Genuine Human, the Man Behind the Pixels
Jason Tammemägi also known as Genuine Human is the creative force behind GUNSHIP’s Art3mis & Parzival and Revel In Your Time videos. Just recently his designs was featured on The Midnight's fall tour and on a The Midnight themed Gamboy project with Retro Revolutions. If you have seen ether one of them you would have been treated to some of the finest pixel animation there is. I had the pleasure of sitting down with with Jason to discuss pixel art, his love for the 80s, and the amazing work he has been doing for the synthwave community.
Dennis G: How long have you been doing pixel art?
Genuine Human: I got into pixel art as a regular thing sometime around 2010. I had been making little drawings on an iPod Touch for a couple of years and moved into little single-panel cartoons and, for speed, started making them with pixel art. Really low res, really basic and just drawn on an iPod but they got the ideas across. As time went on, they got a bit fancier and I started to get more adventurous.
I guess it’s hard to make pixel art and not think back to the fantastic stuff we got back on the 16-bit consoles or in point and click adventures. So gradually I started making more pixel art just for the sake of the art. They were really crude and basic at first but I got better eventually.
Dennis G: What was your initial inspiration for getting started?
Genuine Human: There is a huge amount of pixel art from my childhood that I admire and still amazes me, especially when it comes to art from fighting games. The background art in the King Of Fighters games, for example, is incredible. But weirdly when I make pixel art, I love going lower res and aiming for as crisp as possible. I think one of the things with pixel art from back in the day is that it was pixel art due to the limitations so these excellent artists pushed beyond the form, making things look beautifully smooth and blended. Now all these years later, I like crisp and clean for my own pieces. I like embracing that it is pixel art.
Dennis G: When I started getting into Synthwave I was truly blown away. For me, no other music genre can conjure up the amount of emotion that Synthwave does. When and how did you find out about Synthwave, and what is about the genre that you like most about it?
Genuine Human: It was a slow evolution for me because Synthwave I think is a progression of music I was listening to around the time it came into being. I have always loved electronic music, from New Wave to Industrial to Dance and so through the years I was aware of what was going on. About a decade ago, I was listening to a lot of electro and French dance music and a bunch of it is quite ’70s-inspired and funky but it was leading to the inspirations from the next decade: the ’80s. So I look at music from Chromeo, Digitalism, Danger, Data and so on as the precursor to Synthwave.
The big change for me and where I trace Synthwave back to personally is in a compilation called Valerie and Friends from 2009. It featured College, Anoraak, Futurecop! and more. I knew that I was hearing an evolution – a change was happening. And that change turned out to be Synthwave, although I hadn’t put a name to it at the time. Not sure anyone had back then.
So by the time Synthwave was Synthwave, I was listening to it and I’m just happy someone put a name to it. Made it easier to find other acts. I love the genre. It started by soaking me in nostalgic and cinematic vibes but it has really grown since and been refined and changed. So many people are really just doing their thing with it and I love that. There is a Synthwave act or album for every mood now.
If I was to put down one reason I love it, I think I could trace it back to the big change that happened when things progressed from that ’70s funk beat inspiration to what we know as Synthwave: melody. Synthwave is a really melodic genre. You can hear it in the dark end of things – Perturbator has this metal energy going on but the melodies are so strong – and you can hear it in the lighter end, such as in FM-84, and in the epic, like GUNSHIP. And it was there at the beginning with the likes of Miami Nights 1984. The melodies are strong.
It started by soaking me in nostalgic and cinematic vibes but it has really grown since and been refined and changed. So many people are really just doing their thing with it and I love that. There is a Synthwave act or album for every mood now.
Dennis G: Let’s talk about some influences. As with Synthwave, your work also pulls in a wide range of retro cultural references. What were some of your biggest influences growing up?
Genuine Human: I’m old enough to have grown up with Knight Rider, Blade Runner and Duran Duran and there are just too many to mention. For me, it was a time of escapism especially as the American ’80s I saw in the movies and on television is nothing like what I was living. It was a grey time where I was. I think we saw a lot of hope in our media, even when some of it was tinged with darkness.
The one thing that stayed with me was the vision of the future we had back then. It was a time of cyberpunk and that was more than just science fiction. It seemed to come with an ethos, a sense of who we might become bit also that it was more than fiction – that it was just a matter of time. So many of my more cyberpunk pieces are exactly that: they are the now that I thought we’d be living. It is 2018, it is right now… but the right now that we imagined in the ’80s, that seemed so real and so imminent back then.
So a lot of those retro references aren’t just nods to things we know for the sake of familiarity. They are like a marker of the branching of timelines. The world we’re living in is one world. The world I illustrate is the world we could have been living in had we gone a different path.
Dennis G: So far you have created at least two videos as well as done several designs for the guys at GUNSHIP. How did you first get involved with those guys?
