AuthorTopic: Place and Purpose of Pixel Art?  (Read 6095 times)

Offline RAV

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Place and Purpose of Pixel Art?

on: June 25, 2016, 01:36:43 pm
We had discussions here about the role of arts and means of practice.
There were good points being made for the prime importance of fundamentals.
While at the same time, we try to develop pixel art into a contribution to the arts.
We try to make sense of pixel art, search for value in it, find its place in today's world.

Maybe we can first think about, what does each kind of practice bring to the table of art?
We are looking for constellations and relations within art. Maybe something like this:

Drawing: Form by silhouette and shading.
Painting: Material by colour and texture.
Pixeling: Pattern by reduction and reuse.

Painting incorporates the knowledge from drawing.
Pixeling incorporates the knowledge from painting.

Painting is not fundamentally different from drawing, but it adds another dimension to drawing.
And so does pixeling to painting and drawing. Or should try. That is what we should think about.

Focus study of an aspect is best done in the "native" craft,
form in drawing, material in painting, pattern in pixeling.

Pixeling builds ontop of the rest. After all, what is there to reduce and reuse, if you can't produce first?
But what do "pattern" "reduction" "reuse" mean? How much creativity and experience is in that? in pixel art?
Can it add a life long interest to the arts like "material" "colour" "texture" of painting did above drawing?

In its simplest form, it is just cleaning up the image after the fact.
In the higher order, it's constructing a scene out of rules and elements.

Thinking about how to stylize reality, has a greater function in pixel art, as greater means of reduction.
And like the art of reduction first needs knowing production, the art of stylization needs knowing reality.
Style is a form of ruleset, which is a kind of pattern, just like the reuse of colours or form can be.

By means of Structure and Suggestion along the mechanics of a grid,
we are looking for a clever ingenuity, that does a lot out of little:
Pixel Art is the Creative Reduction of the world, the design of elements that make worlds.

I think that this is the direction a natural tool for pixel art should take.


« Last Edit: June 26, 2016, 12:08:52 am by RAV »

Offline nessx007

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Re: Place and Purpose of Pixel Art?

Reply #1 on: June 25, 2016, 06:26:54 pm
Interesting perspective! I haven't heard anyone contextualize pixel art alongside the other art mediums in this way. I guess you could even extend the conversation to the 3D art forms, say, sculpture compared to... minecraft creations? But maybe that's a whole other topic.

Pixel art's strength is its ability to capitalize on small space and size (both physically small and data-wise small) so it can be a very real-life functional medium in that sense. Technically anyone editing graphics on a computer is working with "pixel art" but we don't call those people pixel artists. They're working at such a high resolution they don't need to use any abstraction or trickery to make something round, for instance. It takes a true pixel artist to make a line seem rounded at a low resolution, and with limited shading values.

Designing recognizable fonts, icons, or UI elements for old devices (like calculators) back in the day took the hand of someone with some form of pixel art sense. Nowadays, though, I'd argue the necessity for that sort of practically applied pixel art is definitely lessened (higher resolutions displays, more storage space, stronger GPUs/CPUs, etc). So here we are today where pixel art is celebrated and practiced not because we need it for practical reasons, but because we derive enjoyment from creating and marveling at it. Not so different from any other art form.

While you make an interesting point about where pixel art sits in the "art heirarchy", I wonder, can an artform based on limitations and reduction really be the "next step up" from drawing/painting, which offers so many more options for expression? (included in those options would be pixel art itself, by the way. I believe they just called it "pointillism" back then.) So is it just the grid, then, that pixel art has to offer? But can you not create a grid on paper and limit yourself in a similar way with drawing? I think what pixel art has done primarily is force people to obsess over and push the limits of that grid. Artists hundreds of years ago would have had no reason or motivation to discover the nuances of micro grid-based art to the capacity we understand it today. So the question is, looking back with our new found pixel-art knowledge, is there anything significantly useful pixel art can offer to traditional art forms that they didn't already have? I'm not sure I can think of a satisfying answer.

I'm reminded of my sister as she was first learning pixel art (coming from a drawing background) expressing her frustration at our limited character sizes, exclaiming, "This isn't even art! It's a puzzle!" I almost took offense, but after some consideration, she's not exactly wrong. There is an element of technical challenge to pixel art. In a small enough space, there are only so many combinations of pixels that will translate as an eye, or a mouth, or a leg, etc. Color and shading often ends up being the defining personal touch to pixel art, where there's a higher variety potential. Translating an idea, or a larger design, to the restriction of the grid often does feel like a problem to solve more than an artistic process. I think that's part of what attracts me to pixel art, actually. The challenge. The self-imposed restriction.

