Pixelart Animation Tutorial: A Step-By-Step Guide For Beginners

Pixel art has its origins in the early days of video games, with classics like Space Invaders and Pac-Man featuring simple, blocky graphics made up of pixels. While early pixel art was limited by technology, it developed its own aesthetic style that is still popular today. Animated pixel art, with moving sprites and characters, became especially prevalent in 2D side-scrolling games.

For beginners looking to create their own pixel art animations, the basic tools needed are a pixel art program like Aseprite or Piskel, and understanding of spriting techniques, and skills for simple animation. This tutorial will provide a step-by-step guide to making your first animated pixel art, covering creating sprites, backgrounds, animations, effects, and exporting the final product.


When getting started with pixel art animation, choosing the right software is crucial. Here are some of the most popular options:


Aseprite is widely considered the best software specifically for pixel art animation (Source). Its intuitive interface, powerful animation tools, and extensive feature set cater directly to the needs of pixel artists. Pros include onion skinning, tiled animation workflow, and automatic sprite sheet export. The main downside is it is only available for Windows, macOS, and Linux.


GraphicsGale is another dedicated pixel art animation program. It offers similar features to Aseprite like layers, onion skinning, and palettes. It’s a good affordable option for Windows users. However, the interface and tools are not quite as refined as Aseprite.


Adobe Photoshop is very versatile software that can be used for pixel art. Key advantages are it works across platforms and has a wide array of artistic features. Downsides are it is not purpose-built for pixel art, so the workflow is not as streamlined. The subscription pricing model can also be prohibitive for hobbyists.

Creating Sprites

Sprites are the basic building blocks of any pixel art animation. When creating sprites, the most important thing is keeping them small and simple. The limited resolution in pixel art means you don’t have a lot of detail to work with. The fewer pixels in your sprite, the easier it will be to animate.

Start by sketching some basic shapes or characters in a small resolution like 16×16 or 32×32 pixels. Avoid lots of intricate details and gradients, as these will be difficult to animate. Stick to solid colors and simple forms.

It’s better to have multiple sprites for different poses, rather than trying to cram lots of animation frames into one elaborate sprite. Break your character down into individual parts like arms, legs, torso, and head. Animate each of these separately for maximum control.

Leave some transparent space around your sprites so they don’t bleed into each other when animating. Careful use of transparency will make your animations look clean and professional.

Test your sprite animations frequently as you’re working. Seeing them in motion will reveal any issues with timing or posing. Tweak and refine until the animation looks smooth and natural. With the limitations of pixel art, sometimes less movement is more.


The background is an important design element in pixel art animation. Simple, repeating patterns are commonly used to create cohesive backgrounds. Here are some tips for creating effective backgrounds:

Parallax scrolling backgrounds are a popular technique where the background images scroll at a slower rate than the foreground, creating a sense of depth. This can be achieved by separating foreground and background elements into layers and scrolling them at different speeds (see this example).

Repeating tileable patterns work well for backgrounds. The pattern can be subtle or prominent depending on the overall aesthetic. Simple pixelated shapes like circles, squares and triangles arranged in geometric patterns make classic video game-style backgrounds (see this pixel landscape).

Limiting the color palette for backgrounds creates visual cohesion. Sticking to just a few complementary colors makes the animation sprites pop. Gradual color gradients are an option too. Start with a solid color on one side transitioning into a different solid color on the opposite side.

Focusing on just one main background element simplifies the design. This could be a single color, a subtle pattern, or a basic landscape. Keeping backgrounds minimal helps highlight the sprite animation.

Animating Sprites

Animating sprites in pixel art requires creating animation frames one by one and stringing them together into a sequence. The most common techniques are:

pixel art animation sequence

  • Frame by frame animation – Each frame is drawn individually to create the illusion of movement and action when played sequentially. This allows for full control over each frame but can be time consuming.
  • Cycles and loops – Creating reusable cycles of animation that can loop continuously, like a character’s walking cycle. This saves time by animating once and reusing it.
  • Idle animations – Subtle animations like blinking or gentle breathing for when a character is idle. This brings life to otherwise static sprites.

Frame by frame animation gives the most control for complex movements, while cycles, loops, and idles can save time. Planning out animations as cycles and deciding on idle behaviors beforehand helps streamline the process. Animation frames are then strung together into strips called “spritesheets” which game engines use to animate the sprites programmatically.

Some tips for smooth pixel art animation:

  • Keep frames consistent with features aligned.
  • Use minimal movement between frames.
  • Avoid major sprite deformation between frames.
  • Use temporal anti-aliasing for smooth movement.

With careful planning and practice, aspiring pixel artists can bring their sprites to life through animation. It takes time, but the results are worth it!

