The internet is a huge place. By its very nature it’s home to an almost infinite amount of weird and wonderful interests and pursuits that most of us probably don’t even now exist. With its sheer size and user-generated content, it’s a place full of discovery that panders to every human whim, fancy, and interest. One of these is the wonderful, quirky, and often adorable world of pixel art.
Let’s cover the basics: what is pixel art? Pixels are the tiny little squares used to make every image on your computer screen, and can be used to make tiny animations in .gif format. You can make these yourself in programmes like Corel Photo-Paint, or more specific programmes like Jasc’s Animation Shop. Many, particularly younger people, will be familiar with some of the uses of pixel art. Emoticons, anikaos, and animated GIFs are all examples of basic pixel art used on forums, MySpace, and Windows Live Messenger as a means of aiding expression in an essentially text-based form of communication, as well just simply for fun. Emoticons are perhaps the most widely used and searched for.
A range of emoticons come as standard with Live Messenger and most forums. These tend to be your basic set of emoticons to cover the main emotions and actions expressed while chatting. Many websites however offer more advanced and diverse emoticons in varying sizes and shapes, some even with sound. The latter tend to frequent more on pay-sites. There are though far more user-generated emoticons on the net, and are frequently exchanged between users of Messenger – which allows you to add and save emoticons used by others.
While emoticons are by far the most popular in the west, their eastern counterparts ‘anikaos’ (pronounced ani-cows, meaning literally ‘animated faces’ in Japanese) are becoming more and more popular as interest in Japanese popular culture continues to grow. Anikaos are typically floating spherical blobs bobbing up and down with a cute face depicting any number of emotions and actions. They tend to be used more on forums and are incredibly diverse, ranging from generic white blobs to household animals, peas, and characters from anything between Star Wars and Dragonball-Z. The user-generated nature of anikaos, like most pixel art, means their diversity and numbers continue to multiply.
Yet, beyond the world of communication-aiding emoticons and anikaos, the possibilities are even more varied. People can make literally anything they want in miniature using pixel art – and they do. People love to have things made tiny and love to use them on their websites, MySpace pages, and on Messenger.
A very popular form pixel art at the moment is animated GIFs of Nintendo and Sega characters from the ’80s and ’90s such as Mario, Kirby, Link, and Sonic the Hedgehog recreated exactly from the 8-bit, 16-bit, and 32-bit games on which they appeared. The current craze for all things retro, especially in gaming, is certainly adding fuel to this. Particularly with girls, animated GIFs of the characters Hello Kitty and Pucca Love are also extremely popular, and can be found on many a MySpace page. Hello Kitty and Pucca Love are very cute characters that are used frequently to personalise web pages and make them more attractive.
The fact that both Hello Kitty and Pucca Love have huge merchandising markets ‘offline’ easily explains their popularity in this respect. Likewise with both sexes, Pokemon animated GIFs are extremely popular, particularly on MySpace and gaming sites. The cuteness of many Pokemon characters and the fact they are already computer game sprites makes them perfectly convertable into animated GIFs.
But it doesn’t end simply at branded corporate characters, oh no. There is a whole pixel art culture out there with people creating weird and wonderful designs of their own constantly. Witness blinking cheeseburgers, winking cake slices, a strange beige bob running towards you with a chefs for absolutely no reason at all! The possibilities are endless and quite frequently very, very strange. Very aptly, there seems to be a perfect miniature of the boundless lengths of human creativity contained within this little culture.
Mostly, GIFs get passed around in networks fairly randomly, but if you’re actively on the lookout, my advice would be to specifically refine your search. For example if you’re specifically after gaming GIFs, try punching in ‘nintendo animated GIFs’ or ‘super mario animated GIFs’. Many sites with the best GIFs don’t even have domain names, so it pays to be patient. There are sites out there that endeavor to collect GIFs together from around the net, but some are more organised than others and the quality varies from site to site.
A frequent problem is that they just won’t be categorised, making your search difficult. If you find yourself falling in love with this kooky little world, then it doesn’t even end here. Pixel art is not just animated GIFs and emoticons – there are communities out there dedicated to making ‘pixel art for pixel art’s sake’. These people make incredibly high quality pictures and landscapes of such complexity that it takes your breath away. Pixel Joint is a great little community to get involved in if you find yourself going for this more advanced stuff, whether to appreciate or to create. Have fun!