Lastly, to get really abstract and go back to the 3D thing, the concept of reduction does have a certain anchor in reality, considering that the "pixels" that make up our real world are essentially individual atoms fitting together and interacting with light to create everything visible in the universe. I personally wonder what it would be like to be working with "atom art", creating tiny abstracts of real objects in micro form. But for now, pixel art will do.
Hope this little blurb finds you well! We've got a fun little series documenting our progress on our SNES puzzle throwback game here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NomLd6Wcbro
Or check out our game art on tumblr:
http://medleystudio.tumblr.com

Offline RAV

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Re: Place and Purpose of Pixel Art?

Reply #2 on: June 25, 2016, 08:01:44 pm
Good answer. and question. I too think that pixel art has to offer benefits from its limitation. and I think it does. At least, I see that as our mission to find out. I'd like to first introduce that thought by quoting from my own project page:

Quote from: RAV
And so the question is: what do you have to gain from a limitation? A limitation denies you something. But does it enable something else for that?

Build the purpose of your work around what you can gain, not after what is denied. That the "limitation" is the removal of a complication that disturbs a certain work.

Be certain of your work.

A freedom can be annoying, because the irrelevant options forced on you every step hinder a task. Can you design new opportunities of creativity that make the lack of something a desirable feature instead of annoying restriction. Boil it down to the relevant options that in their ease of access very much enable you to do something. That enable you to do pixel art, and the things it is best for doing. This is the only worthy challenge in it. A good reason for doing this pixel art, nothing else.

So to go further, what pixel art for example does by pattern/reduction/reuse is defining a logical construction scheme within a standardized grid. This practically enables fast generation of content and large scale scene production, while not loosing touch with manual design work. So I do like that "puzzle"-complaint. Ask yourself, if you want to create a whole town by drawing and painting it all down to every inch, or rather create a small set of pixel art puzzle assets out of some concept art, and have infinite variations of towns and folks ready at your finger tip. This can quickly increase appreciation for this craft, as something better than a burden. This is where the fun begins after preparations.

Pixel art was the first kind of art to introduce this to the world of arts in a never before known effectivity. Today it is not the only digital art that can do something like this, but it still is the most straight-forward to do it. Its very particles of operation -- the pixel -- straight-forwardly interlock to tiles and sprites. The sharpness of pixel art makes it exceptionally easy to align and contrast for readability. Tricks like palette swapping also provide easy variation that builds on colour Control by Reduction -- an important concept, pixel art excels in control with its reduction, unprecedented. The most direct simplicity of pixel art is a great strength that only becomes a weakness if you overload with unreduced and unreused content. That's why pixel art is what it is.

So this explains the strange dichotomy of "adding" to the arts by "reducing". Because it has a very directed mechanic for purpose, pixel art can increase the functionality of art in certain ways. It is not exactly the same as some abstraction in other arts. It's more defined and operational than that. And this is why I like to think that the ways pixel art goes about reduction, is a pixel art not as just downgraded digital painting, but as adding a new dimension of creativity that is challenging as much as rewarding for the artist to master, with its own advantages and potential for features.


And to go along that, I'd like to quote myself again from another related discussion on PixelJoint:

Quote from: RAV
I've gone away from making limitation the prime focus of the medium, however. Instead, it's the mechanics. And with them come the limitations as a natural epiphenomenon. Important is that the mechanics are interesting, fun, and useful for something. And herein is the innovation of pixel art. Limitations for their own sake are worthless. Limitations tailored to a task are better. Limitations born out of greater mechanics are best. They make most sense.

Quote from: RAV
My work is on the medium not the art. A medium that happens to be operated by pixel art. And the medium's mechanics are the tools of artwork. Now, the mechanics are not necessarily about making your life as an artist ever so easy, in their limitations. The mechanics do have a desirable purpose though, and the artist lives and works with that.

