Pixelart Animation Career Paths: Opportunities

Pixel art animation refers to animations created using raster graphics software, where the animation is made up of individual pixels. While pixel art has roots dating back to the 70s, it became widely popular in the 80s and 90s with the advent of early computer and video games. Some well-known examples of early pixel art animation include games like Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, and Sonic the Hedgehog.

Today, pixel art animation continues to be used for indie and retro-style video games. However, pixel art skills are also applied to other media as well, including illustrations, movies, and graphic design projects. There are a number of potential career paths within pixel art animation, including concept art, storyboarding, character design, background art, animation, special effects, game design, and art direction.

In this article, we’ll provide an overview of the key pixel art animation career paths, the role and responsibilities associated with each, and the opportunities available for those looking to get into this unique specialty.

Concept Art

Concept art is a crucial first step in any animation or video game production. Pixel artists in this role are tasked with creating characters, environments, props, and other elements that will define the visual style and help bring the world to life.

Using a limited pixel palette, concept artists design and iterate on key visual components. This involves sketching rough ideas, starting with silhouettes and basic shapes, then steadily adding detail. A strong grasp of pixel art fundamentals like shape language, color choice, lighting, and visual storytelling is key.

Concept artists also create model sheets, which provide detailed reference for each character or environment element from multiple angles. These ensure consistency as assets get passed along to other artists during production.

Throughout the process, pixel artists collaborate closely with game designers, animators, art directors and other stakeholders to align the concept art with the intended tone, style and direction of the project.

It takes a creative mind, strong technical skills, and the ability to bring ideas to life within the constraints of pixel art. The goal is to produce concepts that capture the essence of characters and worlds in an iconic pixel style.


Storyboarding is an essential part of planning out an animation. It involves creating a visual sequence of events, camera angles, and blocking for each scene in simple sketches. For pixel art animation, storyboards allow animators to map out details like character poses, backgrounds, camera movements, and shot sequencing before production begins.

Storyboarding for pixel art requires simplifying complex ideas into basic shapes and compositions that convey the necessary visual information. The limited resolution can make some complex shots challenging. Still, an experienced pixel art storyboarder can break down key story points into a clear, minimalist flow using squares, circles, lines, and other geometric shapes.

Pixel art storyboards focus on framing, perspective, staging, and clarity above rendered details. Basic shapes represent characters while arrows or lines indicate movement and direction. Different panels show sequential actions in each shot. This efficient planning is vital for translating ideas into effective pixel animation. Mapping major scenes in advance gives the animation team a guide to follow. It also allows feedback and changes early when they are easiest to implement. Quality pixel art storyboarding lays a solid foundation for the entire production.

For example, according to professional storyboard artist Botjira Lim, “As an Artist at Gumi Asia from July 2014 – February 2019, I have done many different types of work, such as pixel art, pixel art storyboarding, pixel art animatics, illustration and UI design for various mobile games” (source). Careful storyboarding was key to executing complex ideas on a small canvas.

Character Design

Pixel art character designers are responsible for bringing a game’s characters to life through their designs. This involves conceptualizing a character’s look, expressions, costumes, props, and motions. A character designer may start with rough sketches and iterate until settling on a final pixel art design that fits the game’s style and story.

Some key responsibilities of a pixel art character designer include:

  • Collaborating with the art director, creative director, and other artists on the character’s overall conceptual design.
  • Creating clean linework and bold silhouettes that read clearly even at small resolutions.
  • Designing a character’s various facial expressions and poses to convey their personality and emotions.
  • Outfitting characters with distinctive, thematic costumes and props.
  • Ensuring character designs align with the game’s visual style and enable fluent sprite animations.

Strong pixel art character design skills allow game elements like heroes, villains, NPCs, and creatures to leap off the screen. A character’s look can leave a lasting impression on players. Read more about the top character design jobs in Thousand Oaks, CA at the following link: https://www.upwork.com/freelance-jobs/character-design-in-thousand-oaks-ca/

Background Art

Background artists play a crucial role in crafting immersive pixel art worlds and environments. Their job is to illustrate the settings and scenery that characters interact with using a pixel art style (cite: https://www.upwork.com/freelance-jobs/pixel-art/). Backgrounds establish tone, time period, geography and other contextual details that bring pixel art games, animations and illustrations to life.

