The Wonderful World of Pixel Art – Animated GIFs and Free Emoticons

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!

The Path to an Animation Career

Until recently, multi-media artists and animators worked primarily in the motion picture and video industries.  Today the multi-billion dollar games industry has added an important employment sector for animators, and with the advent of Web 2.0 and broadband internet access animators have also found an important employment niche in website design and development. 

An animation career can take you to a movie studio, but a tiny percentage of animators make it to that level of the entertainment business.  Fortunately, animation has become commonplace in the creation of television commercials, online ads and website applets.  There are currently about 90,000 animators and multimedia artists working in the United States. There will be growth in this industry – over 25% in the next decade –  but it’s also an attractive field to a lot of people.If you have a good hand and eye for drawing, animation may be an excellent career choice.  But you need to expect stiff competition, and you should also understand that there is a definite career ladder in the business.  Here are some checkpoints that you need to consider before embarking on active pursuit of this profession.

Animation is a combination of hand drawings and computer generated renderings.  Often original sketches become computer files, and the animation software takes it from there.  Many ad agencies still use storyboards; some are computer generated but often at the early stages they are hand drawn.  Once art is folded into a computer program it can become a story line or a 3D character or part of a web page theme. 

Animation isn’t just drawings in motion.  Animators working on pieces of any complexity are going to get involved with shading, backgrounds and frame-by-frame changes.  An animator often works with a programmer, but in many cases the programming falls to the artist.

You;ll need an animation degree on your resume.  The complexities for animation today lie largely in the computer programs that are used to create them.  You need to have a thorough understanding of the tools used in the animation shop; today most people starting out in the field have a bachelor’s degree in multimedia or animation. 

Expect to become a computer programmer.  CGI – computer generated images – is the state of the art in animation.  There are dozens of animation software choices out there, many of which are designed for webpage use.  Advertising shops use a different selection, and companies like Pixar create their own.  Adobe’s Flash products for the Web and Autodesk’s Maya and 3Ds Max software for movies and videos are examples of popular animation tools produced by respected companies.Study the career steps.  When you begin to look at the operations of an animation studio, you’ll find specialists in storyboards, texture mapping, motion capture, game design, and the usual starting point for graphic artists, character art.  While they are all talents of a particular sort, you will find that moving into the field of your choice may require some initial work in some other specialty as a method of getting your foot in the door.

The Fabulous and Exclusive World of Anime Gifts

Watching a good film is something that we all gift ourselves to from time to time, we all have our favourite genres of films, it might be the latest Hollywood blockbuster, an English horror film or a french film noir. One of the least mainstream types of film called anime films are films many of us would have never heard of before, but they have become hugely popular with enthusiasts.

What is Anime? It is simply a hand drawn or digitally designed cartoon, it is an abbreviation of the word animation. It is used to describe a story telling animation that is full of colour, fantasy, exciting characters, with a mix of cinematography. As a whole it gives the viewer a gift of sense experience with a kaleidoscope of colour and features.

The term originates in Japan, when the first type of this animation appeared in the early part of the 20th century. It became very popular in 1960s when the first series, ‘Otogi manga’ was aired from 1961 to 1964, since then this style of cartoon and film has become even more popular than ever.The word ‘manga’ is closely associated with anime as manga are comic books and graphic novels with the same story lines, characters and visuals that are then made into films. The manga style was actually developed in Japan around the end of the 19th century. Manga was around before the launch of anime and covers a whole range of ideas; from action-adventure, horror, science fiction and fantasy and even sports or romance.

There are now over 430 design studios producing this type of animation. Many of the studios are organised into trade associations. The average episode can cost anywhere between $100,000 to $300,000 to produce and on even larger productions some film studios work together to share the work and the huge cost of the productions.

Although only making up a small amount of the Japanese film market, this type of film is now the biggest market within the Japan DVD and Blu-ray sector. As a genre it contributed to over 70% of sales within the market in the same year. The highest grossing film hit a hugely impressive figure of $330million.

Within the world of Anime there are varying types of films that are aimed at different parts of society. There are children specific films, female genres films, male genres films and adult specific where the plot is slower and more complex.

The popularity of these films are shown in the music that accompanies the opening and closing credits, they are produced and written by reputable bands that sometimes produce the music with a specific film or series in mind.

During the 1980s and 1990s in America this type of film made its way to TV audiences, in current times many children growing up all over the world have come across this type of animation. Anime has to be licensed by other countries in order to be deemed legal and some of these licenses can be very expensive, however within the US alone the market was valued at just under $3 billion dollars.Obviously when things start to become popular in countries like the USA, they start to spread to the rest of the western world and now it is a global business. You can watch films, buy gifts associated to these films and even dress as the characters.

Conventions are held all over the world celebrating this style of film and graphic novels, with people dressing up in various costumes and characters get to meet similar fans, industry leaders, trade stories or buy gifts from their favourite films.

Gifts can also be purchased online through various outlets, so for those that cannot make these gatherings you can still buy gifts of your favourite films, comics and characters from the comfort of your own home.