Creating Pixelart Animation Backgrounds

Pixel art is a form of digital art that involves creating images using the smallest controllable elements provided by computer and video game hardware – pixels. It emerged in the 1970s and 80s when graphics and memory capabilities of computers were limited. Drawing images pixel by pixel allowed artists to work within these constraints.

The technique became popular with early computer and console games which used pixel art out of necessity. Iconic games like Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, and Tetris all used pixel art. Today, it remains popular for its nostalgic retro style. Pixel art is commonly used for video games, mobile apps, illustrations, and animations.

To create pixel art animation backgrounds, artists go through several key steps. First they plan out the overall animation and scenes. Next, they draw the individual background elements like terrain, buildings, trees, clouds etc. using a limited color palette. The background images are then imported into animation software and frames are created to animate the backgrounds over time.

Needed Supplies

To create pixel art animations, you’ll need the proper software and equipment. Many pixel artists recommend using programs like Aseprite, Pixilart, or GraphicsGale for drawing and animating pixel art. These programs are designed specifically for the pixel art style and offer features like palettes, brushes, onion skinning, and timeline animation.

You’ll also need something to draw with. Many pixel artists use graphics tablets since it’s easier to get clean lines and shapes. However, you can start with a regular mouse if you don’t want to invest in a drawing tablet yet. GraphicsGale in particular is a good program for mouse drawing.

Finally, you’ll want to plan out a color palette for your animation. Limiting your colors helps maintain the pixel look. A good starting palette is around 16 colors or less. You can use a color palette generator to create a set of colors that go well together.

Planning the Animation

Before you start animating, it’s important to plan out your pixel art animation. This planning stage is called storyboarding. Storyboarding involves sketching out the key scenes and actions that will take place in your animation. It allows you to work out the story, staging, and timing before you start the time-consuming process of actually animating.

examples of pixel art animation storyboards.

When storyboarding, start by thinking about the setting and story for your animation. Sketch out the different backgrounds and environments your story will take place in. Then move on to designing the main characters. Pixel art characters often have simple designs, but make sure to include key details that show their personalities and roles in the story. Sketch the same character in different poses and from different angles to plan out how they will look in motion.

Once you have your story, environments, and characters mapped out, you can start storyboarding the key scenes. Draw simple panels showing the action in sequence from start to finish. Don’t worry about perfect drawings at this point, just focus on planning out the major story beats and actions. Having a storyboard will make the animation process much smoother as you’ll have planned out the timing and sequence of events beforehand.

Some helpful free online storyboarding tools include Storyboard That, Wonder Unit, and Storyboard Artist. Traditional paper and pencils work great too. The main goal is to map out your animation before you start working digitally.

Drawing Background Elements

When drawing background elements for your pixel art animation, layout and composition are key. Consider the perspective you want to convey and how different objects will be positioned in the frame. It’s common to include elements like trees, rocks, and buildings to help create depth and interest in the background.

For layout, utilize principles like the rule of thirds to position important elements off-center for a balanced, appealing composition. Vary the scale and placement of objects to create layers of depth receding into the distance. Pay attention to transitions and overlap for a natural, cohesive look.

Perspective will help ground objects and convey depth. Use techniques like diminishing size, overlapped shapes, and relative height to make distant objects appear smaller. Create a vanishing point on the horizon line to draw buildings, paths, or other structures in one, two, or three-point perspective.

When drawing standard background elements like trees, rocks, and buildings, aim for simplicity and consistency. Trees can be represented with basic shapes for the trunk, branches, and leaf clusters. Vary their height, fullness, and placement. Rocks can use jagged edges and shading to look three-dimensional. Buildings can utilize squares, rectangles and triangles in different arrangements. Keep these background elements simple so they don’t distract from the main animation.

For more tips on effective pixel art backgrounds, see this Reddit thread. With planning and practice, you can create immersive, lively backgrounds to enhance your overall animation.

Choosing a Color Palette

When creating a pixel art animation, choosing the right color palette is crucial for setting the overall mood and style. The number of colors you use will depend on the complexity of the scene. Simple backgrounds may only need 4-5 colors, while more detailed scenes could use up to 12-15 colors before becoming too visually cluttered. According to pixel art communities on Reddit, it’s recommended to start with a limited palette of around 5 colors that work well together and slowly expand from there as needed.

There are several approaches you can take when selecting colors. You can choose complementary, analogous or triadic colors on the color wheel for harmony and visual interest. Matching the color palette to the scene mood is also important – cool blues and greens for a calm nighttime setting or warm reds and oranges for a fiery sunset. Online tools like Lospec’s Palette List and Adobe Color provide curated palettes that are perfect for pixel art.

