The Joy Of… Pixel Art

Yes, this picture is - technically speaking - fake pixel art that I made in about ten minutes (using a digital photograph and MS Paint). But, well, I wanted to spend less than five hours making it....

Yes, this picture is – technically speaking – fake pixel art that I made in about ten minutes (using a digital photograph and MS Paint). But, well, I wanted to spend less than five hours making it….

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about one of my favourite art styles. I am, of course, talking about pixel art. Technically speaking, all forms of art that are viewed on a computer screen are pixel art (since they’re made out of pixels). But, I’ll be talking about types of art that have been designed so that the individual pixels are clearly visible.

In case you haven’t seen much pixel art before, here’s a really cool horror-themed cyberpunk music video by a band called Perturbator that contains lots of expertly-drawn pixel art animation. So, yes, pixel art is digitally-created art in the style of old computer and video games from the early-mid 1990s (and probably the 1980s too) and it’s amazing.

One reason why I’m a massive fan of this type of art is because I grew up playing games that used this art style. In fact, I still play a lot of games that use pixel art-style graphics (eg: all of the many “Doom II” WADs that I’ve reviewed here). But, I’m a massive fan of this art style for more reasons than just retro nostalgia.

One of the things you will quickly learn if you ever do any research into making pixel art, or if you actually try to create any of it yourself, is that it is one of the most technically challenging forms of art in existence. It may look like the kind of simple low-resolution artwork that any artist could knock out quickly, but looks can be deceiving..

Yes, you can make fake pixel art fairly quickly and easily (using MS Paint and digital photos). But, if you’re making true pixel art, then you have to work with a limited 256-colour palette, you have to make your art pixel-by-pixel and you have to add a lot of shading effects to your art completely manually.

Another thing that makes pixel art such a challenging type of art to create is the fact that you have to get a lot of detail across using a fairly small number of pixels. This is a lot more difficult than it looks. If you want a good example of this, just look at any game on the original Game Boy console – the main character of a Game Boy game may only take up a small amount of the console’s tiny screen, but they’re often still very distinctive and you can tell what they look like at a glance.

One other reason why pixel art is such a cool type of art is because it has a lot more life than traditional art does. Allow me to explain. This style of art was originally invented for use in computer and video games. As such, it was designed to be easy to animate and quick to load on old computers and games consoles.

What this means is that any piece of pixel art looks like a still frame from a game. As such, when you look at a piece of pixel art, it’s very easy to imagine what will happen next. It’s very easy to imagine the “game” that it could come from. So, although pixel art may look very simple, it has a life to it that most other artforms don’t quite have.

Pixel art is also gloriously unrealistic, which gives artwork made in this style a sense of wonder and fantasy that most other artofrms just don’t have. Ever since the mid-late 1990s, games have been trying to outdo each other when it comes to using “realistic” 3D graphics. And, in their quest for “realism”, they lost what makes gaming so special.

Apart from technical and financial reasons, there’s one good reason why a lot of indie games use “old fashioned” pixel art, rather than more modern 3D graphics. It’s because it hearkens back to a time when actual creativity mattered in computer games. If you couldn’t wow your audience with photo-realistic graphics, then you had to keep them interested by making a well-designed game that was fun to play, contained innovative things and/or which had good writing.

Finally, in a strange way, pixel art looks more futuristic than modern digitally-painted art or modern 3D graphics do. This was the first type of art to ever be created using nothing more than computers (hell, even Andy Warhol made a surreal pixel art version of Boticelli’s Venus in the 1980s).

Unlike modern digitally-painted art, it didn’t try to visually imitate the style of traditional paintings- because it couldn’t. It was a new artform for the digital age and… well… for this alone, it’s still more innovative and futuristic than anything that has been created since.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting šŸ™‚

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