Pixelart Animation Walkthrough: Step-By-Step Guide

Pixel art refers to digital artwork created through the use of raster graphics software, where images are edited on the pixel level. It was popularized in the 1970s and 1980s with the emergence of 8-bit video games, where pixel art was used out of necessity due to hardware limitations.

According to Wikipedia, “Pixel art as it is known today largely originates from the golden age of arcade video games, with games such as Space Invaders (1978) and Pac-Man (1980), and 8- and 16-bit consoles and computers.”

In this step-by-step guide, we will cover everything you need to know to create your own pixel art animations. We’ll start with an overview of the needed software and setup. Then we’ll go through creating a pixel art character, animating it frame-by-frame, adding backgrounds, special effects, and finally exporting the finished animation as a video or GIF.

By the end, you’ll have the skills to bring your own pixel artworlds and characters to life through animation.

Needed Software

When getting started with pixel art animation, the most important tool is the software you use to create the animations. Some of the most popular options include:

  • Aseprite – A paid software dedicated to pixel art creation and animation. It has powerful features tailored for animation like onion skinning and timeline tools.
  • Piskel – A free online editor for making pixel art and animations. Great for beginners.
  • Adobe Photoshop – Industry standard image editing software with animation capabilities using timeline frames.

Aseprite is considered one of the best software tools specifically for pixel art animation. It provides an intuitive workflow, with capabilities like layers, palettes, tiling, and working with sprite sheets (SkabPixels, 2021). The timeline view makes animating frame-by-frame easy. While not free, Aseprite is affordable compared to subscriptions for Photoshop.

For a free alternative, Piskel offers solid animation tools in-browser. The limitations of an online editor may become apparent for larger projects, but Piskel is great for getting started. Photoshop has robust image editing capabilities for pixel art, but animation requires manually managing each frame, whereas tools like Aseprite automate this.

When selecting software, consider the learning curve, features, price, and pipeline for your animation goals. Aseprite hits a sweet spot for its balance of power, price, and usability. But free tools like Piskel are great for dipping your feet into pixel art animation.

example pixel art character design sketch

Canvas Setup

When creating pixel art animations, the canvas size and scale are very important. Generally, you’ll want to use powers of two for your canvas size like 64×64, 128×128, 256×256, etc. This allows the pixels to scale cleanly when exporting the animation. For pixel art scale/resolution, it’s common to use 32, 16, or 8 pixels per inch. At 32 pixels per inch, each pixel will be a small square. At 8 pixels per inch, the pixels become larger blocks. For most pixel art, 16 or 32 pixels per inch is recommended.

When setting up your document layers in your software, it’s best practice to organize them. Create separate layers for the character, background, and effects. Use folders or groups to keep similar layers together. This will keep the layers panel clean and make the animation process easier. Turn layers on and off as needed while working to avoid clutter.

The key is to choose an appropriate canvas size and pixel scale at the start. Organize layers and groups effectively. This will provide a solid foundation for building your pixel art animation.

Drawing the Character

When drawing pixel art characters, it’s best to start with simple shapes before adding details. This allows you to map out the proportions and pose before getting caught up in the smaller elements. Some tips for designing a simple character:

  • Begin with basic shapes like circles, squares and triangles to sketch the head, body, arms and legs.
  • Use rectangles and ovals to block in the main body sections.
  • Draw stick figures to plan out the pose and proportions before adding volume.
  • Start with low resolution shapes, like 8×8 pixels, then increase as you add detail.
  • Map out the major joints and points of movement with simple shapes.

It’s easier to add details like facial features, clothing, and hair after you have the core structure mapped out. Working from large, simple shapes to small, complex details helps keep the character design consistent and on-model. For inspiration, check out tutorials like How To Draw GOKU – PIXEL ART which demonstrate this process.

Animating the Character

Animating a pixel art character requires understanding some key principles of animation like squash and stretch, anticipation, follow through, etc. These principles help make the animation more lifelike and fluid.

One of the most important principles is squash and stretch. This means distorting the shapes of objects to give the illusion of weight and flexibility. For example, when a character jumps up, they will squash down first before stretching upwards. The head may stretch up first, followed by the torso and legs. This helps give the impression of force and momentum.

Anticipation is preparing for an action, like winding up before throwing a ball. It gives clues to the viewer about what will happen next. For a walking cycle, the character can shift their weight to one foot before stepping forward with the other foot.

Follow through happens after the main action, showing its effects. After a character stops walking, their hair or clothes may still sway forward a bit before settling. This follow through makes the motion more natural and believable.

When animating a basic walk cycle for a pixel art character, start with the key poses like the feet contacting the ground and legs extended. Draw the in-between frames, focusing on the up and down bobbing movement and secondary motion in the arms. Add squash and stretch to the body when feet hit the ground. Use anticipation before steps and follow through on arm swings. Check the timing to make it feel natural. Refine the movements until you have a smooth loopable cycle.


