What is a Voxel? As you are probably aware a pixel is short for picture element, the smallest part of an image that can be displayed on a TV or a computer monitor. A voxel simply adds volume to this square picture element introducing a third dimension, turning the two-dimensional square into a three-dimensional cube and offering a wealth of possibilities to the digital artist or game designer to create awesome characters and environments that are both visually appealing and memory efficient.
Minecraft started a trend in voxel gaming that has inspired a multitude of artists and designers and become a genre all of its own, but how do you get started in voxel art? What software do you need to own? What skills need to be learnt? Carry on reading my little voxel apprentice and all will be revealed.
Voxel Art Maker/Software
tools of the trade
As with any digital art style, having the right tools for the job is imperative to getting the most out of your time and your talent. Whether you are creating voxel art for games or simply for fun, having software dedicated to the job in hand can save you hours of frustration.
Fortunately, there is an abundance of quality voxel art-making software out there, both paid and free, below is a selection of some of our favourites.
totally free and totally awesome voxel editor
MagicaVoxel has been around for over five years now and has become the go-to editor for voxel art.
With tools simple enough for first-time users just to dive in and start creating simple 3D models, while more advanced users who take full advantage of MagicaVoxels ever-expanding toolset can create practically anything their imagination dictates.
MagicaVoxel is available on Windows and macOS, completely free and with the included .obj exporter, voxel objects can be imported into most 3D applications that support this format such as Blender and Cinema 4D.
Magicavoxel Tutorial For Beginners
Getting started with MagicaVoxel is incredibly easy, once you get to know the basics.
This excellent beginners tutorial by Alex Voxel will get you up to speed fast, from installing this excellent free voxel editor, to learning the interface and creating amazing voxel art, for games or just for arts sake.
create, rig and animate voxel models
Voxedit is one of the newer breed of voxel editors, still in beta at the time of writing this article but appears to be stable and very usable.
Voxedit is a totally free modelling tool for creating 3D assets suitable for game development or voxel-based art.
But unlike other voxel editors, Voxedit includes powerful bone rigging and animation tools not usually found in software of this type.
Available as a free download for Windows, macOS and Linux, 64-bit versions only.
open source voxel editor
Goxel is a free open source voxel editor created by Guillaume Chereau available for free on Windows and macOS and also available as a reasonably priced app on iOS and Android, so you can finally create voxel art on the go.
There is also a web-based version that you can use directly from your browser, however, this version is still in the experimental stage and is not as stable as the other applications available.
An excellent introduction into the world of voxel 3D model creation, with innovative tools, such as unlimited scene size and layers, which are hard to find in most free voxel editors.
Best Voxel Games
our favourite voxel based games
Originally, computer game graphics were blocky and pixelated due to the limitations of the hardware they were running on. Computers such as the Commodore 64 only had 64k to play with, while the Spectrum machine had even less at 48k.
However, these early game makers produced charming and recognisable characters and backgrounds, as well as highly addictive gameplay.
Voxel-based games are partly a throwback to these nostalgic sprite-based games of yesteryear and partly a technology that is ever-evolving, as the voxel size gets smaller and smaller due to advances in computer technology, so too does the opportunities for fully immersive voxel-built environments, that are truly interactive.
Officially released in 2011, Minecraft is responsible for the renewed interest in voxel art, even though ironically the game uses polygon rendering to create its cubic blocks.
However, Minecraft is still responsible for inspiring a multitude of voxel-based games with that specific blocky look and style.
Industries of Titan
Industries of Titan utilises voxels to allow the player to create a sprawling industrial metropolis with factories, employee accommodation and intricate road networks.
Compete for resources with other corporations and if necessary go into battle with battleships, superior technology or even politics.
Crossy Road obviously borrows heavily from the Frogger concept but has a stunning visual style all of its own.
Featuring 150 pop art-inspired, retro-styled characters and a multitude of voxel roads, rivers and train lines to cross.
Which is the basic premise of Teardown from Tuxedo Labs.
Destroy buildings, objects, machinery and equipment as you rampage around this virtual, voxel environment.
You can even import your own MagicaVoxel creations and destroy them using sandbox mode.
You play the role of Rania an employee of the semi-legal delivery company Cloudpunk, based in the sprawling neon-noir city of Nivalis.
Cloudpunk uses voxels to dazzling effect to construct this imaginary world, packing an immense amount of detail into every street corner and neighbourhood.
The game focuses on a mix of puzzle-solving and platforming with a beautiful voxel, visual style that really comes to life on the higher-spec Xbox and PC platforms.
Free Voxel Plugin for Unreal Engine
could this free voxel plugin be a game changer?
The Voxel Plugin for Unreal Engine 4, allows you to build completely destructible environments for single and multi-player voxel style games.
Create procedural landscapes and potentially even entire worlds using this unique and exciting system.
Blow bullet holes in walls and interact with your environment in ways never thought possible, until now.
Voxel Art Gallery
examples of voxel artwork
Voxel art is a great way for new 3D artists to learn their craft, instead of trying to emulate the real world with photorealistic renders from the very start, it is much easier for the beginner to create simplistic voxel art and learn about composition, colour and lighting while doing so.
It is also great fun and amazing results can be achieved fairly quickly, which can inspire the novice digital artist to move on to bigger and better things in the future.
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