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Old October 12th, 2009 (10:32 PM). Edited January 7th, 2011 by Chesu.
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GBA/DS Pokemon Back Sprite Tutorial
by Chesu

While sprites viewed from the front are by far the most popular,
especially when it comes to Pokemon, the large sprites representing your
team in battle are just as important. With that in mind, let's get right to it!

You may recognize Marchare from my original spriting tutorial.
It's the first Pokemon sprite I ever made from scratch, and allows
me to bring up a few points in the process of making a back sprite, so
it's what I'll be spriting. If you don't have your own sprite and want to give
this tutorial a try, why not make your own back sprite of an existing
Pokemon and see how close to the real deal it turns out?

The first thing we need to do is figure out how big the
sprite will be. Since back sprites are closer in the player's
perspective, they will always be bigger than the front sprite
versions. Most front sprites fill up a good portion of the area they're
allowed to take up (64x64 for third generation, 80x80 for fourth
generation), so the back sprites of all but the smallest/floatiest
Pokemon will have their lower halves cut off. However, seven of
the ten Pokemon I checked had back sprites that were the height
as their front sprites, like Banette up there. This only applies to third
generation sprites; most back sprites from the fourth are much larger
than the front sprites. So, how do we determine how much bigger the
features of the back sprite need to be? Well, through a bit of research
and experimentation, I've discovered that third gen sprites are forty
percent larger, and that fourth gen sprites are usually fifty to
seventy percent larger. We can apply that thusly:

First, take your sprite and flip it horizontally, then
increase the size by the desired percentage. In MS
Paint, you would right-click the sprite or click the Image
tab, select "Stretch/Skew", and replace the 100% in both
boxes under Stretch with 140; in Paint Shop Pro, click the
Image tab, select Resize, and do the same thing in the Pixel
Dimensions box, while making sure that it's set to Percentage
rather than Pixels. It may be a little blocky, but don't worry, this
image won't make it into the final sprite. As you can see in the
Banette animation, while the resized sprite is a blocky mess,
all of its features are almost exactly the same size as
the ones in the back sprite. With this, we can
begin working on the sprite itself.

Using the method from the original scratch tutorial, create
some shapes around the same size as the important parts of your
enlarged sprite's body, then fit them together in an approximation
of the front sprite's pose and start reshaping them. The circles are
placed on top of the sprite in the image on the left only to show the
size comparison; since the back sprite is viewed more from above,
you shouldn't try to put the shapes together exactly as they sit on
top of your resized sprite. I set them about the same way I did
when making the original sprite, and will work from there.
Once you're reasonably happy with the basic shape
of the body, we can move on to limbs and
deciding where to cut off the sprite.

Here's a selection of parts I made based on the
resized sprite, and my first attempts at assembling
them. Like I said before, one reason that I chose Marchare
was to point out some important aspects of making a back sprite;
one of them is budgeting your available space. Marchare's front sprite
is one pixel short of the third generation's maximum width, meaning
that a larger version will have to be a bit different from the original
to fit. My first thought was to perk the ears up so that there would
be room for the tail, but that looked kind of... terrible. Also,
between the positions of the ears and arm, the sprite
seems to be facing straight to the right, which
we want to avoid if at all possible.

By making the ears just a bit shorter than in
the front sprite, I'm able to make much better-looking
ears that make the sprite only a few pixels wider than it
was with them perked up. Unfortunately, the left ear being
down means that the tail overlapping it will be almost unavoidable.
There are only ten pixels between the back of the body and the edge
of the area I have to work with, so I definitely won't be able to draw the
tail the same way it appears in the front sprite. Don't worry though, if
you fiddle with it enough you'll always find a way around things like
this. I cut the sprite off around the middle of the hip, to make
sure that there's at least one pixel between the bottom of
the foot and where the battle menu would be.

This brings me to the next point I chose Marchare
in order to bring up: whether or not to show certain
body parts. I could get away with lowering the majority
of the tail below the cut off point, saving me from having
to deal with the overlapping of tail and ear, but after a bit
of experimentation I decided that it wouldn't look very good.
That doesn't mean that you shouldn't try something similar if
you think it would work though, every sprite is different. I ended
up going with a more curvy version of the front sprite's tail, with the
dimensions based on the resized sprite. If you overlap parts like
this, make sure that the shapes work well together. If this tail
were moved one pixel in any direction, its outline would
touch the outline of the ear or body and look... Well,
not so good. Once you're happy with your limbs,
it's time to move on to one last point worth
considering, then the final stage, shading!

The last reason I chose Marchare is the shape of
its face. Because of the way Rattata's face is shaped,
its eyes aren't visible from this angle, while Banette's
are. Marchare's eyes are spaced farther apart than Rattata's
but not quite as much as Banette's, so how much of its face I
show is down to a judgment call. There's really no golden rule for
this, you'll just have to make a choice based on the shape of your
sprite's head and face. Once you've worked that out, it's time to shade!
As shown in the second and third generation Rattata sprites (official
revamps of back sprites are pretty common... who knew!), the
light source is almost directly above. How much
dithering you use is completely up to you.

With a little modification to the head and
back, it's looking even more like the front sprite.
That's one last thing I would like to bring up; don't
be afraid to make changes like this at the last minute.
No matter how much work you've done on a sprite, you're
not committed to the current look. If you think it could
look better, go ahead and try! So long as you keep
backups of all important revisions of your
sprite, it never hurts to experiment.

Well, there you have it. Back sprites may seem
intimidating, what with their large size and divergence
from the familiar rules of Pokemon spriting, but in reality
all you need is to know a few useful techniques. I hope
you've found this tutorial useful! Until next time...
Keep spriting!


If you have any questions or would like to give feedback
on the tutorials, click here to leave me a visitor message!


Updated 11/07/10.