Quote from: RAV
For me as a coder, the situation is clear. I make an engine that has certain capabilities. It's supposed to solve problems and do cool stuff. The problems it solves are not necessarily problems of art though. That's not the only point in my case. In the contrary, first of all it poses a problem to art by itself. which the artist is supposed to solve in turn, to make the project aesthetically satisfying ontop of solving another problem. Tech and art are in service of something else. So, shoot me, but the way I see it, pixel art died the moment coders decided to make the problems of artists their own problems. And that is entirely okay, of course. That's great. At the same time, there are still other problems worth concentrating on, which needs artists motivated to be part of the solution, as pixel art process. It just happened, that most of the industry decided, pixel art is not the solution to their problems anymore. For some few, it perfectly is, more than ever. At the same time, I must frankly say, if your pixel art is not supposed to solve something you couldn't solve better another way, that's rather pointless. So that's what we should think more about, for a more relevant future of the art.
« Last Edit: June 27, 2016, 01:57:15 pm by RAV »

Offline nessx007

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Re: Place and Purpose of Pixel Art?

Reply #3 on: June 26, 2016, 04:22:23 am
Thanks for the elaboration! Analyzing pixel art based solely on its aesthetic merits can only go so far, but as you've pointed out, it's when you consider pixel art along side the functionality of a computer that it's true purpose really shines. It all comes back to efficiency not just for the platform being developed on, but for the artists own speed and ease of creation. Even a concept as basic as tiling, which was born out the need to solve a problem, made it's debut working with pixel art. And that contribution has been long lasting even with modern games that aren't using a pixel art style.

But yeah I'm just reiterating what you expanded on at this point, very compelling stuff!
Hope this little blurb finds you well! We've got a fun little series documenting our progress on our SNES puzzle throwback game here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NomLd6Wcbro
Or check out our game art on tumblr:
http://medleystudio.tumblr.com

Offline RAV

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Re: Place and Purpose of Pixel Art?

Reply #4 on: June 26, 2016, 03:26:44 pm
Indeed. Your input is appreciated and helpful. We try to understand what happened in pixel art for the past 30 years. Many things we take for granted, we reinvestigate and reformulate in the many discussions we've been having here, as a means to find new impulses for our work.

Yeah, Aesthetics versus Usefulness is forever grounds for heated debate. Pixel art as the vanguard of digital art, originally brought a new level of instrumentalization to the arts. In the digital era as melting pot of culture techniques, art has become a more integrated service. There is a special satisfaction in creating something with the potential of manifold use. And that creative use beyond aesthetics, is the new dimension that pixel art first added to the arts far beyond anything before. Pixel Art was the creation of art to technical specification. Pixel Art was a functional component of a greater system. Pixel art was a Reduction to Function.

Now you may say, but art shouldn't be just reduced to its function. I agree, and that was not all to pixel art. But the problem pixel art most often has today, is being only reduced to aesthetics, which is sort of a complete throwback to the "dark age". We are struggling to find greater use for pixel art. Other digital arts now have more of both, aesthetics and function. And they thrive accordingly.

So what is pixel art for then? Is pixel art just about making an image look sharper and clearer? we may as well automate that as an after-effect filter, to a degree sufficient that manual work is a too disproportional effort for just slightly better results. Pixel art needs to be intriguing, of course in how it looks, but not only in how it looks. And that is to come from a creative magic -- the only true human element, that makes things exciting.

« Last Edit: June 26, 2016, 05:14:02 pm by RAV »

Offline nessx007

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Re: Place and Purpose of Pixel Art?

Reply #5 on: June 26, 2016, 05:06:40 pm
The way we've been talking about pixel art here is almost as if it's some kind of dying language struggling to adapt to a modern age haha, but it's actually not a far off comparison. We are already at the point where its necessity is diminished, and the only people keeping it alive are hobbyists and indie game developers using the style to evoke nostalgia in a particular demographic (I should know, that's been my team's strategy as well). It's also an attractive art form to those solo devs who might not have developed art skills, they're thinking (maybe naively), "how hard could it be? It's just squares."

Then we have to ask, are there enough devs and hobbyists producing games and pixel art to keep it alive and well forever? Or will we reach a falling off where the upcoming younger generation fails to see the appeal of pixel art (having no nostalgic hook as many of us here do) and it gradually fades away? Personally, I don't believe it would happen to that extreme, at least not for awhile. There are still indie games hitting main-stream appeal (like recently, Stardew Valley) that will keep the pixel art torch burning bright. Or maybe I'm just idealistic and blinded by my own nostalgia. Time will tell!
Hope this little blurb finds you well! We've got a fun little series documenting our progress on our SNES puzzle throwback game here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NomLd6Wcbro
Or check out our game art on tumblr:
http://medleystudio.tumblr.com

Offline RAV

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Re: Place and Purpose of Pixel Art?