Genuine Human: Dan Haigh and I found each other on Twitter. At the time, I was making cyberpunk pixel GIFs which he liked. He was tweeting rad stuff so we were aware of each other. Then I listened to Fly For Your Life and that track is incredible. It blew me away and it still does. So I was, like, who is this GUNSHIP and what else have they got? And then I realised that Dan was a member of GUNSHIP. So we were in contact over Twitter and both like: dude, I love your work! And we decided to collaborate.
At the time, the idea was just to make some looping GIFs that could be used for lyric vids but the first one ended up getting more and more ambitious until we all realised it should be a video of its own. And so the video for Revel In Your Time came about that way. It was fantastic to make something for the guys and it seemed like such a perfect fit. The track makes it.
Dennis G: The work you did with Gyhyom, Mary Safro, and waneella for GUNSHIP’s Art3mis & Parzival video was mind blowing. I can honestly say that between the song, video, and contest, I got absolutely nothing done at work that day. Can you tell me a little about your experience working on the video especially with it being a collaborative effort?
Genuine Human: I made Revel on my own but we all wanted to take things up a notch for Art3mis & Parzival. Why do another if it isn’t going to be better than the last? I knew with my workload that I wouldn’t it done alone but also I was aware that others could bring new strengths. We were going to need a team.
I had this idea that we would have the best pixel artists, each working in their own style, and so it would be like a pixel art supergroup making something really special for an incredible, epic romantic track. And I couldn’t have asked for a better team. Each artist – Gyhyom, Mary Safro and waneella – is superb in their own right. So talented and each one brought something I couldn’t. Like a pixel art Megazord.
I had the video very well planned but I also wanted each artist to be able to embrace their section in their own way and they all did that. It shows in the final video and I’m so happy you like it.
It took a LONG time to make the video. Over six months. Mostly because we were all had a lot on but also because I’m pretty slow when it comes to pixel art. I don’t really draw it in the way that I make other art – I construct it. So it’s pixel by pixel, like building Lego. Really inefficient but it’s how I get it to look the way I want. The VS Fighter part has a serious amount of frames of animation so most of my time went into that section. I’m really happy with how it turned out.
In the end, I love that we did the track justice and the video has connected with people in the way we all hoped.
Dennis G: So I know you been doing a lot of work with The Midnight. You designed official T-shirt design for their fall tour. I know you have been also working with them along with Retro Revolutions on their The Midnight Themed Gameboy Project. Can you tell me how this all came about?
Genuine Human: Jarred from Retro Revolutions was making this very cool retro modded system for The Midnight and so I made an intro for the video series. And the guys loved it and messaged me to let me know, which was very cool. And they asked if they could come back to commission something later. Of course, I said yes! So later came around and they had an idea for a pixelart tour t-shirt that fit with the vibe of their recent releases. I love their music and really love where they are going with it - it speaks to me right on this perfect line of being retro inspired but also being music of right now and acknowledging that passage of time. So when the t-shirt came around, I felt like I already knew the vibe. Like it was a space I was finding myself in already. So it actually turned out to be a simple process and everyone loved the result. It’s very cool to have one of my designs on tour with The Midnight. They are playing here in Dublin in November and I’m really looking forward to seeing them again.
Dennis G: Pixel animation seems like it can be a lot of work but also very fun to do. Do you have any advice for anyone looking to get started? What tools would you recommend to anyone starting up?
Genuine Human: I guess my advice mirrors my own experience. I would say start small, start low res and just build up from there. I find one of the biggest hurdles with all art is motivation to stick to things and finish them. If you start small, it becomes easier to finish. You can make a cat from 20 pixels or so and you’ve drawn a cat. A few more pixels and you have a ground and sky. Now you’ve got a picture. Then you can make more and, bit by bit, get a little more adventurous. It’s always easy to start with something small. Even now, if I ever lose motivation I’ll make something really small and quick and it starts to get me back into it.
There are a lot of fantastic tutorials out there, many of which pop up on my Twitter feed. I imagine they are incredibly useful but my own stuff has been trial and error and just figuring out what works for me. But definitely worth a look in case they are helpful for you.
In terms of tools, a big part of it for me is about ease and accessibility. I don’t have patience for software that throws multiple menus at me and I’m not always at a computer to work on. So I started on an iPod Touch because I had it with me all the time. There is a great app on the iPod/iPhone called Edge Touch, for example. I now do most of my art on an iPad – working in Pixaki. It’s a really clean app and easy to use. Nothing gets in the way and you can animate in it and export into Photoshop, which is great. So if I’m on my desktop, I usually use Photoshop. I’ve got it for other things and it works. You can animated in Photoshop and bring it into After Effects too so it’s a handy setup.
There is a lot of software out there so it’s worth trying a few and seeing what sticks. I guess my big piece of advice is to go for something that gets out of your way. Sometimes features that seem helpful are barriers between you and the end product. If it lets you put pixels down and gives you a clean, easy work area, that’s the most important thing.
You can find more about Genuine Human on his social media accounts:
Authors note: This article was published last year on The Electric Rising and has been republished here along with an update to reflect Genuine Human's more recent work.