Pixelart Sci-Fi Scene Tutorial: Step-By-Step Guide For Beginners

Pixel art refers to digital artwork created through the use of raster graphics software, where images are edited on the pixel level. Pixel art became popular in the 1980s and 1990s when limited computing power necessitated its simplicity. A vital part of classic video games, pixel art was often used for graphics, textures, sprites and environments due to the low resolution and color palette limitations of early gaming systems. Despite advances in technology, pixel art remains a beloved and iconic artistic style due to its nostalgic retro appeal.

In this tutorial, we’ll provide a step-by-step guide to creating your own pixel art sci-fi scene. We’ll cover the basics of drawing simple shapes, understanding perspective, shading techniques, animating pixel art, adding sci-fi elements, and exporting your finished piece. Whether you’re a beginner looking to learn pixel art, or an experienced artist wanting to create a dazzling sci-fi scene, this tutorial will equip you with the skills and knowledge needed to bring your vision to life one pixel at a time.

Getting Started

The first step in creating pixel art is choosing the right software. Some popular options include Piskel, Aseprite, and GraphicsGale. These programs are designed specifically for pixel art and offer features like palette limitation, onion skinning, and pixel-perfect tools.

When setting up your canvas, it’s important to choose a size that matches common resolutions like 1080p or 4K. For example, a 1080p canvas would be 1920 x 1080 pixels. Limiting your canvas size helps keep your artwork focused.

Pixel art relies on a limited color palette, often 16 or 32 colors. This constraint is part of the challenge and allows for more striking visuals. Most pixel art software makes it easy to choose and limit your colors. Start with basic primaries, secondaries, neutrals, and accent colors. You can adjust the palette as you work on your piece.

Drawing Basic Shapes

Many great PixelArt images start with simple shapes. When working in a low resolution like 32×32 or 128×128, it’s important to start with these basics. Let’s go through how to draw some common shapes in PixelArt.

To draw a circle, start with a solid filled in square. Then remove pixels around the edges until you achieve a smooth rounded shape. Be careful to align the curve properly horizontally and vertically for best results. Use various sizes of circles as building blocks for larger objects.

Drawing squares and rectangles is more straightforward since they align to the pixel grid. Make sure lines are straight and angles are 90 degrees for proper shapes. For variety, squares and rectangles can be outlined shapes instead of filled in.

Triangles are a bit trickier than squares and circles. Since tilesets are usually isometric, you’ll want to stick to right angle 45-45-90 degree triangles. Some techniques for sharp points include using single pixel dots for the tip. For smoother curves, align edges to pixel borders.

When drawing any shape, employ anti-aliasing for smoother edges. Anti-aliasing involves selectively lighting or darkening pixels along the borders to create a smoothed effect. For example, use lighter shades of gray along the curves of a circle instead of just black and white pixels.

Perspective and Depth

Perspective and depth are important considerations when creating pixel art, particularly for complex scenes and environments. Perspective refers to the illusion of depth on a 2D plane. There are a few techniques in pixel art to portray perspective:

  • Foreshortening objects – making objects appear shorter as they recede into the distance
  • Overlapping objects – objects in the foreground covering and overlapping objects further away
  • Relative size – distant objects appear smaller than closer objects
  • Converging lines – parallel lines appearing to converge at a vanishing point as they recede into the distance

Parallax scrolling is an effective pixel art technique for adding depth and perspective. This involves background layers moving slower than foreground layers to create an illusion of 3D space. More distant background layers will scroll slower than layers closer to the viewer (https://www.tiktok.com/discover/pixelated-luna-shadows).

Color can also be used to create depth in pixel art. Warm colors like red, orange and yellow visually recede, making them effective for distant background elements. Cool colors like blue, purple and green will stand out, making them ideal for foreground elements. Using desaturated, duller colors for distant objects also helps make them appear further away.

By applying principles of perspective, parallax scrolling and strategic use of color, pixel artists can add compelling depth and dimension to their scenes and environments.


Animating pixel art requires an understanding of animation principles like frames per second, transitions between frames, and creating the illusion of motion. For pixel art, an ideal frame rate is usually 10-15 frames per second. This makes the animation smooth but isn’t too demanding in terms of the number of frames you need to draw.

When animating elements in your scene, it’s important to clearly establish the start and end poses, then draw the in-between frames to transition smoothly between them. Small incremental changes between each frame work best for pixel art animation. Exaggerated motions like squashing and stretching can look odd with chunky pixels. Subtle movements lend themselves better to the medium.

To animate characters and vehicles, break down the movement into logical sequences. For example, a character walking can be broken down into the leg lifting up, moving forward, and coming back down. Draw each key pose first, then connect them together with in-betweens. The same process applies to animating environmental elements like pulsating lights, moving clouds, or flickering computer screens.

When animating multiple elements, be mindful of timing to create a cohesive sense of motion in the scene. Align actions and movements to the same rhythm for the best visual results. With practice and planning, you can bring your pixel art scene to life with smooth, refined animation.

Shading and Lighting

Shading and lighting are crucial for adding depth and dimension to pixel art. Since pixel art has a limited resolution, shading techniques like dithering are often used to create the illusion of smooth gradients and lighting effects.

