Our passion for retro lo-fi pixel art has really fired up these last 2 years. It all began with the discovery of the freeware progam IcoFX which allowed us to reconnected us with our c64-generation creative urges. I produced our first pixel art poster for a Supermarket show in Big Star Records’ basement in September 2008 and things have snowballed from there!
Happening around the same time was the erection of a giant public lo-res screen at the end of Adelaide’s busy Rundle Mall- The Rundle Lantern. Astonishing in both scale and low-resolution, it wraps around two sides of a multi-storey carpark at a highly trafficked intersection. Emma Sterling and I leapt at the opportunity to produce original animation for it. Our ‘how to’ guide to producing animation for it is available here at Creativity Base. Merge Magazine also caught wind of what I was up to, and commissioned artwork for a front cover and feature article spread.
Meanwhile, in North America, a man I met through a chiptune email-list was cooking up a grand design. Emerging theatre writer and director Steven Gridley put a call out for chiptune musicians and pixel artists and animators, to help create a world that slips between the ‘real’ and that of a glitchy 1980’s Nintendo game. I was originally eager to animate many projected sequences throughout the play, but in the end the team expanded and the workload was shared nicely. Below is a showreel featuring some of the animated sequences from the play, and a chiptune score also written by Steven Gridley. Mine is the flat-looking Mario-esque sidescroller. You can read more about the show at the blog Brooklynshiner.
Since then, I’ve had enough compliments on my pixel art to decide to open an online store, and make designs for merchandise and apparrel. Dead Pixel Designs launched late last year, and the inventory in the Zazzle shopfront is growing nicely. Recent friend and gun programmer Jay Straw also helped me integrate the store into my website, closing the associative gap between danimations and Dead Pixel Designs.
In March, Emma Sterling and I are running a pixel art and animation workshop as part of the DIY cultural event Format Festival right here in Adelaide. Keep an eye on their website, and come along if you love pixels as much as we do- finished works will be screening on the Rundle Lantern!
Every now and again I get an email from custom merchandise webstore Zazzle letting me know that someone online has bought one of my custom designs. Through our danimations Zazzle store we sell the occasional Supermarket T-shirt or Lateral Movement merch (an experimental screen cultural event Emma Sterling and I started this year). Moreover, we used the service to make one-off promotional objects for ourselves, to avoid the unattractive upfront costs of bulk ordering custom designs from a traditional printing business. I recently decided to make a concerted effort in getting another Zazzle store off the ground, with pixel art as the unifying theme.
Since I’ve been busy producing pixel art for a range of applications this year (gig flyers, a Merge Magazine editorial spread, animations for theatre and favicons for websites) I thought I’d create a store specifically to host my lo-fi wares. The result? Dead Pixel Designs. Combining a love for cartoons, animation, retro computing and pure colour, the store will be a growing source of lively pixel-based designs. The designs currently feature on apparel, mousemats and binders… and Zazzle provides every end-user/designer with an ever-growing range of products to treat as custom canvases. Some of the wackier ones include skateboard decks, aprons and even pet clothing. Each product can feature either printed or embroidered artwork, depending on the item. Designs can be prepared to templates offline and uploaded, or individual elements can be arranged live on the website, making the experience enjoyable. The designer’s desired royalty is then set, and the item described, tagged, categorised and listed publicly or privately in the Zazzle marketplace. The store owner can then draw upon a range of powerful tools to promote his wares, like the embedded widget below.
More advanced Zazzle features include easy integration of stores with Google Analytics, allowing the gathering of statistics following each visit your store receives. Zazzle also publishes a Site Builder application, and provides further support for web developers to hack, adapt or build from scratch entirely new applications or webpages through which to sell their goodies. If you or someone you know is sitting on some creative merchandising ideas but doesn’t want to commit big money to buying a bulk order (and having to fulfill orders yourself) I strongly recommend you give Zazzle a shot.
Dazzling pedestrians with its light display and critics with it’s extraordinary cost, the Rundle Lantern is the latest contentious fixture in the heart of Adelaide’s CBD. Designed as a ‘cultural canvas’, and no doubt inspired by Melbourne’s Federation Square and similar light/sculpture/screen combinations overseas, the lantern is essentially an enormous display screen, designed to titillate spectators with its infinite colour combinations and conceal the unsightly multi-storey carpark that provides its scaffold.
While the screen itself can display video content, don’t get to thinking Time Square, New York, or downtown Tokyo. Despite its gargantuan scale, the screen is actually incredibly low resolution, and is made up of a grid of metal panels, each illuminated by white LEDs. Capable of tinting the metal panels across the full spectrum of hues, the LEDs can apply two pixels of colour (left and right sides) per panel. The grid is 34 illuminated panels wide, and twenty one high, with the screen extending along the building’s two most prominent sides. As the picture demonstrates, It wraps around the carpark’s corner, to create a unique and memorable facade. When the sun goes down each night, the fun begins.
Designed and managed by contractor Fusion for the Adelaide City Council, Emma Sterling and I are lucky to be among the first wave of artists outside of Fusion’s studio to design content for the lantern. Despite a spectacular launch event back in October, complete with fireworks exploding off the carpark roof, to date the content has fallen well short of meeting the cultural objectives for the site, or displaying any significant artistic content.
Enter ‘Lantern La Lumiere’, a project commissioned by the Adelaide Fringe Festival, supported by the South Australian Film Corporation and the Media Resource Centre. Armed with the basic technical requirements of preparing content for the lantern and some anecdotal advice from Fusion, eighteen Adelaide artists are currently producing up to one minute of content each, in preparation for the launch of Adelaide Fringe Festival on February 27th. The Lantern works will screen each night of the Fringe, with the loop synced to restart every hour on the hour until March 21.
Em and I first found out about the Rundle Lantern late last year, and attended a ‘secrets revealed’ session where we learned everything we needed to know about the screens capabilities… and some shocking figures related to the cost of its implementation and annual operations. Unfortunately, the workshop didn’t expand on this, so it seems like we’re as well equipped as anyone to share the knowledge. Here’s all the info you really need to get started designing and making content for the Rundle Lantern:
- For cleanest results (ie, no colour bleeding) treat each panel as a single pixel. That means a canvas of 34 x 21 pixels in Photoshop or similar.
- The software and hardware engine driving the lantern is called Hippotizer Media Server or ‘Hippo’ for short. Hippo sends the video as an MPEG2 file, at 680 x 420 pixels. Presently only Fusion staff are authorized to load content onto the system, after it has been approved by council.
- Hippo can handle standard PAL video (720 x 576, 25 frames per second), but will resize it down to 680 x 420, so it’s better to output at this resolution yourself.
- Colour separation in shadow and highlight areas is limited, so high-contrast designs will appear more accurately (and effectively) on the lantern than subtle low-contrast designs.
- You can upload your files to the Rundle Lantern Simulator, and also look at previews of clips in progress and in the queue awaiting moderation/launching.
- The simulator is really to guide you in the placement of the structure’s corner in the projected design- it does not represent the contrast shift which occurs at the site in reality.
- To date, live video feeds have not been tested but have not been ruled out for the future.
- There is currently no permanent means for outputting sound at the Lantern site.
Em and I are currently working on our pieces in preparation for the launch, and will post them, along with notes on our specific workflows. Using free and readily available software is absolutely encouraged. Use whatever tools you favour and have on hand… be it a consumer video camera and Windows Movie Maker or free icon editing software to draw with, like IcoFX. If you’re a child of Gen X and grew up with 8-bit computers like the C64 and Atari, join us and embrace this opportunity to celebrate a very public pixel renaissance!