Pixelart Animation Speed Run: Challenges

Pixel art animation speedruns refer to players racing against the clock to create a short animated pixel art video. This niche speedrunning category has roots in the early days of video games and digital art.

The first arcade games like Pong and Space Invaders relied on simple pixel graphics. As games evolved to have more complex stories and gameplay, artists used pixel art animation techniques to bring the characters and worlds to life. The limited resolutions and color palettes posed unique creative challenges that pixel artists embraced.

Over time, pixel art developed its own aesthetics within retro gaming, fan art, and indie development communities. Speedrunning various pixel art animation tasks became a way for artists to showcase their skills. While formal competitions are relatively new, artists have been informally challenging each other to quick pixel art animations for decades.

Today’s speedrun events combine the skills of planning, precision, and creativity under tight time constraints. The niche community pushes the boundaries of what can be achieved in 5, 10, or 60 minute pixel art animations. Modern tools provide more capabilities, but the retro look and feel persists.

Tools and Software

Pixel art animators use a variety of software tools to create their animations. Some of the most popular tools include:

Aseprite – Aseprite is one of the most commonly used pixel art animation programs. It offers layers, onion skinning, timeline editing, and other standard animation tools. Aseprite is designed specifically for creating pixel art and animations. It has a limited free version but the full version requires a paid license.

Pyxel Edit – Pyxel Edit is another dedicated pixel art and animation program. It is free and open source. Pyxel Edit provides users with tilemap support, palette management, and shoots for a retro pixel art aesthetic.

Adobe Photoshop – While not designed solely for pixel art, Photoshop remains a popular choice due to its imaging editing capabilities. Animators use Photoshop’s layer system and timeline to create animations frame-by-frame.

Other common tools include Piskel, GraphicsGale, Pro Motion, and GIMP. Most pixel artists use a combination of programs depending on their specific needs and preferences.

Planning and Preparation

A pixel art animation speedrun requires careful planning and preparation to execute efficiently. The animator needs to start with a solid concept and storyboard to establish the overall goals, flow, and arcs of the animation. As recommended in this tutorial, storyboarding is a crucial part of the planning process. It allows mapping out the key poses and transitions upfront. The animator should also decide on the setting, characters, animation techniques, and optimal software tools during the planning stages.

Once the concept is established, the animator will need to gather reference materials and create concept art. Collecting images for inspiration on poses, movement, lighting, and mood is advised. Pixel art animation relies on expressive character poses and exaggerated movements, so having visual references is key. The animation’s flow and timing should be prototyped to validate the desired pacing. Technical considerations around canvas size, frame rate, and file formats also need to be determined beforehand.

Other preparatory steps include developing the character sprites, backgrounds, and other assets. These elements should be optimized for fast animation while retaining expressiveness. Testing animation cycles and movements in a small prototype can refine the process. With thorough planning and asset preparation, the animator can focus on efficient techniques and execution during the speedrun rather than getting bogged down in concept ideation and troubleshooting.

Animation Techniques

Some key animation techniques used in pixel art speedruns include:[1]

  • Frame-by-frame animation – Drawing each frame individually to create smooth motion.
  • Tweening – Generating in-between frames algorithmically to save time.
  • Squash and stretch – Exaggerating forms during movement for impact.
  • Anticipation – Preparing for an action before it happens.
  • Follow through and overlapping action – Continuing motion after the initial action.
  • Exaggeration – Emphasizing key poses and actions.

Mastering these principles allows pixel artists to convey weight, force, emotion, and personality. Planning transitions between key poses is crucial for efficiency in speedrun animations.[2]

Efficiency and Optimization

When creating pixel art animations, especially for speedrunning, efficiency and optimization are crucial for delivering high-quality results quickly. Some strategies to optimize workflow include:

Planning animation sequences thoroughly before starting work. This includes sketching keyframes, mapping transitions, and visualizing the final product. Proper planning prevents wasted effort and redo’s. As suggested in Starting with the Basics: Workflow, invest time upfront to map out the animated sequence.

Creating reusable components and assets. Look for opportunities to build modular assets that can be reused across multiple frames and sequences. This saves time compared to redrawing unique art for each frame.

Using layers, onionskinning, and timeline tools. Most animation software provides features to animate efficiently. Use layers to separate components, onionskinning to visualize previous frames, and timeline tools to tweak easing.

Optimizing and streamlining rendering. Test different export settings to find the best balance of quality and render time. Consider lower frame rates where possible. parallel processing across CPU cores can also speed up rendering.

Collaborating and dividing workload. For team projects, identify scopes of work that can be divided across multiple animators. Collaboration enables creating more elaborate animations by combining individual contributions.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Pixel artists participating in speedruns often face a variety of difficulties that need to be quickly identified and solved. Some common challenges include:

Jagged edges and aliasing. This can occur when pixels aren’t aligned to the pixel grid properly. Using nearest neighbor interpolation and avoiding subpixel movement can help reduce jaggies (https://www.reddit.com/r/Unity2D/comments/65chh9/pixel_art_swing_animation_problems/).

Limited animation frames and fluidity. Pixel art animations are constrained by the small number of frames that can be efficiently created. Strategies like frame skipping, smearing, and ghosting effects can help make the most of each frame.

