AuthorTopic: What's the current state of pixel art?  (Read 9738 times)

Offline cels

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What's the current state of pixel art?

on: January 09, 2014, 03:51:50 am
I've only been aware of pixel art as an art form for a few years, and I don't really know much about its modern history. Some of you who have been doing this for 10+ years may be able to answer some of my questions.

- How is pixel art progressing? Is it a lost art form, where we're still trying to understand the old masters of the 90's and early 2000's? Is it losing popularity? Or are the best pixel artists today far more skilled than yesterday? Is there kind of a ressurgence thanks to indie games lately?

- Is there any change of paradigms? I've read a short account of pixel art history written by Helm, where I gathered that there was a sort of consolidation and consensus-gathering on what pixel art was when Pixelation started, with rather strict definitions of what constituted pixel art, but that pixel art today has grown in different directions with more acceptance for different styles. Is that an accurate understanding?

- Do Pixelation and Pixeljoint form the Mekka of pixel art, or are there major pixel art scenes elsewhere, such as in Russia or East-Asia, that aren't easily accessible to westeners?

Offline yrizoud

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Re: What's the current state of pixel art?

Reply #1 on: January 09, 2014, 01:11:10 pm
I suggest you read Syosa's interview to get his experience on japanese pixelling community :
http://www.pixeljoint.com/2009/10/03/2938/Pixel_Artist_-_Syosa.htm

Offline Dusty

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Re: What's the current state of pixel art?

Reply #2 on: January 09, 2014, 11:54:41 pm
I think the indie scene boom has definitely helped pixel art get a bit of extra spark. I think the mobile phone has also helped,  but now phones are getting to the point where they have the same resolutions as computers, but fit to a few inches of screen space... I don't think that sort of dpi is really suitable for pixel art. Not to mention most phones and such are able to render pretty capable 3D graphics now... the 2D phase just didn't last very long on the mobile market. Minecraft also, oddly enough, may have helped some with how popular it is, since it also allows players to create their own texture packs.

I think the definition of pixel art still varies wildly between communities and even who you talk to. Since there are no real restrictions anymore, people tend to make their own to define pixel art. Typically though you won't find the sort of stigma against various techniques. I think generally as long as you control your outcome on a pixel level people are okay with it.

On sites like pixeljoint you can see an obvious jump in quality between the older pieces and the newer stuff submitted... but can you really say the quality of pixel art in general has gone up? Nah. Pixeljoint as a site grew and attracted more artists. There's still pixel art probably as old as I am that is better than a lot of stuff you might find people making today. It just depends on the artist, not the community as a whole. Though I suppose as time has gone on with less restrictions and refining the genre, artists are capable of pulling off much more amazing pieces. Still, some old art from people like Henk Nieborg still looks amazing in my eyes.

Offline Cyangmou

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Re: What's the current state of pixel art?

Reply #3 on: January 10, 2014, 02:01:33 am
I've only been aware of pixel art as an art form for a few years, and I don't really know much about its modern history. Some of you who have been doing this for 10+ years may be able to answer some of my questions.

- How is pixel art progressing? Is it a lost art form, where we're still trying to understand the old masters of the 90's and early 2000's? Is it losing popularity? Or are the best pixel artists today far more skilled than yesterday? Is there kind of a ressurgence thanks to indie games lately?

Na today's best pixel artists aren't more skilled than past time pixel artists.
The monitors changed which led to developments in pixel tech
and the tools changed as well, which makes working much faster and much more efficient (20 years before people used joysticks for drawing, no we have tablets)

While pixel art was earlier state-of-the-art for pc game graphics nowadays it's rather a style decision you make.
Maybe you use it because you want to have certain aestethics, maybe because it's really cheap to produce high graphic quality games with this technique.

It's not loosing popularity, but the technology changed and pixel art is a modern art form on it's way to get an established art technique.

- Is there any change of paradigms? I've read a short account of pixel art history written by Helm, where I gathered that there was a sort of consolidation and consensus-gathering on what pixel art was when Pixelation started, with rather strict definitions of what constituted pixel art, but that pixel art today has grown in different directions with more acceptance for different styles. Is that an accurate understanding?