Dithering involves placing dots of alternating colors next to each other to create the optical effect of a third color in between. This is useful for shading as it can help show smooth transitions between light and dark areas (GameDev Spidey).

Some key principles for lighting pixel art scenes include:

  • Identifying light sources – Where is the light coming from in your scene?
  • Creating highlights and shadows – Areas facing the light should have highlights, while opposite sides have shadows.
  • Using color to show intensity – Warm or bright colors for intense light, cool or dark colors for shadows.
  • Overlay layers – Add lighting as a transparent layer over your base artwork.

Experiment with different shading techniques like dithering to add mood and dimension. Proper lighting can make your pixel art really pop!

Sci-Fi Elements

Sci-fi pixel art is all about bringing in those cool futuristic elements like spaceships, robots, and glowing neon lights. When designing sci-fi pieces, think about iconic sci-fi movies and games for inspiration. Let’s go over some tips for creating common sci-fi subjects in pixel art:


Spaceships can be tricky since they come in all different shapes and sizes. A good starting point is to sketch your ship design on paper first. Consider the overall shape and how to translate it into pixels. Spaceships often have distinct engine sections, wings, and cockpits. Use gradients to add dimension to the hull.


Draw inspiration from classic sci-fi robots like C-3PO or Optimus Prime when designing your pixel robot. Focus on the head, arms, torso, and legs as the key components. Robots can range from humanoid Androids to more mechanical looking machines. Use metals and rivets to show robotic elements.

Futuristic Buildings

Creating towering futuristic cities can really enhance the sci-fi landscape. Look at buildings with geometric shapes, glowing windows and elevated walkways. Neon signs and holographic billboards also help sell the future aesthetic. Use bright colors to make buildings pop.

Special Effects

Special effects like glows, rays and animations take pixel art to the next level. To make objects glow, add a saturated colored bloom around them. Use transparent rays coming off lights or the sun to show beams. Animating elements like computer screens or vehicle thrusters brings your art to life.

Creating a Sci-Fi Scene

When creating a sci-fi scene in pixel art, it’s important to think about the overall composition and flow of the scene. According to Deakcor, some key elements to consider are:

  • Establishing a clear focal point – This helps draw the viewer’s eye to the most important part of the scene. For sci-fi, this is often a prominent spaceship, character, or futuristic structure.
  • Balancing foreground, midground and background elements – Place key elements at different depths to create visual interest and a sense of scale.
  • Using effects to accentuate sci-fi elements – Things like energy beams, explosions, smoke, lightning can help make spaceships and tech seem more high-tech.
  • Composing a balanced scene – Distribute elements evenly so the composition doesn’t feel too cluttered on one side.

Let’s walk through an example sci-fi pixel art scene containing some typical elements:

  • In the foreground we have two characters facing each other, fighting with laser swords. This close-up battle makes for an action-packed focal point.
  • pixel art scene with sci-fi buildings, spaceships, and foreground characters

  • In the midground are a few angular sci-fi buildings with glowing accents to convey a sense of advanced technology.
  • In the background is a large spaceship flying over the skyline, helping convey the sci-fi setting.
  • Energy beams and explosions accentuate the action and laser sword battle in the foreground.
  • The scene is balanced with details distributed on both sides, so the focus stays on the characters dueling.

Thinking strategically about scene composition, areas of focus, balancing elements and using accents can help create compelling sci-fi environments in pixel art. With practice and an intentional approach, you can craft awesome sci-fi scenes that capture the imagination.

Exporting and Implementation

After finishing your pixel art scene, you’ll need to properly export the assets to implement them into your game or application. When exporting pixel art, it’s important to maintain the crisp pixel edges without introducing blur or smoothing effects. Most programs like Photoshop allow you to disable resampling on export to preserve hard pixels (see this Photoshop tutorial).

For clean scaled exports, select all layers and paste into a new blank document at your target size before exporting. This avoids relying on the program’s scaling algorithms. Other users recommend copy/pasting into Paint or an image editor like Aseprite that specializes in pixel art (see tips here).

When implementing pixel art into a game engine like Unity, Godot, or Unreal, import the individual assets and components of your scene as sprites. Most game engines have 2D animation systems and tools to configure spritesheets, tiles, and parallax backgrounds. You can then populate your game world by instancing, placing, and animating the exported sprite assets from your original pixel art creation.


Through this step-by-step tutorial, we covered the fundamentals of creating a sci-fi pixel art scene. We started with the basics of drawing simple shapes and using perspective to show depth. We then animated elements to bring the scene to life and added lighting and shading to create atmosphere. Sci-fi components like spaceships, robots, and futuristic buildings were incorporated to give the scene a science fiction theme.

Now that you have the foundation for crafting pixel art, you can continue to build your skills by exploring more advanced techniques. Try using more colors, animations, and special effects to add further detail. Look into other pixel art styles like characters, landscapes, and abstract art. With practice, you’ll be able to create captivating scenes in your own unique pixel art style.

We’d love to see your pixel art creations! Share your finished sci-fi scenes or other pixel art on social media using #MyPixelArt. Connecting with other pixel artists is a great way to get feedback, inspiration, and appreciation for your work.

Thank you for following along with this tutorial. We hope it provided a helpful introduction to bringing sci-fi worlds to life through the imagination and creativity of pixel art. Keep honing your skills and creating memorable pixel art narratives.