Timing and synchronization issues. Getting movements like attack animations properly timed and synced with game events can be tricky. Planning ahead and prototyping early is important.

Workflow bottlenecks and fatigue. Pixel art requires immense focus and patience. Taking breaks, using keyboard shortcuts, and establishing efficient workflows is key to maintaining speed and accuracy.

Collaborating smoothly. When working with a team, communication and coordination are vital to avoid duplication or mismatched art styles.

Software crashes and loss of work. Frequently saving progress to avoid losing work is critical. Version control systems help protect against file corruption or loss.

By planning ahead, following pixel art best practices, and identifying issues early, artists can troubleshoot problems quickly during fast-paced speedrun events.


Collaborative speedrun events, where multiple pixel artists work together on the same animation, add an exciting team dynamic to the traditional solo speedrun. Groups compete to complete intricate animations under tight time constraints, requiring organization, coordination, and teamwork.

Effective collaboration strategies involve planning and dividing up roles and responsibilities. Some artists focus on character design and backgrounds while others tackle key frames and in-betweening. Regular communication and feedback helps keep everyone aligned. Collaborators may use shared documents or servers to consolidate artwork and assets. The most cohesive teams set ground rules and have leaders who can resolve disputes.

Major collaborative speedrun events include Pixel Day, where artists across the globe unite to create animations based on a theme within 24 hours. The Pixel Art Masters Tournament also pits teams against each other in 3-hour speedrun challenges judged by community veterans. These team competitions enable artists to bond while producing impressive animations in limited timeframes.

Overall, collaborative speedruns allow artists to think creatively, work under pressure, and build camaraderie. The special dynamics and joint accomplishments spur innovating animating methods and unforgettable experiences.

Judging and Scoring

Pixel art animation speedruns are judged based on a variety of criteria that determine the final score. Some of the key criteria include:

Completion Time – The total time taken to complete the animation from start to finish is the primary scoring metric. Faster completion times result in higher scores. According to discussions on Reddit (https://www.reddit.com/r/speedrun/comments/31v3yd/what_speedrun_has_the_highest_skill_cap/), completion time is one of the most important factors in determining the winner.

Animation Quality – The overall smoothness, fluidity and quality of the final animation is also judged critically. Competitors must balance speed with maintaining strong animation principles and avoiding jitter/choppy motion.

Technical Merit – Factors like efficiency of process, tools and techniques used, keyboard/mouse optimization, and workflow are considered. Using the software adeptly to work quickly is valued.

Creative Execution – Elements like character design, background art, effects, camera work and other creative choices are judged for quality. Visual impact and style factor into scoring.

Rule Compliance – Competitors must follow all rules and criteria outlined for the specific speedrun contest. This includes things like frame rate, resolution, length, assets allowed, etc. Failing to comply can result in penalties or disqualification.

The exact scoring criteria and judging rubrics can vary for each competition. But in general, the above factors involving time, design, technique and creativity tend to be decisive in determining pixel art animation speedrun winners.

Notable Speedrunners

Pixel art animation speedrunning has gained popularity in recent years, with several talented artists emerging as top competitors in major speedrunning events. Some of the most notable pixel art animation speedrunners include:

Miroko – A leading speedrunner who holds multiple world records across different pixel art animation categories. Known for their incredibly fast and fluid animations that push the limits of what can be achieved. Miroko regularly streams speedrun attempts and tutorials on Twitch.

Pixelseed – A top contender who excels in complex, multi-character animations. Holds the Any% world record for animating the full roster of Super Smash Bros characters. Pixelseed is lauded for their planning and organization skills that enable efficient animation.

Ryghts – A renowned speedrunner who focuses on animating original characters as quickly as possible. Known for creative strategies to simplify shapes and reuse assets. Ryghts provides frequent updates on speedrunning achievements through YouTube videos and Discord.

Other notable mentions include ASprite, PixelDash, Sprte, and more. The top pixel art animation speedrunners demonstrate incredible talent and creativity in producing high-quality art against the clock.

The Future

Although pixel art animation speedrunning is still considered a niche hobby, there are signs that it may gain more mainstream popularity in the future. With the rise of indie gaming and renewed interest in retro pixel art styles, more animation tools like Aseprite are gaining traction and allowing more people to easily create pixel art. Platforms like Twitch and YouTube also make it easier to broadcast speedrun events and competitions to a wide audience.

Some members of the pixel art and speedrunning communities feel the sport has potential for growth. In a Reddit discussion, user pixelmaster2022 commented “With moreexposure and bigger prize pools at events like AGDQ, pixel art speedrunning could definitely become the next big esport.”

However, others caution that part of the appeal is the tight-knit community aspect, which could be lost if pixel art speedrunning expands too quickly. User spriteQueen noted on Reddit that “The friendly competition and spirit of creativity is more important than views and money – I hope it doesn’t sacrifice its heart if it goes mainstream.”

Most agree that technology will continue advancing animation and game development tools, leading to new techniques and optimization strategies for speedrunners to innovate with. The sport has clearly come a long way since the early 2000s but still has room to evolve. With more competitions, accessibility for new animators, and visibility in the gaming community, pixel art animation speedrunning has potential to become a staple gaming competition.