Pixelation's and Pixeljoints perception of pixel art are both puristic, but nonetheless utterly different. Every community and every artist has their own understanding what pixelart is.
Every man has his own truth.

- Do Pixelation and Pixeljoint form the Mekka of pixel art, or are there major pixel art scenes elsewhere, such as in Russia or East-Asia, that aren't easily accessible to westeners?
Pixelation and Pixel joint have fairly less to do with games or game design as a community.
Both are art communities so to say, but there are other communities, like game Maker forums, Byond etc. where people also use pixel art - and they have their own understanding of the art form, and this understanding develops completely unrelated to Pixel joint or Pixelations "rules of pixelart".
If you are searching for another huge community, go to Deviantart and look how the people there are "understanding" pixel art and what kind of art the artists there create. Deviantart is for sure bigger, most hardcore pixel people however hanging around at Pixelation or Pixeljoint - and I suppose you are looking for a similar comm - there is nothing comparable I know of.
« Last Edit: January 10, 2014, 11:07:43 am by Cyangmou »
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Offline tim

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Re: What's the current state of pixel art?

Reply #4 on: January 10, 2014, 02:57:02 am
I've only been aware of pixel art as an art form for a few years, and I don't really know much about its modern history. Some of you who have been doing this for 10+ years may be able to answer some of my questions.

- How is pixel art progressing? Is it a lost art form, where we're still trying to understand the old masters of the 90's and early 2000's? Is it losing popularity? Or are the best pixel artists today far more skilled than yesterday? Is there kind of a ressurgence thanks to indie games lately?

I would say that yes, we're still studying from masters of 90's. The fact that the screens changed so much doesn't help. Going from cathode-ray screen to LCD screens really changed everything about how we perceive pixel art. We can't really appreciate how it looked back then. It was x1, and it was blended softly by the screens. Nowaday, with progressive scanning, and LCD, we usually have to scale pixel art x2 to appreciate it, and it is looking very crisp, blocky, pixelly.

About the indie scene, I would say that pixel art is certainly perceived as the easiest / cheapest way of doing graphics in a game, and therefore it's the default choice for the majority of indie developpers. Of course, really good pixel art is also really rare, and for sure not the easy / cheap way of doing visuals for a game.

- Is there any change of paradigms? I've read a short account of pixel art history written by Helm, where I gathered that there was a sort of consolidation and consensus-gathering on what pixel art was when Pixelation started, with rather strict definitions of what constituted pixel art, but that pixel art today has grown in different directions with more acceptance for different styles. Is that an accurate understanding?

You're understanding pretty well. What is pixel art ? What is art ? Almost the same question. You have a lot of possibilities, a lot of understandings. Pixelation & Pixeljoint are on the conservative side of things, while some others places like deviantart are a lot more progressist, with effects that don't look like pixel art (smooth lighting, etc…)…

- Do Pixelation and Pixeljoint form the Mekka of pixel art, or are there major pixel art scenes elsewhere, such as in Russia or East-Asia, that aren't easily accessible to westeners?

I'd like to know the answer myself !
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Offline cels

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Re: What's the current state of pixel art?

Reply #5 on: January 10, 2014, 09:10:32 am

You're understanding pretty well. What is pixel art ? What is art ? Almost the same question. You have a lot of possibilities, a lot of understandings. Pixelation & Pixeljoint are on the conservative side of things, while some others places like deviantart are a lot more progressist, with effects that don't look like pixel art (smooth lighting, etc…)…
Well, what I find interesting is what people choose to pixel. Now, I see a lot of talented artists who create amazing, deep, provoking art with photoshop, oil paintings, charcoal sketches, etc. And they restrict themselves to doing NES mockups and nostalgic Pacman wallpapers when working with pixel art. Other people create pixel art that looks like it was made in photoshop, and seem to enjoy defeating the restrictions of pixel art, rather than using them to create a unique look. I've seen comments on PixelJoint like "Why did you draw this with pixel art?"

Looking at the oldest pieces in the PJ gallery, it looks like this division was there from the very start.