Skilled pixel art background artists are able to convey scale, perspective and depth while working within the constraints of low resolution artwork. They utilize color, shading, lighting and other techniques to create the illusion of three-dimensional spaces. Vibrant, moody, fantastical – pixel art backgrounds set the visual stage. (cite: https://www.reddit.com/r/PixelArt/comments/t6ua9w/pixel_art_jobs_hire_a_pixel_artist_post_your_jobs/)

Background artists conceptualize environments like forests, cities, planets and more from imagination or reference materials. Their work provides viewers with a window into extraordinary pixel art worlds.


pixel art animators bring characters and worlds to life through motion

Bringing pixel art to life through animation is a unique specialty within the pixel art world. Animation requires skills like understanding motion, timing, and sequencing to make the art feel alive. According to an article on Upwork, there is growing demand for pixel art animation for mobile games, especially “retro style games” (https://www.upwork.com/freelance-jobs/pixel-art/). Animators may be responsible for cutscenes, sprites, backgrounds, visual effects, and cinematics. Strong animation skills allow artists to bring engaging pixel art worlds to life.

Pixel art animation roles may include positions like Lead Animator, Animator, Senior Animator, and 2D Animator. These jobs often require animation specific skills like Spine 2D, DragonBones, Unity, and deep knowledge of the 12 principles of animation. According to LinkedIn data, popular animation job titles like “2D Animator” have over 1,000 openings currently (https://www.linkedin.com/jobs/pixel-artist-jobs). With the rise of indie games and retro aesthetics, pixel art animation talent is in high demand.

Special Effects

Special effects like particle systems, lighting, and other visual effects are crucial for creating immersive and polished pixel art animation. Particle effects can be used to simulate phenomena like fire, smoke, weather, magic spells, and more (https://www.linkedin.com/jobs/pixel-artist-jobs). Lighting effects like shadows and highlights add depth and realism. Other common visual effects include screen shakes, lens flares, and bloom. Most animation projects utilize some form of special effects to enhance the visuals.

Pixel artists who specialize in VFX will handle creating and implementing these effects into the animation pipeline. This involves tasks like designing particle emitters, crafting lighting setups, and tweaking effect parameters to get the desired look. Strong math and physics knowledge is useful for replicating real-world phenomena accurately. VFX pixel artists use a range of software like Unity, GameMaker, and Spark AR to produce effects. Given the rise of AR/VR and real-time engines, there is growing demand for pixel artists with VFX skills (https://www.upwork.com/freelance-jobs/pixel-art/).

Game Design

Pixel art is commonly used in video game design, especially for indie and retro-style games. The low resolution pixelated aesthetic lends itself well to evoking nostalgia for classic games. Pixel art also allows game developers to create detailed artwork and animation on a budget.

For aspiring pixel artists interested in game design, there are several pathways to incorporate pixel art skills:

  • Become a sprite artist to design characters, items, environments and animations.
  • Work as a background/environment artist creating immersive 2D worlds.
  • Join a game studio as a 2D animator bringing characters and effects to life.
  • Freelance creating assets or full art packages for indie developers.
  • Produce your own indie game, handling the pixel art and programming.

Developing a strong portfolio of pixel game art and honing animation skills will be key to landing roles. As pixel art has exploded in popularity for modern games, there is growing demand for skilled pixel artists who can emulate classic styles while also creating innovative new looks.

Art Direction

Art directors oversee the visuals and artwork for projects ranging from video games and films to advertisements and websites. They lead teams of artists and designers to ensure the overall aesthetic aligns with the creative vision.

The main responsibilities of an art director include:

  • Developing the overall visual style and appearance of projects
  • Leading teams of artists, animators, and designers
  • Providing direction, feedback, and guidance on visual assets
  • Ensuring consistency across all visual components
  • Overseeing the implementation of visuals across mediums
  • Collaborating closely with writers, producers, and other leaders
  • Finding creative solutions to visual challenges
  • Creating storyboards, style guides, and mockups
  • Establishing schedules and budgets

Art directors need strong leadership abilities, communication skills, and a keen creative eye. They guide projects to visual success through collaboration, constructive feedback, and their expertise in design principles, composition, color, and more. With experience, art directors can oversee entire creative teams and departments.


In summary, pixel art animation careers offer a wide range of opportunities for creative professionals. Roles such as concept artists, storyboarders, character designers, background artists, animators, game designers, and art directors allow artists to bring their pixel art skills to life in movies, TV shows, video games, and more. Though the field is competitive, there is a growing need for pixel art across the entertainment industry. With diligence and dedication, it is possible to build a rewarding career. Pixel art animation requires artistic talent as well as strong technical skills. Overall, it is an exciting career path for those who enjoy storytelling through visuals.

Final thoughts on pixel art animation careers: The retro pixel aesthetic is more popular than ever, leading to high demand for skilled pixel artists. Though the roles require artistic vision as well as patience and attention to detail, the end result of seeing one’s pixel creations come to life is worth the effort. Passion for the craft and a willingness to constantly expand one’s skills are key. With the right training and persistence, there are diverse opportunities waiting for pixel art animation professionals.