AuthorTopic: Pixel art genres  (Read 14233 times)

Offline hapiel

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Pixel art genres

on: July 13, 2013, 09:32:08 am
Hello kids, welcome in the think tank!
Today we talk about the history, development and most specifically the different genres of pixel art!

Can we divide pixel art in different genres?
What makes these genres what they are?
Where do they come from, when did they arrive and who started them?

This topic spawned of a tiny sum up of styles by Cure and me. Since all the people who still remember the golden age hang out here we'd thought we could continue our discussion at Pixelation!

I myself am not an art student (well technically I am, but quite a different art form) , all I know is what I have seen in pixels.  It would therefor be cool if we can stick to simple English, and not get too arty in our language.

The aim? Discover where we are coming from.
What inspires us unconsciously? How come that the non-pixel-artists believe that pixel art = dithering, but that dithering was forbidden a few years ago except if your name is helm. Did capcom start cel-out and what do we think about it now? After the inventions of 256+ color video cards, how did we go back to tight palettes? Etc etc etc...

So, let us discuss: movements/schools/styles in pixel art!
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Offline hapiel

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Re: Pixel art genres

Reply #1 on: July 13, 2013, 09:40:54 am
To kick off, here is what I posted in the chatterbox earlier this week:

The style descriptions are partially a joke. We could get more serious in this thread..

Oldschool & improved: Ptoing, Helm, Ilkke, Tomic
Comes with superb dithering, well controlled (unsaturated) palettes and a secret love for double pixels and thick black borders

Popular computer games: This, Super Crate Box, Cave story, This
Tiny sprites in high resolution. Little detail and very cute in an '8-bit' way.

High def: Demoscene, Frost, Dex, thepixelknight
Why did this have to be pixel art? Would have looked just as impressive in another medium

Bubblegum (name coined by Skeddles): Delicious, Kenneth Fejer, Indigo, Gas13 & too many to mention
Sprites are small but well defined. Has outlines and is suitable for games. All artist in this style share an unconditional love for Pokemon.

Animator: Wayne, Stickman, FrankieSmileShow, B.O.B
Their is a lot to critique on their pixel styles, but the animation is worth an oscar!

Professional: Big Brother, Vierbit, a3um, Too many tom mention (Jalonso, Fool, Jinn, Mrmo_tarius)
A lot of colors, still super charming. Portfolios of these artists are usually well organized (similar preview images). They all love mockups, they are all productive and able to finish big things!


The wonderful cure made a similar list

Demoscene-
Tries to push the limits of the machine.
Often heavy dither and shape-bluffing.
Sub categories:
ZX Spectrum, C64, etc.

Retro-
Tries to emulate the restrictions of the machine (Particularly 8-bit Nintendo)

Old School-
Heavy dithering.
Adapted toward the faint blur of a CRT monitor.
Examples- 05-era st0ven or jaeden

New School-

Uses little dithering, emphasis on cluster control and anti-aliasing.
Adapted toward crispness for display on hi-def monitors.
Sub categories:
Bubblegum (New School Retro), Neo-scene

Isometric-
Subcategories: Pop Pixel (Eboy-Habbo), Da Good Stuff (Jal-Za)

Hybrid-
Mixes pixel art with automatic tools, filters, etc.
Examples: Superbrothers, Cellusious.




What do you guys think? Correct, incorrect? What is missing? How could we define categories better? Where does this all come from?

I am looking forward to see where this chat goes.  ;D
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Offline ErekT

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Re: Pixel art genres

Reply #2 on: July 13, 2013, 01:27:32 pm
Nice lists! :)

Just some thoughts on the animation category. I dunno. For animated pixel art, pixel art principles become less important than general animation principles I feel, at least for the kind of examples you posted (except the doggie). Hard to notice good pixel clusters when they wizz by in 1/20th second, so it's more important to focus on whether or not you get the general shapes and shades to flow right from one frame to the next. Exceptions might be really low-res/low-color stuff, sub-pixel anims, and color-cycling anims maybe?
« Last Edit: July 13, 2013, 01:30:23 pm by ErekT »

Offline Cyangmou

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Re: Pixel art genres

Reply #3 on: July 13, 2013, 01:56:27 pm
I think the magic ARS "Abstraction, Realism, Symbolism" Triangle works with an indicator for the used resolution as best thing to exactly point out where styles are.

