Definition: What is Pixel Art
The pixel art terminology was first published in 1982 by a studio in Palo Alto, California, the Xerox PARC. This technique is commonly visible in video games, based on the first 8-bit and 16-bit computers and consoles graphics. Today it’s visible in a multitude of indie developments, arcade games, retro games or smartphone games due to its lower “weight”.
Let’s start with the basics: a pixel is the minimum unit of an on-screen image created from coloured or grayscale dots. Well, pixel art is the design of both dynamic and static visual pieces at pixel level, i.e. “pixel by pixel”. Through a mosaic or rectangular cell of pixels, called raster, they are arranged harmoniously creating the design itself. But it is not only the construction of the design that matters, based on the number of pixels used, but also the colour depth of these (bits).
This type of art is based on influences from pointillism, the style of painting where the artist, “point by point”, created incredible paintings. Being a digital art, pixel art replaces brushes with PCs using editing programs and raster graphics.
Technique: How Pixel Art is made
The technique used to develop these designs begins with a line art as the basis. This line art is drawn by hand and then scanned.
On one hand, to give depth and style to the designs, antialiasing or smoothing of the edges of the piece is used. This should be done whenever you want to represent a high-resolution part on a lower-resolution substrate to avoid unwanted imperfections.
On the other hand, due to the limited palette of natural colours used in this technique, different techniques must be employed to create the visual effect of conceiving a wider range of colours, this is called interlacing.
Interlacing or blurring is usually done entirely by hand because of the nature of this art and there are three types of interlacing:
- Basic: Using two colours uses a 2 x 2 sequence within the same area to create the optical effect of different shades.
- Stylized: There is no sequence here, but within the same 2 x 2 area shapes like squares or circles are randomly distributed creating different effects.
- Smoothing: In this case, a series of colour transitions are created in PNG format to smooth out curves and contrasts. This PNG is superimposed on the line art so that it can be adjusted to different designs. This method is almost always used internally or as a concept.
Pixel Art in videogames
Pixel art grew and gained popularity thanks to the birth of the various computer and console video games based on 8-bit and 16-bit graphics; Atari was the first in Europe to install a headquarters in Ireland. These newborn indie video games won a place in the entertainment industry where they became timeless classics. Super Mario, Pacman and Castlevania, among many others, opened the way to success and have become references today.
There are two types of projection within the pixel art, the non-isometric or flat one, used at the beginning due to its less complexity in games such as Pacman or Super Mario as well as in other arts such as illustration. This projection lacked a third dimension and was the beginning for many titles such as Prince of Persia or Monkey Island.
Later, the graphics evolved and were powerful enough for the development of video games withan isometric view, reaching third dimension and movement through it. Within the world of video games, pixel art uses various scaling techniques to achieve closer or farther effects, more smoothed or contrasted, with hybrid algorithms such as 2xSal or SuperEagle.
Thus, it is evident that pixel art continues to evolve day by day and, even though it has lost strength with the evolution of 3D graphics, pixel art continues to be very present in indie videogames such as Pixel Noir or Axiom Verge. In this way we can conclude that trends never die, always change, and that, once again, retro will always be the newest fashion.