How To Create Voxel Art for Unity Projects

Tony Martínez | March 15, 2021

Pixel art and voxel art have made a comeback in recent years, thanks to remakes and remasters of retro video games. Whether it is nostalgia or simple enjoyment, these retro games have a certain charm around them. They were already growing in popularity before the coronavirus pandemic hit and people turned to video games to pass the time.

In this article we will talk about the differences between pixel art and voxel art, and explain how to create voxel art using Unity.

What is Voxel Art?

To answer that question, we should first explain what a pixel is. In 2D graphics, a pixel is the smallest visible part of an image that a computer is capable of printing or displaying. When zooming into an image, you will find that a grid consists of hundreds of small squares. Each of these squares is called a pixel. Pixel art is a form of digital art, created through the use of software, where images are edited on the pixel level.

Voxel art is a type of digital art that uses those 3D pixels to create illustrations, animations, and video games. It is like pixel art, but in 3D. So instead of having flat pixels, you add 3D units to the space. These 3D units are commonly small enough and always the same size. In 3D graphics, a voxel is the value on a regular grid.

In short, you can compare the pixel with a square, and the voxel with a cube. The following animation shows that with talent and creativity, you can create unique worlds with voxel art.

easy-voxel-art-for-unity-side-01

 

How To Get Started With Voxel Art

MagicaVoxel is a free and open-source voxel art editor and an interactive path tracing renderer that allows even the least experienced among us to make 3D voxel models.

The first step is to create a character model with the famous “T pose.” In the following video, you can see how a rather simple Mario clone can be made using MagicaVoxel.

easy-voxel-art-for-unity-side-02-500x281

There are a couple of key elements to take into account when designing your character model:

  • Your model should be humanoid,
  • your model should have arms and legs,
  • but fingers on hands are optional,
  • you want the proportions and dimensions to be realistic,
  • creating is easier when your character is in T-position.

When you’ve completed these steps and created your character, it might look something like image 1. The next step is to export your character in .OBJ format.

easy-voxel-art-for-unity-side-03-500x594Image 1. A simple Mario clone made with MagicaVoxel.

Your First Model in MagicaVoxel

If you haven’t done so yet, create an Adobe account, then browse to Mixamo.com. After uploading your .OBJ model, you can start with the Auto-rigging tool.

Set the anchor points as indicated by the circles in ‘image 2’. Please note the dropdown, and select “No Fingers (25)” at the bottom. If you forget this, your model won't be processed correctly.

easy-voxel-art-for-unity-side-04-800x511

Image 2. Using the Auto-rigging tool.

If the Auto-rigging tool does not recognize your character properly, try moving the anchor points around. When the model rigging is done, you should be able to see your character in movement.

Animations

Mixamo is an online character animation service that offers avatar creation suites and thousands of animations to choose from. You can try different animations, create a pack, and download it as FBX for Unity (see image 3).

Image 3. Download your pack as FBX for Unity (.fbx).

What’s Next?

Now that you have downloaded your pack, there are additional things for you to do in Unity:

  • Create a new object,
  • add a new animator controller,
  • add your animations to the animator,
  • trigger changes to the FSM,
  • blend animations,
  • create an actual videogame.

Unless you need very specific animations, you won’t need a professional designer or animator to make original-looking worlds and characters.

Key Takeaways

  • Pixel art is a digital art form where color is applied to individual pixels to create an 2D image, whereas voxel art is a type of digital art that uses those 3D pixels to create illustrations, animations, and video games.
  • To get started with voxel art, you can create a character in MagicaVoxel; a free and open-source voxel art editor that allows even the least experienced among us to make 3D voxel models.
  • Once you’ve created your character, you can upload your .OBJ model to Mixamo, an online character animation service that offers avatar creation suites and thousands of animations to choose from.
  • After downloading the Unity package in Maximo, you can import your .fbx file into Unity to start creating an actual videogame.
  • Unless you need very specific animations, you don’t need a professional designer or animator to make original-looking worlds and characters.

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