Reply #6 on: June 26, 2016, 06:37:47 pm
Pixel art was invented part of the greatest culture revolution ever: digital games. It made a new kind of experience possible, that was not possible before. And following up on that, it is nice to see that even today in the indie scene, pixel art often is still the means of exploring new types of influential gameplay. Even though often to the dismay of the traditional pixel scene, that shuns a lot of the new age pixel art for visual deviance. But by serving an innovative goal, it honored most the legacy of pixel art.

However, a common reason for pixel art today seems to be something like "It's easier and cheaper to do".

Lackluster work is always easy to do, of course, no matter the kind of work. But with this overwhelming flood of indie games today, you need to excel in some way. Part of that is offering quality and innovation. And that is always hard to do in any kind of field. On the other hand, digital crafts keep evolving at an astounding pace, motivated by the industry's requirement for cost effective production. Modern engines are incredibly productive and powerful. And in this will grow great indie innovation from free experimentation. These things are actually starting to become easier and cheaper to work with than a GameMaker. Just "easier and cheaper" are resting laurels that do not save pixel art in the long run. This is what some random guy does for fun on UE4, you'd be shocked to learn how easy and cheap this is to make, from Asset Store to Engine Scripting:



But not just about any innovation will do for pixel art to compete. The rules of pixel art have often become too arbitrary, detached from a more meaningful purpose it had in the past. You can look at the above video and honestly ask yourself, what is the point of trying to look like pixel art. You could have invested all the effort in so much more meaningful things. Unless you "win the lottery", trying to survive on pixel art takes a lot more ingenuity and dedication than most people are prepared for, much more actually than doing anything else but pixel art. It's not all doom and gloom though, maybe, if you're clever and dedicated enough, and know your audience.
« Last Edit: June 26, 2016, 08:24:15 pm by RAV »

Offline eishiya

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Re: Place and Purpose of Pixel Art?

Reply #7 on: June 26, 2016, 09:17:44 pm
I feel like that video is better example of "lackluster work is always easy to do" than of what newer technology can let us do with the same amount of effort. I look at that video and see the same problem in it that I see in many indie pixel art games: uninteresting art direction. Pixels for the sake of pixels is just as boring and pointless as advanced rendering techniques that are there just to be there, rather than to add to the experience. That said, high-res art (3D and 2D) combined with solid art direction and skill is more versatile than pixel art, simply because it's less limited.

So, why do pixel art at all? Because it's fun. Because it's a puzzle*. Because it can teach you about colour and composition faster than working in HD can. Because it's what I feel fits the thing I want to make. Because of whatever other reasons an artist might have, even if I might think they're weird :] Why should it need to be innovative or useful? Portrait and landscape painting lost much of its practical usefulness and financial viability with the spread of photography and never recovered. Photography precipitated more abstract art as an attempt to keep painting relevant and innovative, which I think is equivalent to those "non-traditional" pixel art games RAV mentioned. But has portrait/landscape painting become obsolete or worthless? No, because it's still enjoyable and because there are still projects for which it's a good fit for various reasons. It's the same with pixel art. These kinds of threads try to find some deeper meaning and use to it every single time, and I just don't see the point.

What makes pixel art a good fit for a project when technology isn't the limiting factor is an interesting question, and I'm glad this thread has already touched on it. I feel like this is another one of those things that will differ from artist to artist, since each artist's reasons for liking pixel art are different. For some people, the strengths come from the reuse. For some, the strengths are the relative ease of creative cohesive visuals due to the limited palettes. For some, it's the nostalgia factor.
My own pixel art games are pixel art because I have the most fun making pixel art as opposed to the other options available to me, and because pixel art sufficiently conveys what I want to convey in those games. When met with a project for which pixel art isn't the best option (factoring "will I enjoy making it" into account), I don't use pixel art, simple as that.


* I wanted to touch on the "puzzle" aspect of pixel art that nessx007 mentioned. I agree with that assessment, but I don't feel it's unique to pixel art. My main medium is comics, and comics are absolutely puzzles to solve! I think most (if not all) kinds of art are comparable to puzzles, it's just more obvious with comics and pixel art because there are fewer pieces to work with, and therefore fewer successful combinations. Among my comic artist buddies, "I need to solve this comic page" and "I can't figure out [how to solve] this panel" are a fairly common turns of phrase.