Special Effects

Special effects can really bring your pixel art animations to life. Here are some of the most common and impactful effects to try:

Particle Effects

Particle effects simulate things like fire, smoke, water spray, snow, and more. They involve animating many small pixel sprites to look like a fluid motion. For example, an explosion can be done by animating out a burst of pixel circles fading outwards. Stormy rain can use fast moving vertical lines. You’ll need to experiment to get the speed and density right.

Screen Shakes

Quickly moving the entire screen left/right or up/down for a few frames during a dramatic moment like an explosion can really amplify the intensity. Just be careful not to overuse screen shakes or make them too strong, as that can strain the viewer’s eyes.

Lighting Effects

You can create flickering light effects by toggling between two color palettes – one normal and one with brighter colors. Animate the light palette for just a few frames to suggest a brief flash or flare. This works well for things like flashlight beams, lightning strikes, camera flashes, sparks, and more. Be creative with how you use different palettes to imply lighting!

Sound Design

Sound design is a crucial part of any pixel art animation project. Since pixel art evokes a retro, 8-bit aesthetic, the music and sound effects should match that vintage style. Chiptune music made with synthesized sounds is perfect for pixel art games and animations. There are lots of great resources for royalty-free 8-bit music and sound effects online.

When selecting music and sounds, it’s important to pick files that are synchronized and loopable. The audio should seamlessly match the timing of the animation. Short loopable music tracks work well for repeating backgrounds and action sequences. Stingers, jumps, and hits that accentuate movements and events should be timed to those specific frames.

Audacity and other audio editors allow you to customize and tweak audio clips to fit your pixel art animation. Careful editing and mixing of music and sound effects will make your pixel art world come alive. Always check how the audio and animation work together and adjust as needed to create a cohesive experience.

For more on chiptune music creation and resources, check out this article.


Once you’ve finished your pixel art animation, you’ll need to export it to share online or use in other projects. The two main formats for exporting are GIF or video. GIFs allow exporting animations with transparency, making them ideal for sharing sprites or short looping animations. However, they are limited to 256 colors and not supported in some applications.

Video formats like MP4 give you more options for resolution and color depth, but may not properly render transparency. MP4s also produce much larger file sizes than GIFs. To optimize file size, you can reduce colors, limit animation frames, and compress during export. Finding the right balance between quality and file size may require some trial and error.

Many online communities like Reddit and Twitter support sharing GIFs directly in posts and comments. You can also upload your animations to platforms like Giphy or Imgur and embed them in articles or websites. When exporting your pixel art for sharing online, aim for the smallest file size that retains the quality you want.

Some popular pixel art programs like Aseprite provide built-in exporting options to streamline your workflow. With the right settings and formats, you can quickly export animations optimized for sharing your pixel art creations online.

Advanced Techniques

Pixel art animation opens up even more creative possibilities when you start incorporating some advanced techniques. Here are three powerful ways to take your pixel art animations to the next level:

Multiplane Camera

The multiplane camera is an animation technique that creates a 3D effect by placing backgrounds on different layers and moving them at different speeds. This technique was pioneered by Walt Disney Studios in 1937 for their short film The Old Mill.

For pixel art, you can achieve a multiplane camera effect by breaking up your background into several layers separated in space, with objects closer to the viewer moving faster than those further away. Parallax scrolling backgrounds are a common implementation of this technique in 2D pixel art games and animations.

Parallax Scrolling

Parallax scrolling is an illusion of depth created by having multiple background layers move at different speeds as the camera moves horizontally across the screen. The foreground will scroll faster than the background, creating a 3D effect. This technique works very well with pixel art as you can break the background into tileable layers and simply adjust their individual scroll speeds.

Pixel Art in 3D

With modern 3D engines like Unity and Unreal, it’s now possible to import 2D pixel art into a 3D scene. You can create 3D environments and animations while still maintaining a retro pixel art aesthetic. Techniques like normal mapping can add simulated 3D depth and lighting to sprites. Exploring pixel art in 3D opens up many creative possibilities that combine retro and modern graphics.


In this guide, we covered the main steps for creating pixel art animations as a beginner. First, we looked at choosing the right software like Aseprite or Piskel. Next, we went over creating sprites and backgrounds with limited colors and resolution. After that, we discussed techniques for smoothly animating those sprites through frames. We also touched on adding special effects like particles and working with sound. Finally, we covered exporting the finished animation as a gif or video file.

To take your skills further, I recommend exploring pixel art communities for inspiration, feedback and tutorials. Some useful online resources include Lospec, Pixel Joint Forum, and Pixelation. Experimenting with different styles, color palettes, and animation principles will help you develop your own creative flair. With practice, you’ll be able to create captivating retro-style animations.