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Pixel art software

Hi all,

I've recently started playing around with creating my own pixel art for prototyping a game idea I have, but I'm feeling a bit frustrated with the experience so far, so I thought this might be a friendly and knowledgeable corner of the internet to ask what everyone else is using and if anyone has any specific recommendations or advice to share.

I bought the full version of Pro Motion NG ( some time ago, thinking I might as well spend my time learning a proper tool for this. While I've managed to piece together a reasonable workflow for working with animations, the near-vertical learning curve (very non-intuitive user interface and apparently not much of a user community) constantly makes me switch back to GIMP or Krita for trivial editing tasks.

I'm a bit frustrated at the moment - it feels like it shouldn't be this hard to create pixel art, when I compare it to other skills I've learned over the years - or maybe I'm just getting too old to pick up new stuff? :-/

Anyway - what do you pixel purists out there use? Should I just learn to love Pro Motion or would it be better to use a combination of tools I already know?


  • Not really "Pixel Art Software", but it has the capabilities to make nace retro looking art.

    Hexel 2 from Marmoset (the toolbag guys).
    As with any art tool, you can do some neato stuff in there :D
    (Also comes with something to make animations, inside the tool)

  • Oh, that looks interesting!

    Probably not very useful for what I'm working on at the moment, but will definitely try it out when I have some spare time - looks like it could be just the right tool for creating isometric stuff in a "clean" style.
  • Oh! And there is the price tag of 5ish bucks at the moment, if you get it via the humble bundle :D
    (Sprite Illuminator is neat as well!)
  • This has NOTHING to do with you question, but I was stoked when I saw this.
    This was done, out of the box with the bevel tool. 1 Pixel wide and no softening.
    I think it looks superfancy (rotating light is a thing made in there as well).
    So, it generates normal maps, and they work well in unity too.

    However, I haven't yet figured out how to give each frame in an animation the corrosponding normal map (I use the standart shader on the sprite in unity). Also, the lack of a bacth process feature would mean that I need to do all by hand.

    Anyways. Have some lighting:

  • Wow - looks like now is the right time to get these!
  • Also, please not that I am a liar!
    You CAN do batch processing in SpriteIlluminator!
    And it all works amazingly easy in Unity as well!

    I experimented a bit with some animation I had:

  • SpriteIlluminator really opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Also, Pyxel Edit feels much more intuitive to me than Pro Motion, and Spriter is way cool, too - much better than I expected from hearsay.

    So, absolutely crazy value for your money if you're into 2D stuff!

  • I have been experimenting with SpriteIlluminator a LOT in the last couple of days.
    This is how I started:

    And this is what became of the experiment:

    And this is in a Scene:

    I have to admit, I did cheat a little. Once I experimented enough with SpriteIlluminator, I took what I knew and applied it to some Photoshop aktions, in order to work more precise.
    Nonetheless, I agree!
    If you are into 2D stuff, this bundle is WAY too good to ignore :D
  • edited January 2017
    Way cool!

    I went down a rabbit hole today and played around with realtime shadows on a very rough sprite character:

  • Ohhhh wow! Nice!
    This is something I wanted to get into as well!

    How did you get it to work?
  • edited January 2017
    Haha - I don't really know right now! :))

    I'm quite ill with a fever and a nasty wet cough these days, so basically just spent the day drinking hot tea and playing with my new toys without thinking too much about it.

    Will try and take it apart and explain the setup when I'm clear enough mentally to put it into writing.

    BTW, those Photoshop tricks you mentioned would be much appreciated here!

    EDIT: Updated the video with a new version where the shadow actually uses the correct light source ...
  • edited January 2017
    I think I'll upload a quick tutorial really soon, since a lot of people asked me!
    Basically you need 2-3 things!

    1.) a double-sided shader, that allowes a diffuse, a normal and a lightwrap slot for textures
    2.) a normal map (which in my case was basically just a white silhouette of my sprite, with soft edges, on black background)
    3.) an edge mask (which basically is just a white line, that discribes the outline of the sprite, with a very tiny soft edge going in)

    I haven't manages shadows though!
    Teach me your secrets!

    Then you throw a material onto the sprite, select the shader and put on the textures!

    I'm rubbish at explaining via text, so a video will come soon :D
  • edited January 2017
    Well, the very first and quite simple step is turning on shadows in the sprite renderer - this can be done by switching the inspector to debug mode (through the tiny menu next to the padlock icon in the top right corner).

    This, however, opens a whole new can of worms in the sense that you now need to have something sensible to cast shadows onto. Vertical surfaces can still be sprites (with "receive shadows" enabled) but they must now be placed in 3D space to look correct. Horizontal surfaces need to be actual 3D geometry, but you can use some tricks from 2.5D scenes for this, so you still have the option of using sprites for the scene layout, depending on your scene.

    Light sources also need to be placed carefully, as character sprites will basically just be painted pieces of cardboard facing the camera, so must be lit from a more or less perpendicular angle to produce convincing shadows.

    I've only started playing with this technique today, so my experience with it is obviously still very limited, but so far I've noted the following regarding scene compositions:

    - perspective cameras work fine with a very low FOV (around 5 works fine) and an x rotation between 10 and 15. Rotation on the y axis should be kept at 0, or the pixel look suddenly deteriorates into crap 3D.

    - horizontal panning works absolutely fine.

    - scene depth (in the z axis) should be kept very low to retain as-near-as-possible uniform pixel size. I don't want to make the pixel militia more angry than absolutely necessary. A good way to approach scene geometry is probably to think in terms of an old-style cardboard model theatre:


    ... there you go, the scene is set for epic drama! :)

    - the correct pixel size can be preserved on horizontal surfaces by adjusting the material's tiling on the y axis.

    - volumetric lighting works GREAT with this, as it provides a sense of depth without messing with the pixel size.

    I'll continue experimenting with this, and see what's possible. I think it's an interesting and slightly unusual style - and a nice set of limitations, which is always good for your creative thinking! :D
  • edited January 2017
    For some reason, I suddenly remembered this Danish cartoon from around 1850:


    The caption reads (my translation):

    Oh, the traitor has made his hasty escape, we must pursue!
    In truth, he has made his hasty escape, we must pursue!
    If we are to catch him, there is no time to waste!
    There is no time to waste, make haste, make haste!
    Ooooooh, make haste, there is no time to waste! Waste! Waste!

    Good old Fritz Jürgensen was perhaps not the world's greatest fan of opera, but a few of his longer illustrated stories could actually be turned into great adventure games. :)
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