When constructing your own palette in pixel art software like Aseprite, you can sample colors from your sketches or reference images. Save the palette in your program so it stays consistent across all the animation frames. With careful planning and intentional color choices, you can create stunning pixel art animations with impact.

Animating the Background

Creating animated backgrounds for your pixel art can really bring your scenes to life. There are different levels of complexity when animating backgrounds, from simple repetitive movements like water or clouds, to more advanced parallax scrolling effects.

For simple animations, focus on identifying elements that naturally move or change. Things like water can be animated by having subtle waves or ripples move across the surface. Clouds can drift slowly across the sky. Trees and plants can sway gently in the breeze. Even small details like flickering flames or twinkling stars can add great ambience.

To animate these elements, you’ll need to draw each frame of the animation cycle individually. For example, for flickering flames you may draw 5-10 frames showing the flames at different heights and intensities. When cycled quickly this will create the illusion of natural movement. For slower animations like drifting clouds, you may only need 2-4 frames.

For more complex parallax scrolling backgrounds, the idea is to animate background layers at different speeds to create depth. Foreground elements like hills and trees move faster, while distant elements like mountains and sky move slower. This creates an immersive 3D effect. To implement this, you’ll need to separate your background art into layers, and animate each layer individually in your software.

There are many pixel art tools like Aseprite that provide built-in support for animating backgrounds. With some planning and practice, you can create beautiful living backgrounds that complement your game.

Testing the Animation

Once you have completed creating your pixel art animation background, it is crucial to thoroughly test it before finalizing. There are a few key things you’ll want to check:

Test on different screen sizes: Since pixel art is resolution-dependent, you’ll want to test your animation on different monitor resolutions and mobile devices to ensure it looks as intended. Pay extra attention to making sure there are no scaling artifacts or blurriness on different screens.

Test at different speeds: Pixel art animation often looks best at a lower framerate like 10-15 fps. Make sure to check how your animation looks at different speeds to find the optimal framerate.

Test with character sprites: Pixel art backgrounds are often designed to complement character sprites. Add some test characters into your animation and ensure the background doesn’t visually clash or overpower the character sprites.

By testing thoroughly across different screens, speeds, and with character sprites, you can refine and finalize your pixel art animation background before release.

Exporting the Final Animation

After your animation is completed in the pixel art software, you’ll need to export it in a file format suitable for sharing and displaying the animation properly. Two of the most common formats used for pixel art animations are GIF and PNG sequences.

For simple short looped animations, exporting as an animated GIF can be a good choice. GIFs allow for transparency, small file sizes, and easy sharing on the web. However, GIFs are limited to 256 colors per frame. Exporting a high color pixel art animation to a GIF may result in loss of color depth and banding.

PNG sequences retain full image quality, support millions of colors, and allow transparent backgrounds. But they take up more file space compared to GIFs. To optimize file size, try limiting the color palette and reducing unnecessary colors before exporting the PNG frames. Many pixel art programs like Aseprite provide options to downsample and reduce colors when exporting PNGs.

Test exporting your animation in both formats to see which meets your needs for quality, file size, and platform compatibility. With the right optimization settings, pixel art animations can be shared online without sacrificing too much visual fidelity.

Sharing Your Work

Once you’ve created your pixel art animation, you’ll likely want to share it with others who can appreciate it. Some popular places to share pixel art include:

Pixel art communities like Reddit, Pixelation, and Pixel Joint. These sites have active communities of pixel artists who can provide feedback and appreciation.

Art sharing sites like ArtStation and DeviantArt also have pixel art sections. You can create a portfolio there to showcase your animations.

If you want to try selling your pixel art, marketplaces like Etsy, Creative Market, and SpriteLand are options. Ensure your work is original before attempting to sell it.

When sharing online, use tags and descriptions to make your work discoverable. Engage with other pixel artists by commenting on their work as well.

Continuing Your Learning

Once you’ve gotten comfortable creating basic pixel art animations, there’s still much more to explore in this artform. Here are some ways to continue improving your pixel art skills:

Other Pixel Art Techniques to Learn

Try your hand at other pixel art techniques like animated sprites, parallax scrolling, and tiling textures. Learning these can help you create more complex and visually interesting animations.

More Complex Software

Step up to more full-featured software like Aseprite or GraphicsGale. These provide specialized tools for animation, layers, and effects that open up more possibilities.

Books and Online Courses

Expand your knowledge with pixel art books that share professional techniques and workflows. Or take an online course to get feedback and guidance on improving your animations.

Learning pixel art takes time and practice, but staying motivated and trying new things will help you get better. Remember to enjoy the creative process as you continue growing as a pixel artist!