All the free content from Pixel Art Academy

Retronator Do It Yourself

1 year ago my idea for a video game about learning how to draw got funded on Kickstarter. About 2,700 backers thought it would be pretty cool to learn pixel art with an adventure game. Pixel Art Academy was born.

During the campaign I made an important promise: all the educational content will be free. Putting learning materials behind a paywall is not a model I like and I’ve always made all my tutorials free.

It’s crucial that I also have supporters who give funds to the project, starting with Kickstarter backers and now with patrons on Patreon. Sincere thanks for that. It’s great that I can make a living by creating things that people can freely access.

There is a shift happening. People aren’t paying to buy a product anymore, they pay to support the artist. If you just look at the money exchanging hands, there is no difference. But the mentality behind the transaction must necessarily be different to pay for something that you could get for free.

Here’s how my Kickstarter tiers looked like (note the $0 tier):

To keep with the promise of the $0 pledge level, here’s every bit of educational content I created during the development of Pixel Art Academy so far (the game is very much a work in progress).

This is a complete, comprehensive list, so it’s meant as a reference article. I’m putting it in the newly started DIY section of the magazine. It’s time to make your own pixel art!


Quick Lessons:

  • Anti-aliasing (AA)
  • Exporting pixel art
  • Cast shadows in perspective
  • Quick dithering
  • Sphere terminator geometry

Lo-fi course prototypes:

  • Environment Concept Art
  • Getting Started Guide
  • 1 Week Challenge
  • #Sketch5

Retronator Magazine articles:

  • Artist features
  • Community features
  • Games watchlist
  • Editorials
  • Stray pixels
  • Photo reviews

Retronator blog posts

Random advice

Alright, here we go!

Quick lessons

1. Anti-aliasing (AA)

One of the locations in the game will be your art studio. The last step of drawing the illustration for the location was to add anti-alliasing. Here’s a GIF showing the difference between the normal and anti-aliased version:

There are many tutorials about anti-aliasing pixel art out there. They tell you how to do it (place pixels of in-between colors on the edge of diagonals), but only few explain where this comes from.

The gist is: it’s all about geometry and resolution.

The funny thing is, this is a technique for making graphics less like pixel art.

It’s understandable. It was developed at the time when pixel art wasn’t a style but simply the way things were. Anti-aliasing was a move towards more photorealistic, smoother, high-definition visuals.

But today it is just a style and you can use it or not. It’s all about what you’re going for.

2. Exporting pixel art

My second quick lesson was aimed at beginners getting ready to post their art online.

Rule of thumb: export at 200% scale, Nearest Neighbor interpolation, PNG format. Go for GIF if it’s an animation.

Or in more detail (using Faxdoc’s early artworks as examples):

3. Cast shadows in perspective

This one is in a bit different format and is more like a test than a lesson (a formative assessment that is).

You can try to complete the assignment here. (Note: I’m not monitoring the submissions any more so you won’t get a score or feedback.)

4. Quick dithering

Lately I’ve returned to making videos when I get a question that is easier to show than tell. First up is my technique for dithering while still being able to use a painting approach to doing pixel art.

5. Sphere terminator geomtry

Even though it has nothing to do with robots taking over the world, this is a nice demonstration of how you can use the top-down view to analyze the geometry of your scene and help figure how to construct things in 3D.

Lo-fi course prototypes

In the first year of development Pixel Art Academy I was completing a Master’s degree in Education. To carry out research I got into the habit of testing learning materials by creating very rudimentary prototypes (read: I made a bunch of Google docs/slides). The idea is to focus on content instead of losing time with presentation or coding.

1. Environment Concept Art…HSDCvTTnhM

For this one I was doing a study about learning from existing Internet resources and made a quest where you work as a game artist.

Introduction into the quest.

The pretend scenario introduces the topic of composition and presents a selection of very useful tutorials that help you with placement of objects in your illustrations. It’s a lot of good content, so dig into the whole document here. (Feel free to skip over the first drawing part which is meant to compare your work before and after.)

2. Getting Started Guide

This was the principal user study I conducted for my degree. Over 400 backers went through a 7-day course that introduced everything you need to know to get started with pixel art. It’s all available here.

The pacing of the material is a bit rough with a big difficulty jump from days 6 to 7. Still, it’s probably the most useful of the resources produced so far (definitely with the most content). A cool thing that came out of this course is for example a chart for deciding what software to get started with.

Like everything else in this section, it needs to be updated (from what I learned, Aseprite should work on all Linux variants, not just Ubuntu).

Another unpublished piece of content from the Getting Started course is my voice-over commentary on two of my Lotus sprites.

They’re still unlisted videos—I haven’t yet decided if they’re good enough. But enjoy them here.

The Getting Started guide is full of useful links. Here are some example slides to catch your attention:

If you’ve seen enough and are ready to start learning, get started!

3. One Week Challenge…RZkknc48wg

The 1 Week Challenge was an extension to the Getting Started Guide. It was a follow-up study about practicing every day for another 7 days (to see how many people would follow through on their own).

Some very interesting conclusions came out of this research and if you’re nerdy about it as I am you can read my paper about it. The findings helped direct my course in grad school towards research on self-directed and self-regulated learning, solidifying the game’s design focus. You can learn more about this in my Master’s project presentation:

Learning materials from the study are a useful thing on their own. Of particular interest to you should be my selection of tutorials organized into 8 main areas of study.

You can then create a daily practice routine out of it.

You will find all this and more in the slides.

4. #Sketch5

This is a little bit of a diversion from pixel art, but as I like to say, pixel art is art first and pixels second. Learning how to sketch with a pencil will have overarching positive effects on your art skills.

The course is conducted over email in a span of 5 days, but it all starts with a Medium article called One small thing can lead to big change.

In a very short amount of time you will receive all needed knowledge to produce sketches such as these:

If you’ve never drawn before, you won’t get quite there on the first try. But it’s not far away at all, it just takes a few run throughs to get to that level.

You can get started here or watch my video on how I designed the course.

Retronator Magazine articles

An important part of the promise in the Kickstarter campaign was publishing more articles in this very Medium publication. Retronator Magazine will eventually live in the world of Retropolis so it’ll be nice to have a decent amount of content for the in-game zine.

Tot samyy, Stas Gailunas, 2015, from the artist feature Rulers of pixels, masters of concept art.

I understand no-one will really go and dig through the archives. But I link to every post from my Facebook page and Twitter when they come out, so it’s good value to follow me there. And you can follow the blog directly on Tumblr as well. One day I’ll integrate the delivery of the posts into the game itself as the blog will serve as a sort of a daily newspaper of Retropolis.

Random advice

To close off, I sometimes get random realizations in life and I’m usually not shy to share them. Here are a few:

The artist journey is lifelong and inevitably someone will say something about your art or yourself that disregards your feelings. It will be hard to take, it will sting and it will linger in your mind. Don’t let it turn you away. Know that it was their choice between being polite or hurtful. If I’ve learned anything from internet commenters it’s that the ones that have an urge to be negative usually do so from their own frustrations, not because of what you’ve done. Give them no power.

Second up we have a whole hour of me talking about how to learn drawing or coding. People say it’s a good talk:

Last thing on the list is my talk with 10 advices for how I got to Stanford:

And that’s a wrap!

I hope this brought you some value. If you want to know more about the game, you can visit the webpage or check out some of the videos on my YouTube channel. Following the magazine here on Medium is pretty cool too. Finally, if you want to support educational content from me in the future, you can do so on Patreon.

I hope to see you around,