Retro Computer Graphics

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

In the original BBC television series the Hitchhikers guide book excerpts were animated to look like computer graphics. The ‘computer graphics’ were actually done by hand – using back-lit images under a rostrum camera. Rod Lord designed and directed the hitchhikers guide animation sequences. Pencil drawings were made which were traced on to clear acetate animation cells – which were turned into photographic negatives in a black room. This was then photographed with the rostrum camera frame by frame. The text transitions was done by putting a piece of black card in front of it and moving it to reveal the text bit by bit. Rod Lord actually won a Bafta for the animation he made for the show!

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is a comedy science fiction series created by the legendary Douglas Adams originally as a radio series – but has been adapted into a tv series and a more recent movie. I will be looking at the original BBC television series animations.

The Hitchhikers guide book was narrated by Peter Jones, and the audible explanation was the main information, while the illustrated graphics were adding additional bits of information for the audience to take in, from perhaps multiple viewing – so the animations gave the viewer something extra upon rewatching the show.

The narration has been turned way down in the above video – leaving all the other sound effects and the music. Almost every movement in the animation has some form of sounds accompanying it.

  • Electronic synth music creates a calm futuristic feel to the animation.
  • The text appears to a regular beeping noise
  • When things wipe onto and off the screen there is a regular sound
  • Something crumbles and there is a crashing sound
  • Some triangles appear to drum beats

It all ends up being really peaceful and has a hypnotic quality to it which I really like.

Below are some proper animation clips from the show.

The animation is really colourful. Objects are (mostly) drawn with one colour. Text appearing on screen features heavily, as it’s a guide to the galaxy and has a lot of information in it – some is the script read by the narrator, but some is extra information.

Transitions are really important in the films. Things appearing on screen and disappearing from it are often wiped away – accompanied by a sound effect. This is really great creating this visual layering effect as things appear on the left and then the right and then disappear on the left and things move around the screen – so it’s never still for very long. Looped animations are also used to keep things visually interesting while they are being talked about.


Asteroids was a video game released in 1979 by Atari when arcade machines were popular. The design could not be much simpler. Outlines of the objects are made with a single-width white line on a black background.

Space Invaders

Space Invaders was created in 1978, and has a similar rudimentary design to Asteroids – although with some colour! Green! The aliens that are invading are really iconic and could inform the way I design the drones that fly around in the background ensuring nobody steps out of line.

Both the above games feature things which represent your doom inevitably marching steadily towards you with the only purpose of killing you. Similarly my character is moving steadily towards his doom throughout my story – without even realising it (because he’s brainwashed) and just so happens to survive to fight another day – for it to inevitably happen again.

Maybe in the apartment building he could pass by a room on fire (the sound) like the rooms automatically burn everything in them to a crisp – the hardware could be clear to see in Pinkguy’s room – but the audience wont know what it is (just worldbuilding, creating interest).


Pacman came wakka wakka woo wooing out in 1980. When I think about arcade classics, Pacman is probably the first one I think about fondly – it’s stills a fun challenging game.

Pacman Colours:

  • Blue
  • Yellow
  • White
  • Red
  • Pink
  • Orange
  • Light blue

But NO green! I wonder if they specifically wanted to steer clear of that dated look and show they were capable of more and are new and improved to create more interest from gamers.

There are yet more parallels between my idea and the gaming world I grew up with. The game is set in a maze – like my character who is trapped in his world like being in a maze – except there is no clear way out – which is precisely like Pacman, there is always another maze. Even though they jump through these hoops with hopes of escape, they are merely reset and subjected to more of the same punishment – until they are killed!


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