The Evolution of 8-Bit Art | Off Book | PBS

Uploaded by PBSoffbook on 13.06.2012

When we talk about 8-bit today we are probably thinking about a specific kind of style.
8-bit was born from video games
that came out in
the late seventies or early eighties
up to the mid-
nineties. The basis of true 8-bit is the same
process that's
used to create music for video games.
I think 8-bit and music makes for super fun building blocks of whatever you want
to express. The cool thing about 8-bit is that it exists in that world and
bringing it back gives a whole new perspective on it.
From nineteen seventy seven to
the launch of SNES in nineteen ninety-one, 8-bit is a throwback to a
time when computers and video games had a distinct style.
You're probably thinking of early nintendo culture but there was another
8-bit which was tied to the early home computers which was more of a DIY
culture. And so the idea of 8-bit culture today really is a combination of the
graphical and visual style from the console games
with this idea of the DIY culture as it came from the 8-bit home
computer games.
I think 8-bit really has three functions.
One is that it's easy to make so if you want to do a pixelated character, like almost
everybody can do a character that's passable as 8-bit graphics.
The second thing is that if you do 8-bit you're sort of belonging to a specific group,
that you're rejecting something like big budget
productions. The third thing then, it also makes the creative process more like a game
because you are creating these kind of artificial constraints in what you're doing as a
creative person. Like the pixels being very large, mutations in terms of memory
from a programming perspective, limitations in terms of sound.
And so 8-bit is just the alternative option, right.
That there always is a more kind of low key or a lo-fi way of creating the same thing.
The interest in 8-bit now is not only in the technical limitations but also there's
a nostalgic factor.
A lot of people grew up with it and it
kind of reminds them of the time when they would come home from school and start playing video games.
For someone in my shoes it's definitely a combination of both nostalgia
but it's also about finding an artistic value in it that isn't nostalgic.
The Doctor Horrible project came about
making the soundtrack in
an 8-bit format and they got a good deal of attention
and some of the cast members actually were
talking about it on Twitter so I said okay maybe I'm onto something.
So I decided just to create an animation to go along with it. A lot of people talked about it and
it definitely helped the exposure.
College Humor contacted me about
doing Jersey Shore. Other ones I've done for College Humor were Man vs Wild, Game of Thrones,
Breaking Bad, Battle Star Galactica,
Doctor Who, Saved by the Bell, and a Mad Men one.
Theres just such a broad
age range of people that
both watch these shows and
have any kind of an interest in old video games.
It is becoming it's own respected art form and some people use it just for fun, other people
use it to create works of art.
I love being able to communicate in a really simple way. And to me, pixel art is like the
simplest way to communicate.
You can throw up four colors and it can mean something. It is able to whittle down
complexity to its simplest form and I lay every dot perfectly.
The visuals and the music are always connected because we're using the same tools. Usually
it's just done on the console like a game would.
I was really excited about making music with gear that sounded like my childhood.
It's just
frequencies moving at different rates.
So there's a triangle which is nice and bass-y. It just moves in a way
that rumbles a speaker. There's a square wave which is kind of harsh but it has
a wider range than the triangle.
And the pulse wave is the tweeter. And then there's noise which is awesome because you
can make hi-hats and cymbals and explosions with that sort of stuff. It's kind of
debatable like if it should stay true to itself and become its own
style or, like me, I think that in order for me to grow as a musician
it needs to go beyond just sounding like video game music.
And i think, you know, like these things are just going to become instruments just
like Casio keyboards are part of music.
I think a Gameboy will just be another tool that people can use. Experimentation
will just keep going and just become part of music in general.
Most of my nostalgia for 8-bit music
is not the 8-bit music
of the eighties. Any nostalgia that I have for 8-bit music, is the 8-bit music
I was making in high school with my friends. I didn't really grow up with these sounds but I know
where they're from. When we make music, we aren't trying to make technical demos
of like what the
Nintendo can do so much. I began approaching
this in the middle ground of programming and music.
It's funny to like take these cutesy, rough sounds and put them like in a
venue where people are like
crowd surfing.
It's definitely an instrument. There are people that use like the ZX Spectrum,
Amiga, NES, Gameboy,
Atari ST, and
I think every one of those except for the Gameboy predates my life. I think I prefer composing
on a Gameboy or on a
computer and I prefer performing
with a guitar. Now the only time I play guitar is on stage.
Today, why would a child
pick up a guitar and not a computer because on a computer you can have a guitar
and any other sound that you can possibly imagine.
That said, there's a lot that like you miss with current
technologies. Even like the difference between like using a laptop
versus a drum machine. They all present different things. I think what's important
is to get that they're on the same playing field.
We're all just trying to like
communicate. Music is a language, programming is language.
It's forcing a lot of the artists to almost become better and
stronger because I'm going to really
push what I'm doing to the next level.
I think there's something really attractive about taking a digital image and
making it analog. I had all these great video game ideas that i thought we're
just funny but also had a real social commentary going on. One of the
first ones that I got really serious was JFK: the game.
Once I put it through this 8-bit filter, there's a whole new medium that gives it
a whole new meaning.
When I started getting these ideas it kind of started snowballing into all these other
things. And 9/11 is one of the most important things that have happened and
changed our culture so i wanted to put that through the
filter just to see what happened. The problem is that people associate
video games with something cute and almost light-hearted and people
automatically just assume that
you're making fun of something and that's not necessarily the case. That
juxtaposition is exactly what gave the piece its strength and its power.
I saw the opportunity
once I was making the video games to really push forward in a new genre and I
discovered that I have a real love for minimalism.
I love stripping everything down and coming to the basis of the art and
having just color fields, straight lines, hard edges,
and making things that are very pleasing to the eyes. You have people
that might not be into art who say "oh I like that 'cause it reminds me
of the video games I used to play." There's definitely a nostalgia to it.
We live in a digital world now and this is kind of a byproduct of that.
I think 8-bit will probably always be around as a kind of option. It's a very unique
style born from limitation and it's stood the test of time. Maybe in like twenty
five years, the Atari twenty six hundred and all that will be so far away
from our memory that it'll sound like the future.
And it definitely makes you approach writing music very differently. There's a lot of like backwards thinking
that's really refreshing.
I think 8-bit is constantly growing and just like videogames
it'll get better and better.