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AIAS President discusses Into the Pixel and the progression of video game art

Into the Pixel is a video game art exhibit that debuts a new batch of game-related art at E3 every year. Prior to this year's exhibit, Shacknews reached out to Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences president Martin Rae to learn more about how Into the Pixel got started.

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With E3 rapidly approaching, it's time to start looking forward to the multitude of gaming announcements that are inevitably set to fill that week in June. However, there's one other aspect of E3 week that's as reliable as clockwork, yet rarely spotlighted. In the passages between the West and South Halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center, the curators of Into the Pixel set up shop each year, debuting new works of art that are based on some of the biggest video games.

Past works have been based on such video game luminaries as The Last of Us, Guild Wars 2, Street Fighter, Infamous, Limbo, and many others. Each year, new works are put on display, giving E3 attendees an opportunity to step aside from the chaos of the convention to simply soak in some solid art.

In anticipation of this year's exhibit, Shacknews took some time to reach out to Martin Rae, president of the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, to discuss the annual Into the Pixel exhibit. We also discuss some of what to expect from this year's exhibits, the progression of video game artwork, and whether the exhibit has any plans to expand.

Shacknews: How did Into the Pixel get started?

Martin Rae, Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences President: The Into the Pixel (ITP) started in 2004 to celebrate E3’s 10th anniversary as a way to show off the great artistry coming out of the video games industry. It was started by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and co-produced with the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences (AIAS). This year’s 2015 collection will mark the 12th year of this exhibit.

Shacknews: Can you describe the curation process? How does the jury determine what works to put on display?

Rae: Each year in the March timeframe the ITP begins a call for submissions. The ITP is curated each year by a group of talented jurists from both the traditional art and digital world - from The Getty Museum, Annenberg Space for Photography, Blizzard Entertainment, among others. Jurists review every single submitted piece of work and then get on several calls to discuss each of the pieces at length to determine what they feel to be a good representation of the year’s talent.

Shacknews: The year's best works are put on display, starting at E3. Where does it go from there?

Rae: Yes, the year’s collection is annually unveiled and presented the week of E3 where we celebrate with an evening cocktail reception. The ITP tours at different locations each year, but it has made appearances at industry events like PAX, GDC, SXSW Interactive, among others. Internationally, the ITP has been featured at events like the Toronto Film Festival, international SIGGRAPH events, FMX, among others.

Shacknews: What are some of the best works you've seen over the 12 years of Into the Pixel? What particular art techniques helped those works stand out above the rest?

Rae: There are so many pieces each year that get us excited, but the underlining motif is the emotion that resonates from the piece, and even that varies. Some of the pieces are right in the middle of the action like “Summoning Pit” from the 2014 collection, others are playful and whimsical like “The Dragon Play” from the 2011 collection while others are filled with drama like “The Remembering” from the 2014 collection – but each will draw you into its story and narrative and fill you with a sense of wonder or take you back to that scene in the game.

There are different art techniques that are employed but it the focus and where the artist wants to draw your eyes. Emphasis can be placed on the protagonist’s eyes like “Leah Close-Up” from the 2012 collection or the landscape itself like in “Freljord” from the 2013 collection. Other art techniques employ color studies like XXX, use 3D rendering for sculptural pieces like “New Bloom Festival” from the 2014 collection, collage studies like “Schemes Collage” from the 2013 collection and vintage posters like “Luftrausers” from the 2014 collection.

Shacknews: Which gaming developers do you feel have helped evolve the idea of video game art?

Rae: I believe its really the technology that has evolved this idea of video game art because it allowed developers to be free of any creative restrictions and boundaries that might have limited their design choices in the past.

Each console iteration has allowed for an unprecedented level of detail, artists can now focus on a curl of an eyelash to the pigmentation to droplets of rain. Also, cost boundaries that previously restricted many due to expensive software has been eliminated with technology like Unity has allowed anyone to produce and develop a game. Some of the independent games have elicited some of the most beautiful, artful and whimsical pieces in the past couple of years.

Shacknews: What are some of the recent games from the past year that you expect to see represented for this year's Into the Pixel?

Rae: For the 2015 collection any video game titles published on or after January 1, 2014 is eligible, so we’re looking forward to seeing submissions from games launched in 2014 and beyond.

Shacknews: In what ways has video game art progressed over the last 12 years since Into the Pixel started?

Rae: Video game art has strongly mirrored the evolution of the games produced over the last decade - highly polished, cinematic and mature or a deliberate return to a vintage 8-bit games aesthetic with some of the indie game submissions. Submissions also reflect the changing industry from console-centric to a myriad of platforms – free-to-play browser based games, independent games, mobile games, among others.

Shacknews: Do you expect further growth from Into the Pixel or is the current format sufficient for getting the world's best video game art out there for people to see?

Rae: The AIAS and the ESA are always looking for ways to further grow and increase recognition for the ITP beyond its current format. With both the growing appreciation and popularity of video game art, we are heartened to see the millions of supporters of the medium.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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