Growing up in the 80s and 90s, video games were a huge part of my childhood, and I still regularly dust off the SNES for a bit of Contra or Super Mario Kart. So when a project comes along that requires a retro gaming style, I jump at the opportunity.
I'm currently working on a Zelda-style RPG animation for IPPF, a planned parenthood charity, but ran into some frustrating issues while rendering.
When creating low resolution assets for an 8 or 16-bit style animation, the goal is to achieve clear, crisp pixel art, and there are well known settings to do this easily. Changing the way After Effects scales your assets is important, and there are 3 options to choose from, Bilinear, Bicubic and Draft Sampling. Without going into too much detail, for pixel art, under the 'quality and scaling' toggle, you need to select Draft. This ensures that After Effects won't try any fancy upscaling techniques to smooth out your artwork, keeping everything crisp and clear.
The problem I found, was that my renders were still soft and blurry, even though all layers in my project were set to Draft sampling. After about two hours of test renderings and tweaking settings to absolutely no avail, I did a few tests using different render qualities under the render settings. Strangely, I found that After Effects will try to upscale and smooth out all layers in the project, regardless of their sampling quality, rendering previously crisp artwork, soft and blurry.
In the render settings of a project in your render queue, you have a choice between Best, Draft, and Wireframe. As you can see in the example below, the Best setting renders a blurry image, whereas the Draft setting renders with crisp edges. Normally, the Best quality setting would result in a much clearer render, but in these specific circumstances, the opposite is true.
I created a music video a few years back that would have benefitted from knowing about this setting when rendering in a pixel art style. It was based on classic video games such as Super Mario, Streets of Rage, and Out Run, but looking back on it now, I can see that it hadn't rendered as sharp as it could have.
Check it out and see what you think: