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.
In the latter half of 2008, I caught wind of a new player on the Adelaide street press scene. That player was Merge Magazine, brainchild of two passionate and engaged young twenty-somethings, Josh Fanning and Owen Lindsay, each with a burning desire to support home-grown culture. Differentiating itself from its competitors with its heavily pictorial and colloquial journalistic approaches, its content and form are rich in creativity and make for an enticing monthly read.
Having enjoyed the editorial support of Merge during our recent Adelaide Fringe ‘Basement Beats’ season, I was flattered to receive a phone call from Josh asking me if I was keen to deliver some cover art (in a similar style to the pixel art on the Basement Beats poster) for the May 2009 edition. From my perspective, it really was a dream brief. They wanted a colourful retro pixel-art aesthetic, reminiscent of mid-late 1980’s gaming. The content of the illustrations has to run with a feature story about job hunting in a digital world, and difficult economic climate. ‘Super Mario Brothers’ was toted as a starting point, and a few rough sketches provided to me sewed some further ideas about ‘power-up’ items, social climbing and pursuit of the dollar as possible sub-concepts.
I turned the job around as quickly and as best I could, and was delighted last night when I rolled up to Adelaide’s Festival Centre to catch a gig and my eye was snagged by a pile of Merge mags screaming ‘pick me up’ with some familiar pixel flair!
Merge frequently impresses me with the unusual cultural crevices it crawls and peers into, and the much needed spotlight it turns on Adelaide’s emerging cultural movers and shakers. It’s a pleasure to be supported by such a great team, and to have the opportunity to contribute to a genuine stimulating force in the local scene.
Since the mags themselves don’t sit on the street for long, the Merge boys have been sharp enough to publish an identical digital edition of their mag (also free to obtain) so for anyone with a passing interest in Adelaide, I recommend you scoot over to Merge’s website and cop a taste!