Offline RAV

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Re: Place and Purpose of Pixel Art?

Reply #8 on: June 27, 2016, 12:41:21 am
The video as such indeed is not intended to be a representative of innovation or good taste, but a demo sample of production merits that are often cited in favour of pixel art. What the video does show is good work, that doesn't rely on render tricks, even if it takes advantage of it. A lot of pixel artists and pixel game makers could learn much from the craftmanship involved. It isn't really innovative, but to a lot of people it looks exciting as if it were. Even on the low end of production, this is something that easily happens with the creative advantages modern engines have. The point is, that in terms of what many believe the advantages of pixel art are, we shouldn't get all too comfortable in that believe but look further.

While not every pixel art must be innovative and useful in every way, not everyone should give up on that either, and it's interesting to note that pixel art projects are often enough criticized likewise for a far reaching interpretation of pixel art. Curiously, if the founders of pixel art had such a sedate mindset, many of the old pixel art works cherished today wouldn't exist. Pixel art wouldn't exist. And so we look at the qualities and conditions of what brought pixel art to life and made it successful in the past, in hopes for inspiration on what can make it more thriving today.
« Last Edit: June 27, 2016, 12:58:21 am by RAV »

Offline Ai

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Re: Place and Purpose of Pixel Art?

Reply #9 on: June 27, 2016, 08:20:47 am
@ nessx707: In some ways you could say pixel art is dying, but the timeline is just too short. The whole field of digital art (I include 3d, CG, and pixel in that) is so young that I don't think anybody has real perspective on where these things really "belong" in the world of art; the best they can do is comment on current trends.

I feel like that video is better example of "lackluster work is always easy to do" than of what newer technology can let us do with the same amount of effort. I look at that video and see the same problem in it that I see in many indie pixel art games: uninteresting art direction. Pixels for the sake of pixels is just as boring and pointless as advanced rendering techniques that are there just to be there, rather than to add to the experience. That said, high-res art (3D and 2D) combined with solid art direction and skill is more versatile than pixel art, simply because it's less limited.
By the same token, using a media that is less limited means you have to solve those variables you unleashed (hence insane development budgets for AAA games). 3d seems to me to be like comics squared in terms of problem solving requirement (you have to do most of the same stuff, plus your ability to cheat is limited and you have to make it work at least semi-interactively)

Quote
No, because it's still enjoyable and because there are still projects for which it's a good fit for various reasons. It's the same with pixel art. These kinds of threads try to find some deeper meaning and use to it every single time, and I just don't see the point.
Definitely agree. There is a certain thread of pretentiousness that you see typically brought up in relation to fine art, looking down on non-fine-art (so called "industrial" art like concept art and pixel art), but you can also find it in relation to any art form IMO... Even if the artist finds particular meaning in what they make, it's still a thing made for a purpose, not some kind of expression of a platonic ideal of art. It's as functional a thing as plumbing or wiring, even if we're a lot more vague about exactly what its function is, and different people want it to perform different functions.

Quote
* I wanted to touch on the "puzzle" aspect of pixel art that nessx007 mentioned. I agree with that assessment, but I don't feel it's unique to pixel art. My main medium is comics, and comics are absolutely puzzles to solve! I think most (if not all) kinds of art are comparable to puzzles, it's just more obvious with comics and pixel art because there are fewer pieces to work with, and therefore fewer successful combinations.
I may be biased by my programming background, but IMO all art is a structure of algorithms (ie. a program, albeit informally written and frequently redundant) and the best art instructors take this tack (eg. Vilppu).
I've encountered plenty of resistance to this idea, but I think that springs from a mistaken idea that emotions (or people) aren't fundamentally algorithmic (straw vulcan fallacy, I guess).

Quote from: RAV
[...]it's interesting to note that pixel art projects are often enough criticized likewise for a far reaching interpretation of pixel art.

Do you mean they're criticized for taking too broad of an interpretation of pixel art (gradients, opacity, etc)? It was hard to decide what you really meant here.
« Last Edit: June 27, 2016, 08:25:29 am by Ai »
If you insist on being pessimistic about your own abilities, consider also being pessimistic about the accuracy of that pessimistic judgement.