Helm's description in the ramblethread with the triangle explains things much better than some of your crude "words" which selection is rather questionable.

IMO:

I don't really think your style overview is accurate. On the one hand you'd call "professional" a own style. Usual professional artists are just artists who are making a living with their art. Their style can differ vastly, as long as they sell their stuff they are professionals.

I also won't count "popular computer games" as an own style, because they were made as computer games and because of various reasons they got popular, which doesn't mean that all of them share the same graphical style - after all it's art made for games.

Animation is an art itself, it has it's own rules and it's own impression. All animated pixels will have motion. All animations will have their own distinctive style. Animation has it's own subcategories and pixel animations are one of these with own subcategories too (as ErekT said). It's pixel art, but mainly it's an animation.

Isometric is rather a perspective than a style. Just because it's an perspective it doesn't mean that it couldn't appear in any style. There are lots of flat shaded more graphical isometric pieces and some more realistic shaded ones.


As you see there are already lots of term which are suspending or overlapping themselves partially. Some of them explain rather techniques than styles.


Of course different artists use different techniques to achieve different effects. Techniques like AA, dither, cluster-control, clean lines etc. are just related to the pixel tech.
Techniques like perspective, shading, color theory, composition, anatomy and a lot more are related to drawing tech.
For pixel art you need to master all of them, how you balance them is every artist's own decision.

I think that the key for how we can apply these techniques is resolution. If the resolution is too small and there is no place you are restricted which causes a distinctive style. 8x8 sprites don't use excessive dither or AA because there is no space for it. Even if a great artist with a well-defined style would work on a resolution like that he'd have to heavily adjust his techniques to the resolution restrictions.

If the resolution gets really big and you use a lot of colors you usually can get a much more realistical rendering than on a smaller resolution with less colors, that at least should be common sense.

The resolution however don't affects the idea, it's more that the idea affects the resolution. If someone works on a bigger resolution and don't wants to render realistically and uses the more graphical approach it's usually because he wants to have "that" distinctive look. So the "Bubblegum" as you call it is just higher resolution with more abstraction than realism.

A good example for this would be Pistachio's werewolf edit and delicious' final werewolf.
As you can see Pistachio tried to apply a lot more painting technique with interesting structure, realistic shading and clusters which look more like concept art. The edit isn't polished, but it's much more realistic than Delicious final rendered "Bubblegum" end result which throws most of the advanced painting knowledge Pistachio applied over board and concentrates much more on beautiful clusters (the subject and the proportions are exactly the same, the rendering is by far different).
I'd say that delicious'- wolf has a more "graphical" approach while Pistachio's wolf has a more "realistic approach" (which tries more to look like a traditional painting or photograph instead of a vector).

 

I think that delicious' wolf would also work good with the half resolution (if there would have been a restriction in terms of resolution) while pistachio's final rendered wolf would most probably need the size to apply all the details needed to achieve the realistic feeling he sketched out.

If you'd resize both of them delicious wolf won't loose a lot of detail while Pistachio's wolf definitely would.
Delicious wolf although would also work really good with vectors (and would most probably look much smoother)


The more pixels you have to illustrate something the smaller the need of simplification is. Simplifying things to optimize your workflow or getting a more unique rendering is just a matter of the idea or the need of the graphic. 

I think the magic ARS "Abstraction, Realism, Symbolism" Triangle works with an indicator for the used resolution as best thing to exactly point out where styles are. It's possible to clearly put in every artists pixel work.
It's basically the same as if you'd pick colors.
If there is no indication for the resolution it's hard to say if the look was caused by restrictions or if it was intented by the artist.

Like the werewolf example which is pretty much a high resolution strong abstracted piece of art there are pixels which are low resolution but try to use as less abstraction as the resolution restriction allows.


