Recreating the First Pixel Art Tutorial


I found it in a thrift store in Guelph, Ontario. The price tag says $4.99, but I received an additional discount for some reason. It was The Animator, a circa 1986 toy produced by Ohio Art and distributed in Canada by Irwin Toy, complete in the box (batteries not included). On said box is a frame-by-frame drawing of a figure running and jumping over a track-and-field hurdle with the caption “Bring Your Drawings to Life” and a bullet point on the side claiming that its “Powerful Computer Memory Puts the Magic of Animation into Your Hands”. In today’s parlance The Animator is a pixel art editor, though Ohio Art never used that term either on the packaging or in the instruction booklet.


I considered multiple processes by which I might recreate The Animator’s pixel art tutorial. The first and most obvious would be to use The Animator itself and then film the result as shown in its commercials. This however seemed arduous, and I genuinely wonder how many did so even back in the mid-80’s without ease of access to more efficient pixel art programs. Next I considered simply adapting the pixel art via GraphicsGale, an editor I’m familiar with. I also thought about scanning the booklet then stitching together the images into GIFs using PhotoShop. However upon closer examination I found that the pixel art animations described in the booklet were not always linear strings of sprites, but complex sequences which went back and forth between different images. Thus I decided my final approach would be my one and only attempt at recreation, to avoid an unnecessary reproduction of my own labour.

Scan of The Walking Robot example animation
Laying out the gallery in Bitsy
A frame of The Walking Robot with the 8x8 grid overlay
Overview of The Walking Robot in Notepad
A surfing skeleton

David is a writer from Southern Ontario, Canada