Excel’s Hidden Magic: GIFs, Painting, and Pixel Spreadsheets

Excel pixel spreadsheet of one of Brooke Shaden's photos.
Excel pixel spreadsheet of one of Brooke Shaden’s photos.

  • It houses the budgets we ignore.
  • It spits out the data that informs industry reports and government policy.
  • It logs our adorable ideas for nights out with significant others and helps left-brained investment bankers keep track of their dating life.

We’ve been filling in Excel cells since 1985. Microsoft’s software program powers businesses, large and small, and is the traditional catch-all for all things organized, calculated, color-coded. And I suck at it.

When I see what my friends in finance or consulting can do with Excel, I’m tempted to bow down in worship. Outside of your basic SUM function or filtering, I’m about as handy with Excel as a toddler with an abacus.

In my wildest number-crunching dreams, I can’t imagine what happens at the annual Financial Modeling World Championship (the “ModelOff”); my immediate vision is a mixture of the London bank in Mary Poppins, a programming hackathon, and the Illuminati.

Lack of understanding aside, Excel is the tool that plays a strangely large role in our lives — if not us directly, the institutions that govern or influence us — and I can’t help but feel like I’m missing out on a critical skill.

Like many, I’m determined to upgrade my spreadsheet savviness. You can bet that after this post, I’ll be cautiously poking around the bevy of online tutorials and tip sheets — curious, scared, and hopeful.

For now, I will keep the mystery alive and marvel at the power of Excel to do things I had never considered it capable of doing. Until the day arrives when I’m dispensing spreadsheet magic from my keyboard, I will refrain from doling out time-saving tips or explaining the tool’s new features (3D maps?? A web app?! This is not the Excel I used to know).

However, I will — safe from technical know-how — give a short glance to the program’s “fun” side which I am amazed by and do not (yet) understand in the slightest.

Pixel spreadsheet

This Think Maths webpage converts images to spreadsheets. You know you’re intrigued. Basically, when you capture an image with your camera, it measures the amount of red, green and blue light hitting each pixel. Then, it ranks them on a scale from 0 to 255 and records those values just as a spreadsheet would.


This is a strategic role playing game designed within an Excel workbook, where you outwit over 2000 possible enemies (wait, what?!). How artificial intelligence can be programmed into the same tool I use for travel budgets is beyond me.

Excel art

courtesy of Tatsuo Horiuchi
courtesy of Tatsuo Horiuchi

At the ripe age of 60, Tatsuo Horiuchi of Japan decided he needed a new challenge, so he started making visual masterpieces… using Excel instead of a paintbrush. His work is pretty mind-blowing; the bonus being that you can download it to experiment on your own.

.Gif creation

This gift from imgur turns multiple worksheets into a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle flipbook. Both the 12-year-old version of you and your current day self are imagining the possibilities.

The mysteries of the world’s most powerful and accessible tool cannot be easily overstated or mocked. However, it’s certainly fun to try, and even more fun and provocative to consider pulling back the curtain to actually understand and use it. For me, I’m hoping that a free, comprehensive three-day workshop can whip me into shape.

Source: Betanews


Sarah Bradley

Sarah is a San Francisco-based freelance writer, music enthusiast, and lover of the outdoors.