Rotoscoping In Animation

If you’re a fan of the movies Star Wars, Guardians of The Galaxy, TRON, The Lord of The Rings, and A Scanner Darkly, then you need to know more about Rotoscoping.

What Is Rotoscope Animation?

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By definition “Rotoscope or roto animation describes the process of creating animated sequences by tracing over live-action footage frame by frame. Though it can be time-consuming, rotoscoping allows animators to create lifelike characters who move just like people in the real world” – thanks to the world wide web for easy access to information about this. The purpose is to generate a realistic action. Before they used glass panels to trace over the image and nowadays it can be done on computers.

According to Wikipedia – “Rotoscope is a device consisting of a film projector and easel used to achieve realistic movement for animated cartoons. The rotoscope projected motion picture film through an opening in the easel, covered by a glass pane serving as a drawing surface. The image on the projected film was traced onto paper, advancing the film one frame at a time as each drawing was made”. 

Here is the sample of rotoscoping

Amazing animation by Anthony Gentles

Who Created Rotoscoping?

An American Animator, inventor, film director, and producer, studio founder, and owner born on July 19, 1883, and died on September 25, 1972, created rotoscoping in the year 1915. He wanted a realistic character movement that will make better animations. The technique was first used in his major animated series- Out Of The Inkwell from 1918 to 1927. The known character “Koko the Clown” the main protagonist was made out of 2,500 drawings and was designed for a year. Dave Fleischer, the younger brother of Max who was working as a clown at Coney Island was the model for the first famous character, Koko the Clown.

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Other Studios That Use(d) Rotoscoping:

1. The Walt Disney Company

The rotoscoping technique was solely used by the Fleischer studios up until 1934. The technique became the most useful tool and the greatest revolutionary technique discovery in animation history that even the Walt Disney Company popularly known as Disney, decided to adapt and enhanced it when the patent expired.

2. Warner Bros. Cartoons Studio

Leon Schlesinger Productions, founded by an American film producer, Leon Schlesinger. The company was later changed to Warner Bros. Cartoons studio. Popular animations produced were Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies.

3. Bakshi Productions

Founded by Ralph Bakshi, an American director of animated and live-action films who was born on October 29, 1938. Some of his famous works were Wizards (1977), The Lord of the Rings (1978), American Pop (1981), and Five and Ice (1983). He also produced the series Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures, which was aired for two years

4. Bob Sabiston

An American animator and computer scientist veteran of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

(MIT) Media Lab developed a computer-assisted “interpolated rotoscoping” process in 1997. A process wherein a computer algorithm is used instead of the glass panel. He applied the advanced technique to his short movie “Snack & Drink” which won several film festival awards. The famous movie wherein he was hired as head of the animation directed by Richard Linklater, was “A Scanner Darkly”, main casts featured in this film were Keanu Reeves who became popular in the movie John Wick, the famous Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr, Woody Harrelson, and Winona Ryder.

Why use Rotoscoping?

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Rotoscoping is one of the oldest animation techniques in history and it still plays a vital role in creating a realistic live-action-footage that is dangerous or expensive. Rotoscoping in visual effects or VFX Rotoscoping can come in handy but most of the Roto artists hate the technique for it is very tedious and time-consuming. It takes many hours in tracing over the footage to create a mask to sort all the elements and separate it from unwanted shots. However, green screen technology can create shortcuts, this technique is usually used in news and weather reports but not all shots can be solved by it that’s why animators rely on rotoscoping in creating a perfect masterpiece.

“Great things never came from comfort zones.” – Neil Strauss

A great creation has a painful story behind it, the sleepless nights, the pressure of creating new ideas, the challenges encountered along the way, and sometimes it can even ruin a roto artist’s relationships. The sacrifices made by the artists may be concealed in a perfect animated film, but they’ll always be part of the narrative that only animators can understand.

Rotoscoping in animation may sound like an enormous amount of work and a great pain in the ass (sorry for that word) but the outcome is magical. One single character can consume a lifetime of works and can drain all the patience left but looking at the eyes of the viewers and the joy that it brings to them, to the animators, those are priceless and all the sufferings are worth it.