Nov 29, 2011

TREND | Rotoscope

Max Fleischer: Inventor of Rotoscoping

Rotoscoping is having a come-back. This old style of animation is quickly becoming the latest do-it-yourself way to make animations without resorting to computer programs such as Adobe Flash. The process seems simple. The most common technique is making a film, converting the film to stills, redrawing the stills, plug the stills into a simple movie making program and bingo-animation! For a truly flawless, high quality animation however, the steps are a little more complicated than that, not to mention time consuming.
Rotoscoping, created by Max Fleischer, is the process of drawing on top of live action film, frame by frame. Rotoscoping was used until the 1990's, when it was replaced by computer graphics. Because Rotoscoping is considered obsolete, specific techniques are highly guarded, passed down from Teacher to Student. There is a program called Rotoshop that uses a process called Interpolated Rotoscoping. Interpolated Rotoscoping is the process of drawing key frames and having the computer draw in movements between these frames. These programs, with the exception of Adobe Flash, are not for sale. Techniques vary from University to Art Schools, everyone having their own unique styles and tricks of the trade. There are many reasons why an artist chooses to utilize rotoscope. The biggest reasons are: a) rotoscope offers a more realistic, lifelike movement to animations and b) rotoscope allows the artist to be very "hands on" during the whole process.
Joey Fauerso, still from "WideOpenWide", 2006

Joey Fauerso, a San Antonio based artist, utilizes rotoscoping in her hand painted animations. 
My process involves videotaping my subjects, breaking down the video into an image sequence, making paintings from that sequence, and finally reanimating and altering the paintings into a second video.  The animations are the result of the original video footage being “filtered” through an extremely slow and subjective process that mirrors the physicality of painting, as well as the physical and psychological complexities of my subjects’ performances.

Richard Linklater, "A Scanner Darkly", 2006
Richard Linklater, an Austin based filmmaker, utilizes interpolated rotoscoping in his movies "Waking Life" and "A Scanner Darkly". No filters were used in the making of these films. The Animators for "A Scanner Darkly" broke the film down frame by frame and colored on top of the stills using the program Rotoshop. Everything was "hand" drawn and colored resulting in a fluid, loose animation. Thus the film avoided the stiff, robotic style associated with computer animations. "Waking Life" and "A Scanner Darkly" represented a breakthrough in Rotoscoping technology and paved the way for Rotoscope's comeback.
Erica Kobren, still from "Oneironaut", 2009
Erica Kobren is a recent graduate of the School of Visual Arts (SVA). For her thesis show, Erica Kobren made the animated short Oneironaut. Erica Kobren made a live action film, broke the film down into frames, hand drew on top of the frames in Photoshop and finalized her film in Adobe After Effects. Erica Kobren best represents the ability to: a) make an excellent rotoscope film by herself and b) marry the concepts of using both hand drawings and computer programs.

All three artists, although using slightly different media, all achieve the same organic feel to their animations. Thanks to "A Scanner Darkly", rotoscope is becoming more popular as an alternative to the flat, choppy feel of Flash animation or the expensive difficulties associated with Computer Animation. Although rotoscoping is very time consuming, learning the basic process is all the groundwork a person needs to self-teach this type of animation. The rotoscoping process is the most easily accessible due to the ever increasing abundance of technology. A person does not require an animation degree for this type of work, although a knowledge of computer programs certainly help make the process faster. All a person really needs a good camera, a simple movie making program to run the stills through, and a lot of patience. Although computer animations are a fast way to produce film, nothing compares to the organic, human-like fluidity Rotoscope offers.

-Serena Rangel


  1. I am still in disbelief that the film "A Scanner Darkly" is done entirely through rotoscoping technique. When I first watched the movie I was satisfied with the thought that maybe a handful of people came up with a filter and simply laid it over the film. But being called out on my ignorance as well as being educated on a film technique that I knew very little of my horizons have broadened.

    -Liliane Ledesma