Helms initial post I built on:

{...}

As mentioned before, the goal of the pixel craftsman is twofold. On one hand he tries to make the apparent resolution finer. On the other he struggles to represent what it is he's drawing. The two goals are always in friction. Let's look at these two pieces of high art I just devised:



And this:




I posit that both images represent the same idea. A man shitting in a sine arch.

The first image has a high apparent resolution because the lines are perfect and also - more importantly - because as the viewer looks at this they cannot discern a pixel grid, they cannot see the single pixel almost at all.

In the second image the single pixel is very apparent. If we zoom in a bit more in fact,




That there is a very confined space in which to represent the human figure in its volumes and shapes means that the more colors and clusters we employ, the more the underlying grid of the image has to show.

The particular ambitions of the pixel artist, at this level, are paramount. If one wishes to convey a fully rendered object as realistically as possible, it cannot be helped that the apparent resolution will be lowered. As clusters of pixels come to interact, places where the pixels 'line up' and betray their resolution are inevitable. The trade-off is that the rendered object appears more realistic, with whatever benefits the artist might assign to that. Let's look at a schema:



Here we have a simplified model of aesthetic motivation for the pixel artist. It isn't very different from the motivations of artists in other fields, but there are some additional considerations to inspect that are very pixel-art relevant.  On this point I'd like to say that I am not using the above terms as they're usually meant in the history of art. I am appropriating the terms slightly so the layman can follow along.

With abstraction I mean that the realized object of the piece of art does not clearly refer to something in the natural world.
With realism I mean that the artist is attempting to render his object lushly enough that the viewer will interpret it relatively literally.
With symbolism I mean that the artist is attempting to convey objects with clear higher functions without allowing for literal interpretations.

Try to think of your favourite pixel artists, and place them in a space within the triangle. Try to assign specific works by them in the triangle and then make specific observations about how each artist is prioritizing their two goals: hiding the grid/increasing apparent resolution and conveying the volume, light and surface of their intended object literally. You will find that artists near the top of the triangle will have very high resolutions and very simple/naive objects, whereas artists near the left end of the triangle will have resolutions of moderate fineness while their objects will be meticulously shaded. Art towards the right edge of the triangle will both have very low resolutions and very simple shapes!

The realist pixel artist will often make large areas where the resolution is practically infinite (like the shoulder of the girl in the above Lazur bit) and then place single-pixel, low-resolution level detail on various specific pieces to rejoice in the pixel-ness of his work just a little (the highlights on the hair here for example). The ambition of the artist leans heavily towards removing the grid, but doesn't frown away from going 'hey, here's my pixel, do you love it? I love it!' once in a while.

The complete abstractionist has effectively destroyed the pixel in his work, it is in the place of Ideal Space. It could be vector art or anything else that isn't shackled to the limitations of a monitor really. We do not have examples of such pixel artists really because as you might imagine, that goal would be very self-defeating. However there are a few artists whose work is very very close to vector smooth, like Panda or Ilkke sometimes, but you can tell they're pixel artists at heart because they can't contain themselves from putting in pixel-level details in a few places after all.

The symbolist pixel artist creates art that is very informed about its being made of pixels and wants the viewer to know it also. All of the modern 'retro art' fits in that edge of the triangle for me, with the artificially low resolutions and the flat and fat pixel character designs. These retro artists are not interested in pixel art technique to make the resolution higher, they are interested in invoking nostalgia on the older viewer or to inform the younger viewer of the semiotic particulars of older video game art.


I do not judge any of these motivations. It is however my belief that regardless of which way the artist might feel drawn towards, for their art to maximize its capacity as pixel art, they should reconcile their different aspirations so as to retain a place within the relative center of the triangle (the grey circle area). The realist artist should not attempt to completely abolish the pixel-level detail and end up with a blurry mess of a piece with 250 colors in it. The symbolist artist should not completely forego the attempt to make their pixel clusters achieve their ideal state. The abstractionist should not make their resolution that fine so that in the single pixel no longer feels like it belongs.
« Last Edit: July 13, 2013, 02:06:39 pm by Cyangmou »
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Offline hapiel

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Re: Pixel art genres

Reply #4 on: July 13, 2013, 02:47:25 pm

I don't really think your style overview is accurate. On the one hand you'd call "professional" a own style. Usual professional artists are just artists who are making a living with their art. Their style can differ vastly, as long as they sell their stuff they are professionals.

Thanks for your reply, and thanks for reminding me of the triangle post!

My overview is definitely not accurate. It started out as a joke and the names were given for 'recognizably' not for 'correctness'. I do not intend to insult anyone by putting them or their styles on this little list! These things just seemed to be some trends I noticed over the time.

Also, I agree that animation and isometrics do not really need a place in this list.

Quote
For pixel art you need to master all techniques, how you balance them is every artist's own decision.
And how you balance them defines your 'style', right?

Thanks for your contribution to the subject, the werewolf part was interesting :)

Do you not think someone could use the same amount of realism vs iconism vs abstractism as Delicious used AND the same resolution, and still come up with something in a different style? Would the triangle + resolution really be enough for everything?

EDIT:
So perhaps we can define a style if we have the ARS triangle + Resolution + palette (number of colors, type of colors..) + techniques used? (A scale to define if there is 0% dithering or 100% for example)
« Last Edit: July 13, 2013, 02:50:52 pm by hapiel »
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Offline Cyangmou

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Re: Pixel art genres

Reply #5 on: July 13, 2013, 02:53:21 pm

Quote
For pixel art you need to master all techniques, how you balance them is every artist's own decision.
And how you balance them defines your 'style', right?

Thanks for your contribution to the subject, the werewolf part was interesting :)

how you use them defines your style, how much you have mastered them affects your quality, that's at least what I think. I just pixked out some major techniqes, you could add a lot more stuff to this

Do you not think someone could use the same amount of realism vs iconism vs abstractism as Delicious used AND the same resolution, and still come up with something in a different style? Would the triangle + resolution really be enough for everything?

with changing the design, the proportions, lighting, light direction and different colors, somebody could get a completely different result of course
The werewolf looks like a heavily overdrawn Blizzard character to me.

EDIT:
So perhaps we can define a style if we have the ARS triangle + Resolution + palette (number of colors, type of colors..) + techniques used? (A scale to define if there is 0% dithering or 100% for example)

the number of colors and how you interconnect them within a palette just defines the smoothness of the ramps. if you have a "flat" style you simple define the planes, while more complex styles define also roundings and texture (noise?).
Within the triangle each piece of ar thas it's own spot.

I never have seen 100% dither within a work, only heavy used dither.
TBH we won't call pieces without cluster control, dither or AA  pixel art, because there won't be any pixel-level detailling.
« Last Edit: July 13, 2013, 03:06:20 pm by Cyangmou »
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Offline Pix3M

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Re: Pixel art genres

Reply #6 on: July 13, 2013, 04:35:02 pm
From my perspective as an artist who's largely deviantART based, I think we could be more inclusive to include styles that would normally not be considered good or proper pixel art, but they use some pixel art tools for various reasons. I also think it's useful to start looking at the aesthetic motivations of various artists like the ARS triangle mentioned, because it's often what kind of drives home the final art style.

So, while other digital media evolved to become more powerful, pixel art starts becoming only one option and people will have to start consciously choosing why they're working with one media over another. Like photography changed the art world to be less realism-focused, better computer technology pretty much changed pixel art in a similar way. "Why do realism if you can just take a dumb photo? hurr durr" I personally see at least three major genres resulting from the general conception that pixel art ought to have visible pixels.

There's something we could probably call 'Modern Retro", a term I think I picked up from Helm but may as well use here. There's the "8-bit" artist whose goals are to have something very blocky and look 'retro', but they aren't interested in pushing the limits of a given system as much as professional artists who worked with older consoles back then. I notice that the game industry tends to try to be as state-of-the-art as possible so naturally genuine retro art will generally more effort put into them. That aesthetic motivation is no longer there so people I tend to see who works with this style don't push their pixels to their limits.

Possible subcategory could include programmer art because it's a rather popular choice of art style for those who aren't artistically inclined, and for good reason. It's not that difficult to do.


