. I stuck to a fairly monochromatic look for this example but you can mix it up with more color like in the title image. You can also get creative and come up with your own star shapes and all kinds of nebulae. Just google nebula images for some inspiration; truly wild stuff.
Planets and Large Celestial Bodies
This is where things really get fun. Now we zoom in on those stars and imagine the environments of distant worlds. While it’s good to keep some footing in science, this is an opportunity to really have fun and come up with creative worlds. I stuck to the common space objects here, but you can come up with all kinds of bizarre and impossible worlds. The Star Wars prequels are a great source of inspiration for fantasy worlds. I mean, a world completely covered in a dense city doesn’t seem very plausible, but it’s cool, and I’m cool with that.
Notice how I used two different approaches to the shading of the base spheres. The moon goes from lightest to darkest and the planets are shaded from darkest to lightest. In the case of the moon, it appears like the light is coming from behind, and on the planets it appears to be coming from the front. Both work fine, it’s just a matter of preference. Choose whatever feels right for the particular sprite.
In space the principles of flight are much different than in Earth’s atmosphere. Without atmosphere and a dominant force of gravity, the traditional aerodynamic winged design need not apply. This opens up the possibility to create all kinds of uniquely shaped vessels. While it’s not hard to stretch the imagination of what’s possible in our own terrestrial realm, the mystery and vastness of space provides much more creative leeway. Nevertheless, I tend to stick to more traditional winged designs that feel like they might actually be able to fly.
The idea is not to copy my design exactly, but adapt this modular approach into your own spacecraft. Try to come up with multiple versions for the wings, tail, cockpit shape, and so on. Then you can easily mix and match the pieces to create spacecraft variants. The paint job is really where it comes to life. I like to create bright striping patterns over a neutral color base. Chris Foss is a big inspiration for cool vessel designs, but mostly for the rad paint jobs.
I’m passionate about space and sci-fi aesthetics, but this is only my first tutorial on the subject. Look forward to more space themed tutorials in the future; alien landscapes, lifeforms, civilizations, more detailed spacecraft designs and so on. What space themed tutorial would you like to see?
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This month I’m sharing Into the Stars asset pack, which includes all the assets associated with this tutorial. These planets, stars, and spacecraft can be put to good use in your pixel art studies or personal game dev projects (not for commercial use). I even broke down all the spacecraft modules so you can play with your own variations. Enjoy!
All graphics in this tutorial use my Bright Future Palette
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-By Raymond Schlitter