I suggest you read Syosa's interview to get his experience on japanese pixelling community :
http://www.pixeljoint.com/2009/10/03/2938/Pixel_Artist_-_Syosa.htm
I've read it, but I didn't find it very informative. It was 5 years ago and you quickly run into broken links. The interview didn't really show me a thriving Japanese pixel art community, but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as they say.


On sites like pixeljoint you can see an obvious jump in quality between the older pieces and the newer stuff submitted... but can you really say the quality of pixel art in general has gone up? Nah. Pixeljoint as a site grew and attracted more artists. There's still pixel art probably as old as I am that is better than a lot of stuff you might find people making today. It just depends on the artist, not the community as a whole. Though I suppose as time has gone on with less restrictions and refining the genre, artists are capable of pulling off much more amazing pieces. Still, some old art from people like Henk Nieborg still looks amazing in my eyes.
There definitely seems to be a jump from 2005 to 2008-2009. But I agree with you, some of the best oldest pieces on PixelJoint are just as good as the stuff people are doing today. Maybe we're seeing people experiment a little bit more with the somewhat unique possibilities that comes from pixel art, such as this or this. At least, that's very exciting to me, in addition to keep the old art form alive.

Pixelation and Pixel joint have fairly less to do with games or game design as a community.
Both are art communities so to say, but there are other communities, like game Maker forums, Byond etc. where people also use pixel art - and they have their own understanding of the art form, and this understanding develops completely unrelated to Pixel joint or Pixelations "rules of pixelart".
If you are searching for another huge community, go to Deviantart and look how the people there are "understanding" pixel art and what kind of art the artists there create. Deviantart is for sure bigger, most hardcore pixel people however hanging around at Pixelation or Pixeljoint - and I suppose you are looking for a similar comm - there is nothing comparable I know of.
That's interesting about game maker forums. I'm not looking for a substitute for Pixelation or Pixeljoint, I'm just curious to know if it's out there. Do I have a good understanding of the state of pixel art, or is there some huge underground community in Turkmenistan where people are drawing wonderful pixel art on their C64 and spray painting it on abandoned factories with cardboard templates? And Japan, where the power of nostalgia is perhaps stronger than anywhere else in the world, is almost like a separate world to me, because there are so few Japanese people who come to western websites like this and so few Japanese websites where people primarily write in English, I think. It's like if you have some other niche hobby, like zen tea drinking, you start wondering about the global zen tea drinking community and whether you're a part of something vast, or if you're preserving a small and dying art.

Offline Ellian

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Re: What's the current state of pixel art?

Reply #6 on: January 10, 2014, 09:49:20 am
Quote
- Do Pixelation and Pixeljoint form the Mekka of pixel art, or are there major pixel art scenes elsewhere, such as in Russia or East-Asia, that aren't easily accessible to westeners?

Well (woah, my 5th post here! Sorry, I'm such a lurker...) I found this french community a couple years ago, and the link has been sitting in my bookmarks since...
I wouldn't call it major, but with 6696 currently registered users on their forums, I expect it's somewhat lively? I mean for a french community on such a niche topic, it looks somewhat decent sized.

http://www.retropixel.fr/

Offline Helm

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Re: What's the current state of pixel art?

Reply #7 on: January 11, 2014, 03:46:28 pm
I don't know if there are other scenes that are thriving. Some insular older scenes still exist, like the c64 scene (csdb) or the amiga/atari/dos demoscene that is spread out around pouet and other satellite sites. But they're not thriving, at least not as much as I can tell. The c64 demoscene still produces demos, music, artwork and so on for the system and some of it is really cutting edge as far as pixel technique goes (that's what I follow, you should ask someone who codes for the quality of the demos, for example) but I'm not sure if you could put it next to c64 pixel art from 1995 and there'd be *that* much difference. You really need a bigger palette/res and possibly method of exhibition of the pixels than on c64 specs to have any use of advanced pixelling technique. If it's all going to be blurred in the end, the Mirage style of re-synthesized photocopy will always look 'the best' on those monitors. Single pixels are completely different in their use if you're displaying on a blurred screen.

So, I guess I don't know. I would like to know. Are there people somewhere pushing the envelope as far as pixel art goes that aren't connected directly or at least informed by the Pixelation/Pixeljoint "hub"?