Then, there's an art movement (or art culture) that comes from deviantART where AA is largely ignored, but (sometimes unconventional) dithers are emphasized. I have no suitable name for this though. While I'm still deviantART based while applying techniques being interested in 'destroying the pixel' for teh luls, there are a couple of people who tell me that they prefer pixel art that isn't so smooth. Some people tell me they enjoy pixel art with visible pixels. It seems that while that aesthetic of dithers and no AA is probably frowned upon in this community, it seems to be very accepted in deviantART.

Even if we don't consider those styles I mentioned 'good', I think if we're gonna write this formally they ought to be mentioned anyways.

Offline Helm

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Re: Pixel art genres

Reply #7 on: July 13, 2013, 04:55:38 pm
I think it's pretty clear that we shouldn't write this formally as it's just a bunch of opinion bias. I have no problem with people being opinionated (me being me) but when I read "Why did this have to be pixel art? Would have looked just as impressive in another medium" it gives me a headache how unfair this is to people putting a lot of work and heart into their art. Fine as jokes and so on, but I wouldn't take any of this too seriously.

Offline Cure

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Re: Pixel art genres

Reply #8 on: July 13, 2013, 09:19:14 pm
I feel like a mathematical proof is trying to be settled in this thread.
I am more interested in the motivations behind the styles being discussed than creating a wiki.

How has hardware affected style through the history of pixel art?
-Larger palettes, sharper pixels, higher resolutions, etc.

Is the artist trying to push or even break the limits of (an older) computer (as is frequent in the demoscene), or are they looking backwards, to emulate old hardware limitations using a modern machine?

In amending my definitions I would probably remove old and new school, and replace it with a grey area dependent on hardware. Of hapiel's definitions, I think Bubblegum and Hi-Def are definitely observable trends. Demoscene, retro, hybrid, and iso (a perspective and a style) are also pretty easy to spot, though of course there is plenty of overlap between a lot of these.

when I read "Why did this have to be pixel art? Would have looked just as impressive in another medium" it gives me a headache
This.

Offline RAV

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Re: Pixel art genres

Reply #9 on: July 14, 2013, 01:09:51 am
There are many different models of understanding. It is not about which is the truest, but which one is more or less helpful in a given situation. So it is good to know many ways, and learn timing. Sometimes a more abstract and lean model helps you escape your style, sometimes a list helps you on a detail in your work suggestively. It would be good to collect an assortment of lenses through which you can look at art as is opportune.

Motivation has to do with circumstance. What is it really you are trying to achieve and what means do you have towards that?

Hardware can be circumstance, as can simply mood. Or the art is embedded in a greater cause seamless, maybe a certain crispness and clarity in the details of a large work is required by a game design for readability, or maybe giving the illusion of detail in a tiny fuzzy work. Also project pressure in your job.

In short, art doesn't exist in a vacuum. So for example, on that last point, that quote of the question "Why did this have to be pixel art? Would have looked just as impressive in another medium" makes less sense as a critique to another's study on the subject, but more sense to ask yourself that if you have professional work to get done and little time given. And it rises the question to what frame and scale makes pixel art the most sense, so that its strength and creativity does not devolve into mindless pixel-droning ad absurdum. And further, how can you take advantage of modern technology to stretch the scope in which pixel aesthetics make creative sense. Which of course opens up a whole can of worms in the minds of many a faithful pixel pusher.

That leads us to another way of many to classify pixel art: result oriented or process oriented.

Some see limits of pixel art as a way to prove yourself, a challenge in the process of creation -- getting there -- as part of the achievement in artwork, and a call for regulation of purity for comparability.
Others see themselves entirely justified in the end result -- it speaks for itself what is pixel art -- for them pixel art is another kind of pencil in their repertoire of tools, and it tends to mix the means, artistically and technically.

Both aspects make the soul of pixel art, each fascinates in its own right, each important to develop your artistic soul as a whole, each all the brighter in love of each other... and yet each loathing the other when impersonated by different people.
« Last Edit: July 14, 2013, 03:09:18 am by RAV »