Interview with Helm & Ptoing
Published in Vandalism News #48
Performed by Macx
Telemachus "Helm" Stavropoulos and Sven "Ptoing" Ruthner are two artists recently getting involved with c64 graphics. They have showed their skills and done so in a way many see as breaking new ground on how to use the set limitations. One of the reasons doing this is of course being new, without the definitions of the scene, but also perhaps due to being from a different perspective than most sceners. As Ptoing helped out with the awards of this issue I asked him if it would be ok if our readers got a bit more introduced to him. He suggested a double interview, with him and his fellow graphical laboratorian and Helm agreed. The interview was conducted by Jonatan "Macx" Forsberg over IRC and e-mail in October 2006.
Macx: WHAT DO YOU GUYS DO FOR A LIVING, AND HOW DO YOU KNOW EACHOTHER?
Ptoing: I'm working for Glu Mobile in London atm doing 2d game art for cell phone games, good fun and very different from C64 stuff.
Helm: I am a comic book artist. I draw comics for a living. Which basically means my father supports me during these long dry spells when I have no work, and then I gloat in ill-placed pride over my independence during the short bursts of actual work time. I know Ptoing from the internet forum Pixelation. He posted art there, I critiqued it, he thanked me and took my critique into account, and then we did that sort of thing for a while, started chatting on MSN, discovered a mutual fondness of each other over the presupposed mutual respect. That's it.
Ptoing: And we know each other since mid 2003 now, shortly after I joined Pixelation back in April 2004. Helm was already there (being moderator) and gave me very nice critique when I started pixelling.
Macx: HAVE YOU EVER MET?
Ptoing: Not yet, but we will meet this year after Christmas in Germany, if nothing evil happens!
Helm: Sadly not yet. X was a good opportunity, but I won't be able to make it. We'll meet in the winter, in Germany at a friend's house, if everything goes as planned.
Macx: HOW AND WHEN DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH THE C64?
Ptoing: I got a C64 when I was 8, but then later sold it when we got our Amiga 500. Later on I regretted it a bit and always liked demo scene stuff (which I did not know when I was younger). Then around the end of 2003 I got a bit bored with pixel art and chatted with Helm who was in a slump himself and somehow we had the idea to try out C64 graphics for kicks and to get new juices flowing.
Helm: My childhood experience with the c64 is a second-hand one, as I played mainly games at a friend's house. I was into Amiga’s and IBM compatibles and that's the stuff I had at home. I haven't touched a real c64 for a dozen years or so. I got involved with the machine for real through my relevant interest in its graphical capabilities, long after I had become a capable pixel artist on more unrestricted machines.
Macx: WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST ENCOUNTERS OF THE C64 DEMOSCENE?
Ptoing: Hm very hard to say actually. I might have seen some demos back in the day and I certainly remember a lot of cracktros from games. Also when I discovered gfxzone.org I saw the nice stuff from Mermaid and Cyclone and loved the feel of the c64 art, which was also around 2003.
Helm: Cracker loader screens, of course. I don't clearly remember when I actually *understood* what the demo scene was, and I as almost everybody else suffered the 'I see the graphics, I hear the music, but where is the game?' *keypress* *keypress* effect, but I eventually got it. The demo scene was a by-product of computer culture and I've been exposed to it in numerous ways, but as far as c64-relative goes, my only scene experience is the virtual one, through the internet.
Ptoing: Basically when I started doing pixel art I did research on all kinds of different levels, and since I once had a C64 that was a logical conclusion, and one I have not regretted.
Macx: WHY THE C64, AND WHEN DID YOU DECIDE?
Ptoing: For me because it was my first machine and stuff like the Amiga is not interesting for me as an Artist. 32 out of 4096 colours is not really anything I would call restricting. I like restrictions and am a firm believer that they make you grow and also that restrictions can actually be freeing.
Helm: Because the c64 is magic. There's just the right amount of hardware-dictated limitation, and just the right amount of playful hacker-workaround for it. The restrictions are very artistically and aesthetically rejuvenating for people like us, that have had the dubious freedom of millions of colours for pixelling at our disposal practically since the beginning of our infatuation with the pixel art medium. And I've made no choice about an allegiance to this specific machine, I feel. The adoration could pass, possibly, at any time.
Macx: @PTOING: DOES THIS BELIEF IN RESTRICTIONS HAVE OTHER IMPLICATIONS FOR YOU (IDEOLOGICAL, AESTHETICAL, ETC.), AND DO YOU AGREE HELM?
Helm: I'll let Ptoing expound before I agree, disagree or clarify.
Ptoing: Well, I believe that through restrictions you can come to new solutions, like what I did with "Yus Chunk". Most of the time I do not try to hide restrictions or work around them (which can be fun as well), but fully embrace them and take them as my guide. This is exactly how I came up with the chunk style, and I also have ideas for other more advanced C64 gfx-modes which were not really done yet as far as I am aware.
Helm: Improvising through artificial necessity breeds stylistics, and through the systematic application of those stylistics along with a conceptual framework, you arrive at a singular aesthetic.
Ptoing: It's also something that Helm and I call "Computer Aesthetic", exploring the given rule set of the machine and making it work for what it is, not trying to produce photos on it.
Macx: SOUNDS AWESOME. BUT WE ARE ONLY TALKING DESIGN HERE, RIGHT?
Ptoing: As far as ideas go I am not only talking design, I just think there are modes that could be more explored like AFLI for example.
Helm: Design isn't just design. There are inherent signifiers to any type of art that point towards itself, naturally. The point of origin of art, the technical limitations of it are a big part of what make it a singular medium, that is, one that cannot easily be replaced by another. Theatre still exists because it has aesthetic differences and therefore different effects on the viewer/participator (in theatre) as opposed to the viewer in cinema.
Macx: HOW DO YOU COME UP WITH THESE NEW WAYS OF USING THE LIMITATIONS, AS IN YUS CHUNK? IS IT ANY METHOD OR SYSTEM BEHIND?
Ptoing: There is not a textbook method when I work with a new mode I have not tried before. 2 colours per 8x8 block. What can I do? I can try to hide it, can go 1 bit or I can just show it. How can I show it and make it nice? Geometrical shapes. That's it :)
Helm: Digital art, in my opinion, should not try to hide its digital-ness. The c64 is a great midpoint in computer technology in that it's practically impossible to hide the machine. Anyone that tries - fails. It's not a challenge anymore so much to try to hide it in futility, as it is to embrace it and make it a functional part of the identity of the art created on it.
Macx: BUT DOES THIS MEAN YOU WORK WITHIN THE C64 SCENE CONTEXT, OR BEYOND IT?
Ptoing: What do you mean by "within Scene context"?
Helm: I do not think I work within the c64 scene context as I have no specific ties to it. I respect a lot of art by a lot of artists that are in the scene, and I would love to be in contact or friendship with some of them, but I don't really understand where my place would be in this scene, so being outside it is a natural consequence.
Macx: WHAT DOES THE SCENE MEAN TO YOU?
Ptoing: I guess I work in scene context so far that I am in 2 groups and also do stuff for other groups now and then (like Prollcoder), but for my graphics I do not really take the Scene as such as inspiration.
Helm: I see it as a social framework of people that have some similar interests. My interest is pixel art, not the scene.
Ptoing: I really like the scene for the fact that I can still enjoy C64 stuff and realise my own for others to enjoy. The C64 has a special place in my heart as it was my introduction to computers.
Macx: IN HELM'S PIECE "WAITING AT DUSK", IS THE HOUSE SMALL OR JUST FURTHER AWAY?
Helm: I believe I was going for further away.
Ptoing: Haha, I at first also thought it was small :F
Macx: COULD IT BE BOTH SMALL AND FURTHER AWAY?
Helm: Illusion of depth is a bit at a disadvantage in the way I make hi-res pictures, sadly, so I guess the confusion is understandable. It can be whatever holds a significance for you, but I was going for a human-sized residence, in the woods, from where the girl has left/is expected back after her meeting. But I have said too much!
Ptoing: I guess if it's set in or around R'hley? :P
Helm: R'lyeh, heathen!
Macx: "EVE", AND THE BACKGROUND OF MANY PICTURES CONTAINS TRIANGLES. WHERE DOES THIS COME FROM?
Helm: There is no "background" in Eve, and that should partly answer your question. To elaborate, I wanted the human-like figure to be emergent from the prime digital material I chose for the piece, the hires triangles. The effect should hopefully be holistic, not 'girl stands in front of abstract background'. The actual triangles come from finding a way to deal with hi-res limitations without copping out with 1bit. Innovation through restriction. There is further personal significance to the ordering of the Eve triangles but I fear the full effect is lost on all but Eva herself.
Macx: I MEANT THE BACKGROUND IN E.G. "WAITING AT DUSK"
Helm: Ah, I see.
Macx: I BELIEVE YOU HAVE SUCCEEDED VERY WELL IN YOUR AIM WITH "EVE", BUT IT IS A SIMILAR APPROACH USED IN A DIFFERENT MANNER IN "WAITING AT DUSK"? DO YOU CALL IT ANYTHING?
Helm: You are correct, the two pieces are world apart, and not many people made that distinction. In Dusk, the triangle effect is purposely used as a backdrop for an altogether more conservative construction, with a small amount of linear storytelling and whatnot. It's not in my opinion a viable compromise between the holistic effect of Eve and say, traditional pixel art, but I'm still working on a good middle ground. Do I call what anything?
Macx: THE TRIANGLE STYLE, SO TO SPEAK.
Helm: Oh that has a name or three. Ptoing originally came up with 'Chunkfunk' to describe the whole procedure, I call the actual effect Triangle Slices. Of course you'd have to ask Chuck Close what he calls it :)
Ptoing: Hehe, I think I have to upload "vaginas with teeth" by miascugh (non-scener) so people can see that too, it's more Chuck Close-ihs
Helm: It's a great piece. And yeah it makes the connection a bit more blatant.
Ptoing: Or you could release it with this issue, I am sure he has nothing against it. It is a c64 hires image: http://miascugh.ptoing.net/pixels/vaginaswithteeth2.png
Macx: RETURNING TO "YUS CHUNK", WHAT WAS THE EVOLUTION YOU MENTIONED EARLIER?
Ptoing: That was just the process that seemed for me a logical one when working with hires. I always ask myself what I can do with the given restrictions, what seems possible. And as I mentioned before in hires there are more or less 3 options. Do it with only 2 colours, Use more colours and try to hide the blockyness or embrace the blockyness.
Macx: DO YOU WANT TO HINT IN THE DIRECTION OF FUTURE REVOLUTIONS?
Ptoing: I would not call it revolutions, but no, I don't want to hint at them, I want them to be surprising :)
Helm: For my part, I am making the triangle style a bit more cohesive for different stuff than just retreads of Eve. There's still a bit before this is exhausted, I feel.
Macx: HOW OLD ARE YOU AND WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
Helm: I am 22 years old. I am from, and currently reside in Athens, Greece.
Ptoing: 26, from Germany, living and working in London atm.
Macx: I KNOW YOU GREW UP ON THE COUNTRYSIDE, PTOING. HOW HAS YOUR GROWING UP AFFECTED YOUR WAY OF BEING CREATIVE, YOU THINK? AND HOW ABOUT YOU, HELM?
Ptoing: Well, that actually is very hard to tell I guess, but I know I drew from nature less that I should have done. Overall I think though that it was good for my Imagination.
Helm: I grew up in urban areas. The effect was a cumulative one along with other experiences and whatnot, but I think I have a very specific longing for urban imagery, although it is counteracted by an artificial but vital naturalist tendency I also have, especially in terms of what I draw. The two cannot coexist, and this creates useful artistic tension. Drawing pictures of women waiting by trees in the woods at dusk on a computer while preaching about computer aesthetic is a wonderful dichotomy.
Macx: WHO ARE YOUR FAVOURITE C64 GRAPHICIANS?
Helm: WEC is doing wonderful work lately in hi-res and I massively enjoy and respect him for it. Mirage is a great technician, although I can't be certain what parts are drawn and which reduced and cleaned, so that mars my respect for him somewhat. Hein is very proficient for all his years in the scene. I enjoy Electric for various reasons. Sander is an excellent artist too, DeeKay and TCH amazing, patient technicians. Sarge was cool back in the 80's because you can see him learning pixel art techniques as he went.
