Forget Blu-Ray and 3D, Behold the Art of the Pixel

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While the focus in Hollywood continues to revolve around high-definition and 3D CG, a new wave of underground retro artists is returning to the simple art of the pixel.

Less, they say, is often more – at least when it comes to identification, imagination and empathy. Animator Simon Cottee has produced a short documentary on the pixel art phenomenon, and his interview subjects insist that the limitations imposed on early digital artists – of using blunt colored squares in the creation of 8 and 16-bit images – actually required more engagement from the average gamer/viewer. With only a partially realized world, gamers would often be required to fill in the resolution gaps with their minds. With a small blotchy Mario or Zelda at the center of the screen, players would just have to imagine who these characters really were.

Today, by contrast, the games look a whole lot better. But they also require a lot less imagination.

Particularly poignant about the documentary is the notion of being unable to replicate the true pixel art experience using today’s technology. In the past, Cottee’s subjects say, you had blurry video game images being viewed on a blurry television screen. The result was something vague and opaque, almost slightly impressionistic. But today, when people try to go back to those classic pixellated titles, viewing them on modern high-def TV screens, or computer monitors, the pixellation is exaggerated. The high-def surface actually calls attention to the inadequacy of the pixels.

So unless you have an original low-def TV set, the pixel experience has been lost quite possibly forever.

Also touched upon in the documentary: The emerging musical genre called chiptunes, in which artists employ the very same chip boards used in classic video game consoles to produce simple, monotone sounds. For anyone who grew up on Nintendo and Atari, however, the nostalgic impact of the genre is unmistakable.

So what do you think: Are these artists rolling back the clock a little too far? Or have they managed to tap into the fine art of technology, by stripping away all the modern enhancements? Just consider that question while watching Passage, one of the artistic pixel art creations cited by Cottee: