Mastering The Charm of Low Poly and Pixel Art Styles
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Bit late to the game. The kickstarter got cancelled in January! :(

by koen vosters
4 hours ago

Kickstarter failed and it got cancelled?

by Madhav Bharadwaj
6 hours ago

will the course contain timelapses?

Mastering The Charm of Low Poly and Pixel Art Styles
1 November, 2017

We’ve talked with game artist Vine about the way he produces awesome low poly and pixel art animations.


Hey, I’m Vine. I’m a pixel artist and game developer with a little experience in 3D. I treat it mostly as a hobby but I have a few commercial products in the works.  I live near Seattle, Washington in a cabin deep in the woods where I’m developing Puzzle Knights and the rest of my games mostly as a solo developer. I got into game development pretty early on in my life after discovering romhacking, wherein anyone could basically make a mod of existing games to their liking. I was never good at the hacking part, but there were tools available at the time to make this whole process easier. I spent a lot of time tinkering with games but never took game development even remotely seriously until Cave Story was released, and came to the realization that it was possible for a single person to create a game all by themselves.

Pixel and low poly art

Pixel art and low poly appeal to me due to their limitations and “jaggedness” or “crunchiness” that comes along with the style. Placing even a single pixel in the wrong place can goof up an entire sprite, and there’s sort of a puzzle I’m constantly solving when I’m doing pixel art, trying to micromanage pixels while still leaving things legible. Due to the resolution, you can only fit in so many details before it becomes a mess, so you have to pick and choose which are the focus and what else can be implied by the art, but not specifically drawn. Overall I think the process is interesting to work with. Low poly shares similar traits wherein too much detail can make something look odd or out of place. Finding a good balance is always satisfying.

The best way

I think the “best way” to do any art is to just enjoy yourself. The tool won’t matter if you don’t want to do it, so pick a tool that appeals to you and just roll with it. That said, I personally use Aseprite for all my pixel art. It’s built from the ground up specifically for pixel art, offering a lot of features and a simple but well-designed animation timeline. 

Key elements

Readability is a big concern of mine when it comes to pixel art and game development, so there’s often a huge contrast between my background and foreground elements (of luminance, hue and saturation) so that sprites, missiles, effects and whatnot appear very flashy and draw the eye in. I suppose an inspiration would be old arcade machines, where they put a large focus on drawing players in with extremely colorful and vibrant artwork. Generally speaking, the idea is that I want anything irrelevant to the player to take a step back away from their attention (background) and let only the important details of the screen to demand attention (foreground) not only because it looks good, but because it reads well to the player.

Another big concern of mine is scope. As a solo developer I have to cut a lot of corners or make decisions that will lead to less work overall so that I can actually finish projects within my lifespan. I’ve found that making certain terrain elements relatively large lends itself well to my chunky style but also fill the game’s scenery up so it doesn’t feel as empty, for a lot less effort overall, so I often make background/prop elements much larger than they would be in real life.

I animate all my effects frame-by-frame, making sure to adhere to “pixel purist” philosophies within reason (ie; strictly binary alpha, no absurdly upscaled pixel art, no introduction of colors outside of the palette, etc). I use linear-ish color ramps as my palette a lot of the time, and since pixel art tools often let you shade based on color indices, it makes making things brighter or darker over multiple frames very simple quick and easy without breaking any “rules”. Aseprite calls this Shading Ink, but I’m sure it goes by other names too.

Digital artists might get a laugh out of this, but I actually do all my art with a mouse, haha. 


Doing pixel art is deceptively time-consuming, and the time grows exponentially as you add detail, dithering, additional colors, frames, subpixel animation… etc.  There are a very small handful of artists out there that will take the time to cram in every last detail, and after a certain point it’s much faster to just go 3D if you’re concerned about time.

However, there are some things that have helped me develop assets in a much more timely fashion;

  1. Simplifying style.  Less colors means less shading work for every single frame. The same goes for details and dithering. I avoid dithering specifically because of this, even though I love it!
  2. Abuse keyframes in animation. It can be absolute misery to pixel out every frame of a fluid animation, so it can help to cut to the chase when you can. Immediately jump to keyframes and obscure motion with particles or effects and you can save yourself a lot of time.
  3. Recycle assets. A lot of my games use the same sprite for background and foreground objects, but the player never even notices because of a simple difference in brightness and it helps fill out the scene a lot.
  4. Make things big!  If all your assets are scaled to life, it can take a lot of effort to populate the screen.

Vine, a Pixel Artist, and Game Developer

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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John XIII Recent comment authors

nice interview…. would love to hear more on pixel artists and their work philosophies / techniques.