In the 1980s and early 1990s, video game developers had to deal with a lot more graphical and hardware restrictions than developers today. The technology wasn’t there for 100,000 polygons in a single character model. Heck, most of the time the technology for a single polygon wasn’t even there. Developers had to design with pixels in mind, creating square art by utilizing a limited amount of colors on a limited pixel canvas of space.
For instance, your Nintendo Entertainment System (or your Nintoaster, if you’re just that cool) had a screen containing 256 by 240 pixels. Each pixel can be its own color, but even the amount of colors you could use was restricted.
What this meant was that the early generations of video game systems had a unique and identifiable style, dubbed pixel art. Today, many designers who grew up on this style of video games have become enamored with pixel art and set out to create real life pixel art as a 3-dimensional construct. The results can be utterly stunning and surprisingly convincing.
A lot of planning goes into creating real life pixel art. The 2-dimensional shapes of 8-bit and 16-bit video games are difficult to translate into 3 dimensions, thanks to the added perspectives that come with the added dimension.
Toshiya Masuda, a Japanese artist, created the Low Pixel project to do just that. But rather than pulling the extraordinary realities of video games into our reality, Masuda has turned mundane objects from our reality into ceramic 3-dimensional pixel art creations.
Our day-to-day high-definition view of the world is transformed by Masuda’s pixel objects. Umbrellas, flowers, kettles, lighters, a knocked over can of coke and even a cup of Starbucks coffee (tastefully pixelated as to avoid copyright laws) are all turned from theeveryday to the exceptional. It’s as close as we’re going to get to living in a pixelated world, at least until the Virtual Reality boom comes to fruition.
Where Masuda tried his best to create authentic pixelation by using ceramics to give the illusion of pixel square construction, Mike accomplished a similar real life feel without going full pixel art. He’s collected his work, featuring extensive treescapes and animals, in the book ‘Beautiful LEGO: Wild!’.
Thanks to the ease of LEGO creation (it doesn’t get more plug-and-play than LEGO) anyone with a creative touch can build pixel art in 3 dimensions. Just take out that giant translucent box filled with LEGO pieces you got stored somewhere in your house (you know what I’m talking about) and start creating the world on a macro pixel level instead of a micro level!
There’s a revolution going on in video games right now: pixel graphics and pixel art are experiencing a resurgence of sorts. Video games such as Shovel Knight, Papers Please, Hotline Miami and Fez all garnered stellar critical and commercial reception from all over the industry, showing that in an industry of graphical one-upmanship, style can still trump polygon count.
Now’s a great time to take out those neglected LEGO pieces and start building some nostalgia-based pixel art sprite creations! Whether you want to pixelate reality like Masuda and Doyle, or simply recreate your favorite video game characters of yesteryear, upcycling old LEGO can make for amazing retro centerpieces.