Lesson Three: Techniques in Pixel Art


To analyse good pixel art.

To consider dithering as a form of shading.

To create an animation loop of a walking character.

Pixel art analysis:

Group discussion around the following games, plus learner additions.

  • Kirby’s Dream Land
  • Undertale
  • Super Mario Bros
  • Shovel Knight
  • Finishing on Pokemon Red/Blue (Noting the use of dithering)


Dithering is a technique used to create different tones using a limited number of colours.

Pixel art is defined by the limitations of old computer hardware. Limited colour pallets meant that artists needed to create new colour tones with their limited options.


By blending two distinct tones, you can create seperate colours. This is often used as part of the shading and detail of a character. For example:


Note that between the purple and the black sections are 50% dithering sections, combining the two colours to create a new colour.

Attempt to create a planet, with one side lighter than the other, with an intermediate dithering area. Use a 32x32 canvas.

Character Animation:

Firstly, draw a simple character, similar to mario, in a 16x16 canvas. Here we are going to work on creating realistic looking leg animation.

Make your character face the right.

We need to create three frames of animation: Idle, half step, step. Here are some examples:

Pixel 1 is the sprite at resting. Simply waiting for player input.

Pixel 2 sees the dominant leg, shown here as the lighter shade, lift up higher. Arms are lifted up higher.

Pixel 3 sees the dominant leg step forwards and back to the floor again, while the passive leg is behind. Arms gesture forward to create momentum.

Go to: https://www.scirra.com/arcade/action-games/lowrezjam-6919 to check out the example.

Using this template, we can create very simple and effective walking. Essentially we use two keyframes: legs spread apart in lunge, and legs close together in pre-step.

Attempt to create a running animation sprite, using the two frames of movement, and an idle frame if they choose.

Creating characters:

Enter the Gungeon — This game features a typical ‘chibi’ style, where character’s heads are roughly equal to the rest of their body combined, allowing for more expression and empathy. The faces of these characters are made up of a very simple pattern — eyes are one pixel in size, 5 or 6 pixels apart. The mouth is in the centre, one pixel lower or the same level, and 2 or 3 pixels wide. This is a heavily anime inspired look, and is great at offering very cute character designs. Characters kinda look dumb, but it allows an innocence to the art style which may otherwise be too serious and grim.

Sword and Sworcery — Here the characters have very little facial features, and instead have a lanky, alien look to them. This de-humanised the characters, but allows for a more mature and serious look. This pixel-art style has since grown in popularity with the release of Sword and Sworcery, and now features in other games, such as the recent steam release ‘Kingdom’ and ‘Gods Will Be Watching’.

Attempt to design characters in one of these two art styles, or both, and consider which may be useful for your own game designs.

Environmental Art challenge:

As some of you may know, the trees and clouds in Super Mario Bros 1 were actually the same image!


Limitations of hardware meant that only a select number of assets could be stored, and artists had to find ways to use an asset as many times as possible. This was also the case with audio, where slowing and reversing certain audio files would create new files.

Final Challenge: Create some art that can be used for multiple different things depending on the context! This is mostly for fun, but try and get as many uses as you can. You may rotate an image to get different shapes, as well as re-colouring it.

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