Ptoing: Cyclone did some very nice stuff, but not very much sadly. And I have to agree with pretty much all Helm said above.
Helm: Cyclone is a god on the Amiga, though.
Helm: Oh and Mermaid of course!
Ptoing: Also of course Mermaid, technically very nice and not doing copies.
Helm: She's half the reason I and Ptoing got into c64 art after all.
Ptoing: I am looking forward to chatting with some of these people at X, TCH for example, and Sander.
Macx: BEING INTERESTED IN THE PIXEL ART, I GUESS YOU FOLLOW ALL THE C64 RELEASES?
Helm: Yes, and slowly working through the backlog, patiently. Such wonders to be found!
Ptoing: Same here :)
Macx: WHAT DO YOU FANCY MORE OF WHAT YOU HAVE SEEN?
Ptoing: it's very nice to just click Random until something ace comes up.
Helm: You mean specific pieces of art we enjoy, or demos?
Macx: YES. BOTH
Ptoing: I for my part fancy the "pure" modes more than any flicker stuff any time. But I have to say I like some Flickerstuff as well and Hackmodes like AFLI or SHF.
Macx: DO YOU HAVE ANY FAVOURITE DEMOS?
Ptoing: As far as demos go I like nice design more than just coderpr0n, but I do respect that as well and enjoy it every now and then, esp. since I started learning 6510 ASM a few weeks ago.
Helm: Sadly this will be similar to my above answer: WEC's latest hi-res two just blow my mind, especially the Russian flag one. Mirage's latest few, especially those that do not contain triangles, not because I am defensive of them, and I am honoured, but because I realize he's doing some sort of meta-commentary through their inclusion for which I am not sure I care WITHIN the context of an art-piece. Would make for an interesting discussion elsewhere, though.
Ptoing: Hm, fave demo, Trans*Form is up there for sure, purely for being one of the most awesomely designed demos ever, not just c64.
Helm: I enjoy some classics like Dutch Breeze, but also more thematic consistency demos, more of which I hope we see in the future. Like Transform.
Ptoing: I also like Stuff like Royal Arte and Deus Ex (whereas I kinda like RA a bit more of the two). And then there is stuff like Artefacts which almost made me shit my pants.
Helm: Agree on Artefacts. Tsunami was good too, although too much photo-conversion.
Macx: @PTOING: WHAT MADE YOU GET INTO 6510 ASM?
Ptoing: Curiosity :). I would love to be able to make a small demo by myself or not have to resort on coders when I wanna experiment in terms of graphics. Still quite a bit away from that, but I will get there.
Macx: @HELM: HAVE YOU DISCUSSED THIS WITH MIRAGE?
Helm: No, I am not in contact with Mirage directly at this point. If he's not too busy I'd enjoy a chat.
Macx: WHAT DO YOU DISCUSS AT YOUR PIXELFORUMS?
Helm: Pixel art technique most of all. Dithering, AA, colour conservation, hue shifting. We take the technical side of things very seriously because that's where you can help people and be helped at most directly. Aesthetic aspects and design aspects are not so much the point, therefore it's very much a technician's forum foremost.
Ptoing: Well it's like an art forum but specialised on pixels. People post art, and whoever feels like it gives comments and constructive critique if possible.
Helm: However an increased awareness of the aesthetic side is the result of just rubbing shoulders over all these years.
Macx: WHAT DO THE TWO OF YOU DISCUSS, GRAPHICWISE? AND DO YOU FEEL YOU GET ANY INPUT/FEEDBACK FROM PARTS OF THE SCENE (I.E. SCENERS)?
Ptoing: We talk a lot about general pixel technique and have fun making up silly restrictions as well as talk about C64 modes and what would be interesting to try with them.
Helm: We are I feel very much on the same page, Ptoing and I as far as talking pixels goes. Usually we either show each other our art or other people's art and we rapidly dissect their technique for fun. When we're working on pixels (sometimes we work at the same time to keep each other motivated with wips) things get a bit more hardcore with direct critique and edits and ideas shooting back and forth.
Ptoing: I chat a bit with Sander every now and then, but he is pretty much the only C64 Scene artist I have contact to atm.
