I grew up on 8-bit games and their aesthetic has for me nostalgic values. I’m certainly not alone in that case and it even became an art in itself. I don’t know why I started to think about it recently, but I went online to look into Pixel Art and ended up searching about its origins. So why not report here what I found?
What is Pixel Art?
Pixel art is a form of digital art that utilizes pixels as the sole building block to create images. It is closely associated with the graphics of low-resolution systems like 8-bit and 16-bit computers, arcade consoles, LED displays, and graphing calculators. Each pixel represents a single point of color on a grid, and when combined with other pixels, they form larger compositions.
A common aspect of pixel art is the low color count. It emulates the limitations of older video game graphics, which could only display a limited number of colors simultaneously. By carefully arranging pixels, artists can create detailed and recognizable images, characters, and scenes. The deliberate placement of pixels is crucial to achieving the desired visual effect. Apparently, many pixel artists believe that using too many colors, especially similar ones, is unnecessary and makes the image appear messy.
Basically, Pixel art is known for its retro, nostalgic aesthetic reminiscent of early video games and computer graphics. It has gained popularity as a unique art style, both in the gaming industry and as a standalone artistic medium.
Who Invented Pixel Art?
The term “pixel art” was officially published for the first time in a journal letter by Adele Goldberg and Robert Flegal of Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in 1982. However, the practice of pixel art predates this publication by at least a decade. In 1972, Richard Shoup’s SuperPaint system, also developed at Xerox PARC, showcased early pixel art capabilities.
SuperPaint served as a precursor to modern graphic programs like Photoshop. NASA used SuperPaint to illustrate its discoveries and data. The program offered basic graphics and animation features, as well as adjustable paintbrushes, image magnification, and the ability to create full-color images. Its influence extended to subsequent graphics applications like MS Paint and MacPaint.
As technology advanced and computers became equipped with better graphics cards and memory, developers, and creatives adapted accordingly. Video games began pushing the boundaries of what was possible, resulting in iconic characters and graphics from the 8-bit era (1983-1987) and the 16-bit era (1987-1993).
The distinction between 8-bit and 16-bit refers, in part, to the tonal variation available for each color. The greater the number of color tones available, the more detailed the images could be. Early Mario represents 8-bit pixel art, while Sonic the Hedgehog exemplifies 16-bit pixel art.
With the arrival of consoles like the PlayStation and N64, pixel art started to decline in popularity. Developers shifted their focus to creating 3D models for characters, making side-scrolling games seem outdated. By the mid-2000s, 3D graphics and gaming had become the norm, and pixel art became less common, often considered retro or vintage.
However, pixel art continues to have a dedicated following, with artists and game studios appreciating its nostalgic charm and unique aesthetic.