Illustration: Create a GIF in Pixel Art

Intermediate level Adobe Photoshop Adobe Photoshop

Creating a new document

Step 1

Create a new document (Control + N) and apply the following settings:

  • Size: 100x100 px
  • Resolution: 72 ppi
  • Color Mode: RGB


Step 2

We're going to create our character to the pixel. This means that we're going to work with a small size. First of all, activate the grid.

To do this, go to View → Show → Grid.


Step 3

Let's prepare the tool that we'll use to create our character: the Pencil Tool. Set its size to 1 pixel. You can do the same to the Eraser Tool.

Designing the Character

Step 1

First, let's create the character in an idle position to define the style, and then let's use the colors to create the volumes. We're going to work with a small size, the essence of the pixel art, so we won't use too much detail, but we'll preserve the main features of the character.

Let's begin by creating the eyes so that we have a reference for our character. Draw two vertical lines of 2x4 px.


Step 2

Now that we have the eyes, let's draw the rest of the head. For now, just use some simple lines.


Step 3

Now, let's smooth the curves a bit to have a more organic shape. To do this, just remove the pixels from the corners and, in the top-right part of the head, remove three pixels and create one to have a diagonal line.


Step 4

The head is finished. Now, let's move on to the body. 

In this animation, we'll only move the tail and the head of our dragon, so the character will look like it's sitting.


Coloring the Character

Step 1

Let's put together the color palette that we'll use for our character.

Make 10 squares and fill them with the following colors: #eb7263, #c75344, #9d3224, #220300, #4f6b56, #a2c0a9, #cbe4d1, #f9ba7a, #ee723b, #e5dfdf.


Step 2

Let's color the dragon. We'll begin with the first three colors of the palette.

Apply the darker tone, then the midtone and lastly the brighter tone.


Now, color the comb and the scales of the dragon.


Draw a line (#e5dfdf) just below our character.


Now we have our character full of color!

Creating the Movement

Step 1

We're going to create some movement. First, we need to choose how many frames our animation will have. Bear in mind that the higher the number of frames, the smoother the movement and, thus, the more realistic. In this example, we'll create an animation with 6 frames.

To make it easier for us, we're going to create a new document in which we'll have the six poses next to each other. So, create a new document (Control + N) with a size of 240x100 px. Don't close the previous document. We'll need it later.


Step 2

Copy 5 times our character by dragging it to the right while holding the Alt key. Leave the copies at a fixed distance between them.


Rename the layers. The first pose will be "Layer 1", the second pose will be "Layer 2" and so on until you get to the last pose, which will be "Layer 6".

Step 3

Let's create the animation for the tail of our dragon. To make things easier, first we'll make a sketch of the tail movement. To do that, just draw a simple line and color it.

The first position matches the one on the first pose of our dragon. It's just the center pixels of the tail. Having this, and keeping always the same first 3 pixels that are attached to the body, let's create some variations between each position to have some movement.


Step 4

Put this layer on top of the one with the six copies of the dragon, overlapping it.


Step 5

Remove the tail on the last five copies.


Make sure that every tail is attached to the body at the same height and distance: 1 px over the bottom edge of the body and 2 px in to the left.


Step 6

Now, let's create the outline of each tail.

It's always the same process: begin with the darker tone, then use the midtone and, lastly, the brightest tone.


Repeat the same with the four remaining positions. Remember: just the outline.


Step 7

Hide the layer of the tail guides.


Fill with color the blank spaces. This is how everything should look:


And this is how the six should look.


Step 8

We have the tail movement ready, so let's move on to the head movement.

Right-click on Layer 2 and choose Duplicate Layer


Step 9

Remove the head in the copy layer and lower the opacity of the original.

Create a new copy in which we'll draw a leant head. This will be helfpul later on. 


It should look like this:


Step 10

Let's color it. Paint the head first and then continue with the details.


And this is the result with this new leant head. Delete the layer whose opacity we lowered before.


Step 11

The positions 2, 3 and 4 will have the leant head. Delete the current heads from the positions 3 and 4.

While holding the Alt key, drag the leant head that we created before and create two copies, one for each of these "headless" positions.


Everything should look like this:


Let's combine each dragon with its respective head to have 6 layers again. So select the layer with the body and the layer with its respective head, right-click and choose Merge Layers.

Step 12

Now, we're going to create the fire animation. To make it look like a smooth and continuous movement, it's best for us if we overlap the six poses. Then, we would only need to play with the opacity to compare two of the poses.

Select the six layers and drag them to the previous document, where we created our character. Place them at the same height as the first character we created and click on Horizontal Centers.


Check them all one by one and make sure that they're properly positioned. As the body never moves, use it as a reference. To fix any of them, press V and, with the arrow keys, tweak their position until they're right.

Step 13

Let's create the mouth for the position 2. 

Position 2

Step 14

Now, let's create the mouth for the position 3. We need the previous layer as a reference to know how open the dragon had its mouth. Lower the opacity of Layer 3 and draw the mouth a bit smaller than in the previous layer. Then, increase the opacity to 100% again and create the fire.

Position 3

Step 15

Moving on to the position 4. Leave Layer 3 as a reference and lower the opacity of Layer 4 to see the fire. Then increase the opacity again and draw the rest of the fire.

Position 4

Step 16

In the positions 5 and 6 the dragon won't have its head tilted, but it will still be doing something with its mouth. In the position 5, it's still breathing some fire, and in the position 6 just a simple line will be seen for its mouth.

Position 5
Position 6

Step 17

We have all the positions almost ready. We could add a little fly going in circles in front of our dragon. Also, we could modify a little bit the length of the shadow for the tail in some of the positions.


We're finally done with all the positions.

Make sure all the layers are properly named and organized to ease the work on the remaining steps.

Layers numbered from 1 to 6

Creating the GIF

Step 1

As we have all our layers organized and numbered, let's start with the GIF. Go to Window → Timeline. A new panel will open at the bottom.


Step 2

Begin creating the GIF. The process is simple and repetitive, as it's always the same: creating a new frame and turning on the layer that we want to be visible. So create the first frame and turn on Layer 1 only. Then, create the second frame and turn on Layer 2 only. Keep going until you've done this with all the positions.

Press here to begin working on the frame animation
Click here to create a new frame

Here's an example:

After clicking on "New frame", a new one will appear at the bottom, so we need to turn on Layer 2 only. Then, we create a new frame and turn on Layer 3 only. After that, we create a new frame and turn on Layer 4 only, and so on...

Step 3

Now we need to set the duration of each frame, and how we want the animation to repeat itself.

To do this, select all the frames, click on the arrow below any of them, choose Other and enter a value of 0,19 seconds.

Select all the frames and click on the arrow

OK, let's change the looping options. Below the frames you'll see that this is set to Once. Click on the arrow next to it and choose Forever.


Step 4

The animation is pretty much done. We only need to export it to create our GIF.

Even though we've been working at a pixel level, we have the chance to modify the size when exporting the GIF in case we want to do that. Go to File → Export → Save for Web. A new window will pop up.


Let's set the image size to 400x400 px and, in Quality, choose Nearest Neighbor.

Our GIF is done!


I hope that you liked this tutorial. Go ahead and experiment with pixel art, which is much more than creating small characters. Be creative and try different colors and shapes when working on your character.

See you in the next tutorial!

What do you think of this tutorial?


Do you want to learn how to create a character in pixel art and then make a GIF with it? We'll make use of the pixel art style to create a dragon. We'll draw six different poses and we'll make the GIF with them using Photoshop.

Tut Details

Intermediate level 55m 846 views