Helm: But we've discussed the fundamentals so much they don't occur now, so it's like *link* "nice AA" "yeah" unless we're working.
Ptoing: :) true
Helm: I don't have much pixel-art dependent feedback from sceners. Sometimes they say 'good technique' or 'bad technique' but I feel this is not explored enough for it to be helpful to me.
Macx: WHAT ROLE DO YOU THINK PARTIES PLAY IN THE CONTEMPORARY C64 SCENE?
Ptoing: So far I only been to Kindergarten 2005 and there was not much c64 love going on, apart from 2 compo pictures. So I have to say I look forward to X, I guess it will mostly be to get new contacts and have fun.
Helm: I don't really know much about demo scene parties.
Macx: ISN'T MUCH OF THE "C64 MAGIC" THE SCENE?
Ptoing: I think the c64 would be magic even without the scene, but the scene helps :)
Helm: Not for me, at least. I hold no nostalgic ties to the scene, I am from a different scene, I did different things, although I suspect much similar to yours that I look back to with fondness and that are the fuel that drives me today.
Macx: IN WHAT WAY?
Ptoing: Well the c64 is nice for what it is, imo, it's a nice little machine with cool capabilities, esp for when it was made. But the scene made it shine of course
Macx: @HELM: WHAT SIMILAR THINGS?
Helm: I was in social cliques, I made love with girls, I fought people, I was creative, I communicated... can be done in c64 scene and without :). So what did you do, Macx, within the scene you couldn't without?
Macx: I WAS 13 AND CALLED BOARDS IN THE UNITED STATES AND HAD LOADS OF CONTACTS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD, PRE-INTERNET.
Helm: Yes, I agree that's special, but I grew up with the internet from the age of 13 or so.
Macx: BUT I HOLD NO INTRINSIC VALUES FOR THE SCENE, IT IS JUST NEW FOR ME THAT SOMEONE TODAY DOES NOT CARE (NOT THAT YOU DO NOT CARE, BUT YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN)
Helm: I don't care for the c64 scene specifically. I come from a Heavy Metal background, and that is 'my scene'. The local bands, my friends, people who are alive and striving or have passed away. That is my scene for which I hold similar feelings you do for yours.
Macx: BUT YOU LIKE THE CREATIVE WORK EMANATING FROM "THE SCENE"?
Helm: I do indeed!
Macx: HEHE.. I WAS PART OF THE PUNK/HARDCORE SCENE BACK IN THE DAYS :)
Helm: Right, so you know... if you've been a part of a few scenes, they're enough :P I don't need to try to become 'someone' in the c64 scene. Too late, too young. I have had my gratifying experiences elsewhere. I am interested in the art.
Macx: WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE WORKS OF JOE, CLONE AND ED?
Helm: Joe... the 'abstract art' stuff. I have a problem with art that tries to be like other art. I think it's somewhat a misuse of the c64 to do pieces that want to look like photographs, as much as oil paintings on them. Just a personal opinion. I also highly dislike the concept of abstract art which has a hidden actual image in it. Talk about aesthetic inconsistency. Mondrian would tell you it's the lack of illustrative meaning that makes his art what it is, not 'look close enough and you see a field of roses, lol!'. I find that an artistic miscommunication at best. That isn't to say that is all these people did, but just going off on a tangent. Furthermore, just that I have the desire to communicate these concepts when I see their art means that as far as I am concerned their art has been successful on the barest level : it has not left me unaffected. This is not as small a deal as it might seem.
Ptoing: I have to say I like some of the stuff Joe did, but he is becoming a bit of a one trick pony it seems.
Macx: ART IN ITSELF OR ART AS A WAY OF EXPRESSING YOURSELF?
Helm: Art as expression and communication both!
Macx: WHAT KEEPS YOU GUYS MOTIVATED IN YOUR CREATIVE EXPLORING?
Ptoing: My love to art I guess.
Helm: Unfathomable internal drive. I'm just in the passenger seat, providing the DVD commentary.
Macx: WHAT IS ART TO YOU PTOING?
Ptoing: If someone can make a picture that provokes a feeling or tells a story, that's art for me. Or something that's just really, really nice to look at, I guess that would fall under the term "provoking some feeling" as well.
Macx: AND ALSO TO PTOING: HOW LONG HAVE YOU LIVED IN LONDON, AND DO YOU LIKE THE SCENES THERE (ART-, MUSIC- ETC.)?
Ptoing: I am in London since July now and did not have much time to go to museums but there is a lot to look at for sure, enough to keep me going when I will find more time.
Macx: @HELM: WILL YOU BE ABLE TO CONTINUE LIVING ON YOUR FATHER, OR WILL YOU BE FORCED INTO OTHER WAYS OF LIVING?
Helm: I intend to stop living with my father after my yearlong mandatory military service, which is looming. So yes, I'll work for a living stably like everybody else.
Ptoing: Military service, BAH!
Macx: DOES THIS MEAN YOU WILL BE LOOKING FOR WAYS OF EARNING MONEY AND BEING CREATIVE?
Helm: I will just do more of what I do now, hopefully. Drawing comics for a living isn't a bad way to be, if you can live with little money. I can.
Macx: WHERE CAN WE SEE YOUR COMICS AND WHAT KIND ARE THEY?
Helm: You can see my comics if you ask to, and I'm not sure what kind they are. Want some urls?
Macx: IF THEY CAN BE PUBLISHED. THE SAME GOES FOR YOU PTOING, ANY WORKS YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH THE AUDIENCE?
Helm: http://www.locustleaves.com/robotboy.png, http://www.locustleaves.com/cableworkers2.png, http://www.locustleaves.com/depthcomputation.png : What else is good, Ptoing?
Macx: LOOKS A BIT LIKE HELLBOY
Helm: I like Mignola, yeah. I'll just link one page of the new one: http://www.locustleaves.com/4s.png
Ptoing: the one with the ink and paper was funny. But I guess without translation not as much
Helm: well, that's enough. Ptoing, pimp your own stuff!
Macx: THOSE LETTERS ARE VERY BEAUTIFUL IN THEMSELVES, EVEN IF I DO NOT UNDERSTAND A BIT.
Helm: On behalf of Greece, I thank you.
Ptoing: http://ptoing.net/images/pixel/6.png : Some non c64 pixel art
http://ptoing.net/images/diznay/01_mickay.jpg : Some photoshop stuff
Helm: Hehe I had forgotten of the whale one, awesome. Link latest collab wip just for the record, Ptoing
Ptoing: Oh yeh, sec: http://www.ptoing.net/vs/ptngvshlm_052.png
Helm: The geometric Disney images are so awesome too. I can't help but laugh every time I see Mickey.
Ptoing: Thanks :)
Helm: That's a collab we've been doing for years now, with Ptoing.
Ptoing: Yeh. Needs to get done
Helm: Yes. Jerk.
Ptoing: A bit under 32 colours now. 32 is max we aim for here
Macx: TELL US OF YOUR FUTURE PLANS
Helm: Toil unstintingly - and cyclonically - towards an uncertain end. Fun!
Macx: DO YOU HAVE ANY C64 PLANS?
Ptoing: I have, but nothing I will tell you about. I am mean like that :D
Helm: Yes. There's at least I think, 4-5 more interesting pictures to make for aesthetic pursuits, and I might make more traditional c64 pixel art for a thematic demo or two in the next couple of years.
Macx: WHAT DO YOU LIKE DOING BESIDES PIXELART?
Ptoing: Traditional art and other digital art besides pixel stuff. Also getting into 3d as well.
Helm: I am a guitarist and composer, I draw comics as I said, I communicate in social cliques, I make love to girls, I fight people, embellish my own metaphorical literary garden. Watering takes a lot of time and if you don't talk to your plants, they die.
Macx: That is very true.
Ptoing: Theatre, Musical. Looking forward to see Patrick Steward in some Shakespeare play in Stratford sometime soon. And the Musical adaptation of Monty Pythons Holy Grail is going to open here this month, have to see that :). Friends are important too, but I can be very solitary as well as I am too much of a headperson often.
Macx: ANYTHING FINAL TO ADD TO THE READERS?
Helm: Yes. Readers: thank you for reading.
Ptoing: Same here, and Immer schoen alte Schule :)
Helm: DER OLDSKOOLEN
Ptoing: Haha. And now I have to get this RRNET stuff running