As to pixel technique, if you've read what I write (as you seem to have) then you know where I stand on that stuff. If there are other voices on the subject, I'd love to be linked to them.

The only thing I can tell you personally is that I'm still working on it. I thought I was done, and then this whole no-single-pixels thing struck me and now I am really skeptical on what else might happen in the next years, as long as I keep being active as a pixel artist. But seeing how past ideas I've had have been manipulated and adopted at large by communities (see Cure writing his pixel art tutorial) it would seem to me I'm going in a direction that will become increasingly less and less useful at large, only few pixel artists will benefit from following my further tangential thoughts that come out of cluster theory.

« Last Edit: January 11, 2014, 03:49:52 pm by Helm »

Offline Mr. Fahrenheit

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Re: What's the current state of pixel art?

Reply #8 on: January 12, 2014, 04:02:22 am
I sort of feel like I'm advertising here, but... I know of a few small pixelling communities. They aren't focused on pixelling really but use pixelling as the means of what they do. This one forum called picture wars, the main forum I go to, you make small 25-ish pixel tall sprites and design an army then fight other peoples armies on pixelled maps. The main point isn't really to win or anything but to tell a cool story and have an awesome army. A few years ago I remember someone posted a link about it on pj but it wasnt received very well because the spriting quality isn't as great as it could be. I know a few people who came from picture wars. Photocopier, lizzrd, and xamllew all did pw.

http://img651.imageshack.us/img651/4738/match13m.png  (not sure if there are spoilers)
A nice example image for a battle.

A few other communities that I don't know as much about are the ones at data realms forums for making mods, starbound forums, and this thing called Spriter Wars, which I've heard about a bit.

Offline Vagrant

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Re: What's the current state of pixel art?

Reply #9 on: January 12, 2014, 05:55:00 am
Im surprised there hasn't been any mention of The Spriter's Resource forums. They have a very crowded Wip section there.

Beware, there be sprite edits.
http://www.vg-resource.com/forumdisplay.php?fid=14

I also used to go to a small community that sprang up from TSR called Pixeltendo; they had a bit of talent, but if my memory serves right, it was mostly a den of obscene, disrespectful anus-holes.

Pardon my language.  ;)
« Last Edit: January 12, 2014, 05:56:44 am by Vagrant »

Offline cels

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Re: What's the current state of pixel art?

Reply #10 on: January 12, 2014, 06:09:07 am
@ Ellian: Nice link, thanks for that! It comes as no surprise that the French are doing their part, given their history of animation and comics. A lot of stuff there that I haven't seen before.

@ Helm: Thanks for the explanation. And I had the same impression in regards to C64 art as well. In regards to pushing the envelope, who would you say has pushed the envelope in recent years? Say since 2010? It looks like people are getting better at working with the "rules" of pixel art, but in terms of experimenting in new directions and paving way for the future? I guess that there's only so much you can do with a given medium. But I can't help but think that there's a lot of potential in looping animations that you can do better with pixel art than any other art form, and it's something that people haven't fully tapped into yet, as far as I can tell. I'm not talking about simple running sprites, I'm talking about portraits, landscapes, complex scenes, abstract pixel art, etc. Especially on a large canvas, with the amount of detail that pixel art allows. And of course, not just sparkling lights, eyes blinking and flickering candles. I mean something more... substantial.

I'm not sure I follow in regards to the no single pixel thing. Do you mean your stance in regards to the freehand tool vs drawing with lines? If you could expand on the last paragraph in your post, that would be very nice.
EDIT: Never mind, found the answer in the latest cluster study thread. But I'm still confused why you feel skeptical. Is it a matter of having such a "refined taste" that your criteria are impossibly hard for other people to appreciate and conform to?

@ Mr. Fahrenheit: I would have loved something like that when I was younger, before I got into Warhammer 40,000 and stuff like that. Thanks for the suggestion.

@ Vagrant: Cheers! I'm not so interested in sprites personally, but it's very good to know!
« Last Edit: January 12, 2014, 06:39:04 am by cels »

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Re: What's the current state of pixel art?