The background is a critical part of setting the scene and mood in a pixel art animation. Here are some tips for creating effective background layers:

Use multiple layers – Having foreground, midground, and background layers creates a sense of depth and parallax. The foreground moves fastest, midground slower, and background slowest as the camera pans.

Parallax scrolling – This technique makes backgrounds feel alive by having different layers move at different speeds. Distant layers move slower than layers close to the camera.

Clean shapes – Pixel art backgrounds often use simple geometric shapes and clean lines. Avoid noise and artifacts.

Limited colors – Stick to a limited palette for backgrounds to create cohesion. Too many colors look busy.

Lighting – Add some lighting variation between background layers. Distant layers are darker and more saturated.

Start simple – Begin with a basic background and add details in layers. Drawing too much at once can seem overwhelming.

Reflections – Bodies of water are great for reflections to add realism. Show foreground elements mirrored.

Animation – Subtle animation like swaying plants or flickering lights bring a background to life.

Perspective – Use 1-point perspective with distant background objects converging at a vanishing point.

Transitions – When the scene changes, animate backgrounds sliding off or fading out smoothly.

Special Effects

Special effects can add a lot of flare and excitement to pixel art animations. Some common special effects to consider adding include:


Particle effects like sparks, smoke, or magical aura can help make abilities and attacks feel more impactful. For example, adding a smoke particle effect when a character gets hit or magical sparkles when they cast a spell. Keep particles small and animated for just a few frames to fit with the pixel art style. A good pixel art particle tutorial from Pixel Art Meets VFX shows how to animate slashing effects.

Screen Shakes

Shaking the screen briefly during big actions like explosions or stomps can help sell the weight and force of the action. Subtle 1-3 pixel shakes work best. Make sure to shake backgrounds separately from foreground characters for a more realistic effect.

Color Palettes

Carefully chosen palettes are key for good looking pixel art. Limit your palette to just a few colors, often starting with a neutral palette as the base. Then add one or two accent colors to make details pop. Shift the palette towards warmer or cooler tones to reflect mood. For special effects, use bright accent colors like light blue, purple or pink.

Lighting Effects

You can create dramatic lighting changes during intense moments. For example, fading to darkness or flashing bright light effects. Use these sparingly for maximum impact. Test that lighting effects still read well at actual game size, as subtle gradations may disappear when scaled down.

Exporting the Animation

Once your animation is complete in the pixel art software, you’ll want to export it properly for sharing online or converting to video. The export settings allow you to optimize the file size and quality.

When exporting an animation from a program like Pixelaria, you’ll want to choose a compressed image format like GIF or WebP. This will create smaller file sizes compared to PNGs. Selecting the “Maximize compatibility” option will ensure most web browsers and devices can view the exported animation properly.

For sharing on social media or messaging platforms, a medium-quality compressed setting will allow the animation to easily upload and share while looking crisp on most screens. If you need a super smooth high-res version, export as a PNG sequence or lossless WebP. Just keep in mind the large file size.

To convert the animation into a standard video file format like MP4, you can import the exported frames into a video editing program like Premiere and encode it. There are also various tools and apps for assembling image sequences into video files. This allows you to post the animation anywhere videos can be shared and played.


When working on pixel art animations, there are some common issues that may arise. Here are some troubleshooting tips for optimizing performance and avoiding bugs:

One frequent problem is getting choppy or laggy animation playback. To optimize performance, limit the number of separate animated sprites and entities onscreen. Having too many high-resolution animated elements can overtax a device’s resources. Consider reducing sprite sizes or limiting their presence through culling offscreen elements.

Animation distortions can occur if the sprite sheet frames don’t align precisely to the pixel grid. Make sure each frame’s edges line up exactly to avoid interpolation artifacts. Using nearest-neighbor texture filtering can also help avoid distortions.

When animating, glitches may occur if sprites move non-integer distances per frame. Try to restrict motion to 1 pixel increments to avoid these artifacts. Also check that pivot points are pixel-aligned.

Testing on the target platform regularly is key to catching issues early. Optimizing and troubleshooting as you go helps avoid major issues down the road. With some care taken during development, pixel art animations can display beautifully across devices.

Additional Resources

If you want to take your pixel art animation skills further, there are many great resources available. Here are some recommendations for tutorials, books, and online communities to continue learning:

Excellent pixel art and animation tutorials from professional artists:

Books focusing on pixel art and game animation:

  • Pixel Logic by Ivan Santic
  • The Animator’s Survival Kit by Richard Williams

Online communities to get feedback, help, and inspiration:

  • r/PixelArt subreddit
  • Pixelation.org forums
  • Pixel Joint website

With quality online resources and books, plus engaged communities to interact with, you can keep expanding your pixel animation abilities.