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An Intro to Pixel Art

Ever heard of pixel art? It is basically a type of digital art where the artist creates the image by working at the zoomed-in pixel level. Many older console and pc games feature pixel art, as do newer handheld games on mobile phones and gaming devices like the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS. Think pixel art can only be used to create stiff, ugly and antiquated-looking images? Think again! With sufficient talent, artists can create masterpieces like these. Pixel art is an exciting computer graphic design medium with lots of room for creativity, even with nothing more complicated than MS Paint!

Chances are you have played Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Pong, Space Invaders, and other classic video games. All of these used pixel art as their primary graphics form. For younger gamers, such archaic graphical styles might seem pretty outdated, given the commonplace nature of 3D technology in most major console and PC games. Halo, Half-Life, Starcraft 2, Portal, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty and many other big-name titles use simulated 3d environments with completely 3d game worlds and are familiar to many gamers. However, pixel art in video games is certainly not dead! There are plenty of big-name titles and smaller, indie games that use pixel art as their art style. The Nintendo DS has many titles that solely use pixel art, such as Harvest Moon and Advance Wars, and many of the free flash games featured online often have pixel art. Even video gamer t-shirts, featuring retro characters like Mario or Donkey Kong will sometimes use ‘macro’ pixel art as their style of choice. It’s a unique art style with a lot of room for creativity.

The rise of iOS and Droid apps has helped spark resurgence in game projects needing pixel artists. Titles like Super Megaworm, Palm Heroes, FixPix , Critter Crunch, The Incident, Game Dev Story, and many more are all excellent examples of pixel art graphics being used in modern app titles, some of which are quite successful. With Super Megaworm (one of my favorites), you’ll notice the graphic design artist have taken steps to keep the format very retro, 8-bit styled, making the pixel art palette even more limited (and the wonderful graphic results even more impressive).  Both Palm Heroes (very graphically impressive rpg/strategy game) and Game Dev Story use an isometric pixel art view, an early pixel art technique that adds a more “3d” appearance to the art. Game Dev Story is one of the top games available for the iOS market and it’s a truly great example of a 2d game using true pixel art with excellent results, and fantastic game play (definitely take a look at it over at iTunes to see what I mean).

Pixel art may also be found in the commercial advertisement realm, with very unique results. eBoy, a Berlin-based graphic design group specializes in pixel art. They’ve done advertisements for some major corporations, like MTV, Honda, Coke and Adidas.  You can view some of eBoy’s creative (and often massive) works here at their website.

Pixel art is a very interesting design medium with a history steeped in video game culture. Interested in learning more, or taking a stab at creating some of your own pixel artwork? How about getting to work on 2d video games, as an addition to your resume? Start with these intros to pixel art here, here. Enjoy!

Posted on April 26, 2011

Category: Graphics

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