Reply #11 on: January 12, 2014, 06:43:56 am

I'll definitely be checking that  VG Resource spriting forum out.. I never realized that existed.

That looks like an alright forum.


Offline Ai

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Re: What's the current state of pixel art?

Reply #12 on: January 12, 2014, 07:33:43 am
EDIT: Never mind, found the answer in the latest cluster study thread. But I'm still confused why you feel skeptical. Is it a matter of having such a "refined taste" that your criteria are impossibly hard for other people to appreciate and conform to?
I took that comment to be about his own knowledge, that is, "I thought I knew how this thing [pixel art] worked, now [after discovering the effect of the no-single-pixels principle] I'm skeptical of that idea and suspect there is much more to be discovered if I continue"
If you insist on being pessimistic about your own abilities, consider also being pessimistic about the accuracy of that pessimistic judgement.

Offline Helm

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Re: What's the current state of pixel art?

Reply #13 on: January 12, 2014, 08:17:19 pm
No, I really mean that cluster theory is useful to everyone (I would hope). My further, more recent thoughts, I do not think will be as useful far and wide. I might be going on a bit of a strange journey that will result, basically, to my own 'style'as it were solidifying, not a wider contribution in theoretical terms.

Offline cels

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Re: What's the current state of pixel art?

Reply #14 on: January 13, 2014, 05:34:16 am
No, I really mean that cluster theory is useful to everyone (I would hope). My further, more recent thoughts, I do not think will be as useful far and wide. I might be going on a bit of a strange journey that will result, basically, to my own 'style'as it were solidifying, not a wider contribution in theoretical terms.
I still don't follow. What recent thoughts? Are you acting mysterious or is there something painfully obvious I'm missing?  :)

Offline Cure

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Re: What's the current state of pixel art?

Reply #15 on: January 13, 2014, 05:44:18 am
I still don't follow. What recent thoughts? Are you acting mysterious or is there something painfully obvious I'm missing?  :)

He's referring to the most recent cluster study thread, which goes beyond the basic cluster theory that he outlined in the Ramblethread and advocates the total absence of single pixels, so that the image is comprised entirely of multi-pixel clusters.

Offline cels

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Re: What's the current state of pixel art?

Reply #16 on: January 13, 2014, 06:38:04 am
Oh, I did read about that. I just couldn't put two and two together, I guess. I did find it fascinating, and it seems every bit as useful-yet-non-intuitive as a number of other pixel art axioms, trends, doctrines, or whatever you want to call them.

I do think certain that tutorials in many ways define the pixel art community. For example, Cure, you've written one of the most comprehensive, widely referenced pixel art tutorials that I've come across. And it's helped me a lot. But it's interesting to see that it seems to influence a lot of new pixel artists, or at least correlate with the problems they're having. Thanks to your tutorial, most people who are new to pixel art tend to avoid the obvious jaggies, banding and pillow shading. But they seem to make the same mistakes with dithering, and I can't help but wonder if this is because dithering is brought up relatively early in your tutorial, and makes up a substantial portion of it. I've no idea if it is indeed because of your tutorial, I've just noticed that a lot of new pixel artists approach dithering as if it were mandatory.

And most of the other criticism that meets new pixel artists is stuff that isn't directly covered in your tutorial, because it's usually not specific to pixel art. It's stuff like composition, color theory, anatomy, perspective, etc. that people can and should learn elsewhere. But then they don't, often because they seem to think that pixel art is a free pass to making cool art without knowing how to paint. Oops, a little rant. Sorry. [Just to clarify, I'm not suggesting that your tutorial needs to cover everything, I'm just reflecting on the impact of your tutorial.]

In any community, there's going to be two camps - one which is willing to bend over backwards to help potential newcomers, and others who take the Mr. Miyagi approach and prefer to let newcomers do their own research and prove themselves. And most people fall somewhere in between, of course. But I think that helping members find the right tutorials with the right content has a huge impact. Perhaps in a few years, when I have a bit more knowledge, I will try to help with this.

TL;DR: The impact of any sort of trend or "rule" probably depends on two things: the degree to which it is used and mentioned by the most popular artists in the community, and the way it is described in tutorials.