Creating traditional animation from a comic source

Posted 6th Jun 2017 by Steve Gregson

Recently I wrote a blog on here about how much I love traditional frame by frame animation, and how I was sad to see it slowly fading away!

You can read the blog here: The Disappearance of Traditional Animation

I decided that it was all well and good to talk about it, but as an animator I should really put my money where my mouth is and actually create something in the style I love so much.

So, before we begin, here’s a little of my background. I work at morph as the lead animator during the day, but in the evening I also create a webcomic; Bastard Galaxia, with a good friend of mine. The comic is a throwback to the cartoons and toys we loved back in the 80’s and 90’s, a love letter to that era, but it also serves as our way of dealing with the fact that all the shows we loved as children were essentially 20 minute advertisements for the next toy we’d simply *need* to have. It’s our coping mechanism for how easily manipulated we obviously were…

If you want to know more about the comic, there’s a blog all about it here: Origin of Bastard Galaxia

Recently we decided at morph that it’d be nice to have a strong example of frame by frame traditional animation just to showcase it as a service we can offer (And we can indeed offer it!). The problem is that traditional animation is a much larger time sink than other styles of animation so we’d need to make something short, but still showcasing what we can do. It was suggested to me that we should probably use my comic characters as the basis of the animation. This lead to the idea of making something akin to an 80’s – 90’s cartoon introduction!

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A panel from the comic showing Galaxia and crew.

Now immediately I was thinking of the introduction sequences from my childhood:Thundercats, Teenage Mutant Ninja (Hero) Turtles, Transformers, Masters of the Universe, etc.

These intro’s usually featured much higher quality animation than the actual cartoon that showed after them, with frame rates being at least 12 frames per second (The number of drawings required to make a single second of animation) but often upping the frame rate to 24 frames per second. The average cartoon ran at 6-12 frames per second in a lot of cases, so this was often noticeably smoother than the actual show, and often created by a separate team entirely…

Anyway, with this in mind I decided that the animation would have to run at 24fps to capture that really energetic feeling a lot of those intros had.

What I wanted to do was make sure that feeling of Saturday Morning cartoons was captured, and that meant making sure the intro was constantly moving, with little to no downtime until we reveal the title.

Taking inspiration from classic intro’s I decided to go with the opening shot of Galaxia’s Ship (The SinnerStar) warping into shot, before hurtling towards the screen.

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The SinnerStar, as seen in the comic.

I roughed out the movement and made a few tweaks until a low frame rate guide version seemed to flow correctly.

Next, to make the movement smooth, i’d have to make sure that at every frame in the animation there was a new image. This meant creating the ‘Inbetween’ frames. This process involves ‘Onion skinning’; looking at the frame before and after the current frame and drawing the image that would come between them.

Here’s the final layout of rough frames:

The ship sequence is just over 2 seconds long, so lets call it 50 frames, or 50 individual images.

Once the motion looked right, I had to trace all the rough frames with the final art, and make any additional motion changes that looked wrong with the more detailed imagery.

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Animation frame of the SinnerStar showing the ‘Onion Skin’ of the previous frame, and the next frame.

Then each frame needed to be coloured, and shaded (for that dramatic 80’s intro splash!). Once this section was done, I immediately went on to the next scene.

Here’s the final animation for the ship:

80’s and 90’s cartoons tended to have a role call at the beginning of the show; a quick look at all the characters you’ll be following. This seemed like the logical next scene.

I followed the same process as with the ship to create the motion guides for the characters, but this time leaving the motion rough before creating the final art. This is because the characters move far less, and are far less complex to draw than the ship!

The motion guides for the character animation were very simple, as seen below:


Each character movement is 20 – 24 frames long, and they all overlap by 9 frames. Basically this was to make sure that as one character was leaving, another was appearing.

The final character we see is Bastard Galaxia himself.

My original idea for his reveal was to have him sat in his throne and bringing him towards the screen in the same way as the other characters before we finally settle on him…

I worked up a quick rough version of it before quickly scrapping it. It didn’t seem to have enough impact! He was being given less motion than the other characters, and he’s the protagonist. I decided to try something different, and by utilising Galaxia’s cape, I could create a transition to the character that was far more exciting, far more fluid, and of course far more work…

But it was worth it.

Galaxia’s flashy intro gives him precedence over is subordinates!

His motion was the most work, but also fairly easy to rough out as a lot of the transition would be the black screen revealing him, so there was actually less to do in some of his opening frames.

Here’s a comparison of Galaxia’s rough layout, and the final motion:

Galaxia himself comes in with 33 frames of animation, followed by a further 26 just to create the static effect from his staff.

Finally, the title was drawn, and using the ‘Onion skin’ technique I transformed the lightning blast into the text, followed by the text transforming into a skull, before finally bringing the skull towards the screen and through the mouth as a way to fade to black.

After making a couple of space backdrops, finding some appropriate music and adding some simple sound effects the animation was finished.

The intro in full can be seen below. I’d recommend turning your speakers up or plugging in some headphones for the true Saturday Morning feeling:

Overall I’m very happy with the final product! It’s got the Saturday Morning cartoon feel, and its accurate to the source material!

If you’d like some traditional animation, or indeed any other type of animation from us, get in touch and we’ll put together a quote for you.

Alternatively if you’re nostalgic for the toys and cartoons of yesteryear, why not have a look at the comic? It’s totally free and you might even get a laugh out of it…

Only one way to find out right? Check out

Steve Gregson

Posted by: Steve Gregson

Posted in: Animation
Animator, Illustrator, Indie Comic Writer/Artist, retro game fan.