8 Bit Art: What is It & How Can You Use It?

Posted on - Last Modified on

Retro’s back in!

And there’s nothing quite as retro as that classic pixelated game console look. This is exactly what 8 bit art embraces. Pixel art has been around since the days when that was all you could aspire to achieve on a PC - except now it’s become a true art form in itself.  

SEE ALSO: Which watercolor techniques will allow you to take your artistry to the next level

So, What Exactly Is 8 Bit Art?

Collection-8-bit-art-7.jpg

Designed by: Jaebum Joo

Pixel art literally refers to altering an image pixel by pixel. It’s the way the classic 8 bit and 16 bit game’s art was created, and what gives the games of these eras such a distinct look and feel. As a proper art term, it dates back to 1982, although the art style predates that by at least 10 years. If you think about it, in fact, ‘pixelated’ art can trace its roots to things like cross stitch and embroidery.

Pixel art has its origins in the need for low resolutions art and the need to portray clearly using very limited colour pallets and capabilities. The style lives on today in the favicon - the custom browser icon used by many websites and businesses.

Why “8 Bit”, Though?

Well, 8 bit and 16 bit are actually terms used to refer to the processors of the games that ran on these systems. It references the art because that’s the style of art used in those games. Modern machines have evolved way past this, of course, so the term itself is rather redundant. It’s used to embrace art that has the look and feel of this era, rather than art strictly made on 8 bit processors. The colours used are simple, the art blocky and sometimes ill-defined. There is no hyper realism. It’s an example of intentional retro art at its best. Some argue that this trend to throwback artwork comes from a longing to return to a ‘golden age’ of video gaming, where graphics were ‘better’ suited to the art of gaming, where others see it simple as a reaction against the modern 3D trends in PC games. Whatever the reason, there’s a growing body of 8 bit and 16 bit pixel art out there. Why not use this to your advantage?

Is It A Genuine Work Of 8 Bit Art?

While it might sound like a little bit of a cop-out, the answer to this question depends a little, on what your definition of “genuine” is in this context. No, most modern “8 bit” artwork is not actually confined to the 8 bit palette of the original games. Only those who are sticklers for detail will take the opportunity to limit themselves this way. Many modern-day artists choose to work in an “8 bit” art style, without limiting their color choices as much. These days there isn’t as much call for 8 bit art in the context of game design. Having said that, there is work to be done in the world of 8 bit art. Not all browsing devices have progressed as far as the PC has in terms of processing power, and there is still a market for lower definition graphics out there in devices with more limited processor power as well as deliberate retro throwbacks.

How Can I Experiment With This 8 Bit Art Style?

Not surprisingly, it can be harder than you would think to recreate this style on modern hardware - that is, hardware that has long surpassed the limitations of 32 bit, let alone 8 bit. Creating a realistically pixilated effect that doesn’t look like you have stuffed up down the line is harder than it probably feels and looks like it should be. It can be done in Adobe Illustrator and many other top end graphics programs, however.

You’ll start by picking a scale that works for you. Few modern pixel artists actually use one pixel as one pixel - most will opt to use a grid of a certain number of pixels for each ‘pixel’ effect. 10x10 can be a good place to start, and then you can decide on a personal style from there. This gives you a lot more finer control over your finished artwork. You can, of course, take on the challenge of doing it only with the individual pixels, but the results are rarely as sophisticated as you may want.

The simplest way to imagine your canvas is to enable a grid function. In Adobe Illustrator, this is done through the ‘split into grid’ command. Illustrator’s ‘live paint bucket’ effect works particularly well with this setup, as you can drag it over the page and literally watch your art come to life as you move the cursor. In some other programs, you may be required to fill each square point by point. No matter what route you take, you can experiment to your heart's content in creating your image. This is key.

If you’re not a serious artist, or you are just looking to dabble and have a little fun, there are several online sites that will allow you to create an image ‘online’ with a similar 8 bit effect. There are also a few filters (online and off) available that will convert existing artwork into a more 8 bit look. However, if you are a more serious artist, you are going to want to learn to create these effects properly in a more sophisticated program.

A surprising plus side of creating pixel art is that it’s a format that lends itself well to being converted to gifs, so you can play around pretty nicely with programs like Cinema 4d to create short videos and gifs.

How Can You Create 8 Bit Art In Cinema 4d?

The ever-versatile Cinema 4d does offer you another way to experiment with 8 bit art styles. You’re even able to render 8 bit animation styles with Cinema 4d. Which is another cool effect!

Open up the character you wish to render in an 8 bit style. This can easily be any ‘sophisticated’ model, don’t worry if it’s not pixelated yet - while a simpler structure will likely produce better results, the secret here is in the rendering process.

Be sure to remove all anti-aliasing and edge smoothing effects you have on the model. You can also remove all shading  effects by using ‘flat shading’ from sketch and tune and self shader. Then decide how large your final video/image needs to be. Then render it to picture view at half that size. Yes, half. You will then re-render this input up to your final image size. You can push the pixelation effect further by choosing a lower output size [say, a quarter or even a tenth of your final size]. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how quickly your file renders with so little size and data.

Sadly, the scale-up image you are viewing will render not at the scaled up, pixelated size, but as the smallest size. By default, this will be the selected size. So be sure to check your settings to ensure that you set the scale up. If you remember to set this correctly, you will get your pixelated render direct from Cinema 4d without the need to bring in a second program to create the effect. This is done by saving from the picture viewer.

8 bit art is an interesting field to explore, and Cinema 4d makes it fairly simple to get a convincing 8 bit effect without having to go out of the program or rely on a second step and program to get the result you want.

Need A Hand To Create Your 8 Bit Art?

Want to tap into that retro trend, but don’t know how to start?

It’s easy with the top graphic design talent available on Freelancer.com. We have thousands of the best graphic designers and illustrators who can help you bring your 8-bit art idea to life. Simply post a project, and you’ll start to receive bids within minutes.

Get your pixel on!  

Subscribe Now For Weekly Updates

Stay up to date with the best articles on the Freelancer Community. Subscribe now for the best Design, Development, and Freelancing content each week.

Posted 22 December, 2016

Cassie Puah

Content Marketing Coordinator - Freelancer.com

Part of the content team here at Freelancer to write, edit and SEO-proof our content. Outside of work, I love myself a little gaming and tennis here and there.

Next Article

New Year's Resolutions That Will Make 2017 the Best Year for Your Business