I adore old box art – whether that be on board games, books or video games. I’ve a particular soft spot for 80s Acornsoft game – having owned an Electron for many years, the distinct checkered packaging of the Cambridge produced games took pride of place in my collection. Apart from some speciality titles, Revs and Elite for example, all of Acornsoft’s BBC titles also had their own style of packaging. It’s fairly mundane, but whereas the Electron titles carried screenshots, the Beeb relied on the classic adage of overselling what was in the box by including incredible artwork.
As I’ve been doing a little bit of graphics work for Replay Events over the past few months, recreating elements from the Acorn branding for use in the promotion of their fantastic “Classroom of the 80s” workshops, I thought it would be fun to also turn my hand to reproducing some of these lineart gems. I’ve done it before, with my Wanted: Monty Mole box art last year, so why not?
My graphics tools of choice are all Adobe products: Flash, Photoshop and Illustrator. I’m stuck with some of the older CS versions since Adobe have moved to a subscription model (something that can be discussed elsewhere) but the tools, even in version obsolescence are more than adequate for most jobs. I usually choose Flash to do remedial vector and other work in, just because its so easy. The tools are simple and the interface is intuitive. I’ve been working with Flash since the Macromedia days so I may be a little biased – but I find Illustrator, as with Photoshop, just too complicated for quick and dirty tasks. Anyway, I found a reasonably sized scan of the box art and then added it to the base layer in a new Flash asset. Steadily I traced the outline of the elements, layer upon layer until I had the background, clouds, shubbery, spaceship and finally worked on the top, and most complicated layer – the astronaut.
As you can see from the various examples, its a time consuming process, but eventually you do get some lovely “pen” outlines of the image. Remember that this is in Flash, and all the drawing tools generate vectors so they can be exported and converted into AI or EPS for rescaling without loss of quality.
The other nice thing about working this way, is that once you have everything on different layers and with nice black pen outlines it becomes a painting by numbers task. I generally colour big areas with the flat background colour and then create new layers to add shadow and highlight. The bold pen outlines and the way that layers work means that you can be quite haphazard (to a point) in colouring areas as any frayed edges end up behind the black border lines.
I’m really happy with the result, you can see the larger comparison above – mocked up with the original box scan. It’s clean, crisp and colourful – just like the original box art must have been. Now to find a use for it ….