Making a pixel art music video
Most who come to this site will know me from my work in children’s media. If you’re one of those people, I have something a little different for you today. If, on the other hand, you found my pixel art on Tumblr and Twitter and found your way here, the look of this site might be a little baffling – mostly, I make work for children such as TV shows. The pixel art is a personal love on top of that. This post is about the pixel art.
If you haven’t already seen my video for GUNSHIP, check it out below for some retro-futuristic cyberpunk pixel art goodness to an incredible track. Maybe even watch it a few times to see if you can pick up all the not-so hidden references. If you were growing up in the ’80s and early ’90s, you’ll see some familiar nods. Here it is:
I have been making pixel art a while but, at the beginning of 2015AD, I started using it to bring some cyberpunk images to life. Not the future – the present that I would have imagined back in the ’80s. This is the 2015 I wanted. The one I expected.
But instead of public videophones, we got mobiles. Instead of hover cars and androids, we got constant connection to almost the entire world. Maybe we did okay. After all, that connection is what led to this collaboration.
Posting my pixel art gifs on Twitter, Dan Haigh from GUNSHIP found me and I found GUNSHIP who, at that point, had released the absolutely incredible track, Fly For Your Life. We instantly recognised shared influences, shared visions. And it was Dan who first had the idea to put these together. We began with a very simple idea of using the existing gifs to create visualisation for a track. But soon we found, in spite of busy schedules, it was growing beyond that into an actual video with a wonderful soundtrack – Revel In Your Time.
In terms of how it was made, it is old fashioned pixel by pixel work. I created almost everything using Pixaki on the iPad – a really nice simple pixel app with a wonderfully clean interface. Those who know me know I love the handiness of creating on the iPad and it worked great here. I could chip away at backgrounds and sprite sheets at any free moment, never having to worry about getting myself back to my computer.
You can see the tools here: a simple pencil tool, eraser and paint bucket. Hidden in the layers, you can see I’m starting to work out some character poses for the background characters. In that highlighted layer, I’m working on the animation for the dog – one of many little animations that pass by barely noticed but add to the feeling of life. By the way, you’ll now find some of my pixel art examples in Pixaki by default. Explore the layers and you’ll see how they are built. It is just pixels.
The sprites are all created in Pixaki but I put most of the animation together in Photoshop, using its animation timeline. It’s something that wouldn’t suit me most of the time but worked well for this sprite system. Effectively it’s all just frame by frame.
And the last layer was After Effects, where I composited anything that needed big movements without sprite replacements – such as the bike scene, train and so on. The animation in the video is actually all 12 frames per second but rendered at 24fps so doing those movements in After Effects meant they could be smoother than the default 12fps. Otherwise, they would have looked quite jerky. I also added a little cheat by bringing out a few glow effects in After Effects to really highlight the neon feel, integral to that cyberpunk atmosphere.
I know one of the parts that has gone down really well is the Monkey Island outro. It is one part I can’t take credit for – the GUNSHIP guys added that and it was a touch of genius.
So that’s GUNSHIP’s Revel In Your Time video. I hope you enjoy it! Feel free to share it and post it everywhere. Spam your friends! No don’t. Nobody likes spam. But do share it if you know someone who might like it. And If you like that track, you need the album. It is absolutely fantastic. Already my album of 2015. It just gets better and better with incredible songs such as Pink Mist, The Mountain and Black Sun on the Horizon. It was great working with Dan, Alex Westaway and Alex Gingell on this and I hope the album gets the attention it deserves.