What is Rotoscope Animation?

The term “rotoscope animation” refers to a type of animation process that involves tracing over a still photo or moving footage. It’s an old technique that has resurfaced in recent years, with animators using it for a variety of reasons, including speeding up the production process. A rotoscope animation shot is a special effect that replaces actors and live-action footage with an animated version of a photograph or video.

What is Rotoscoping Technique?

 Rotoscoping is an old technique for creating animation from live-action footage. The technique involves drawing a series of still images over live-action footage, which are then placed onto a background track of movement to form a finished animated scene. Rotoscoping is most commonly associated with the early silent film era when artists created scenes by hand that was later composited together. A digital copy of the main actor’s face is created by duplicating the motion of the original actor’s face with computer software, which is then composited onto the original live-action footage. While rotoscoping requires a lot of manual labor, it can be costly, time-consuming, and difficult to achieve a high-quality result. This is because the main actor’s face must be precisely duplicated on the computer, which can be difficult even for an experienced operator.

What is the History of Rotoscope Animation

Rotoscoping in film dates back to the early 20th century when the advent of cinematography necessitated a method to paint over live-action shots of actors to create a more stylized look. In this case, rotoscope animation refers to the use of specialized equipment and a paintbrush to replace or modify specific areas of a scene. The idea behind rotoscoping was for the artist to use their creative abilities to make a particular area of the shot look more interesting or dramatic. From the 1930s, this was a popular animation technique. Max Fleischer invented the rotoscope technique in 1915 and used it in his groundbreaking Out of the Inkwell animated series. On early film credits, it was simply referred to as the “Fleischer Process,” and it was essentially exclusive to Fleischer for several years.


Rotoscoping was a time-consuming and labour-intensive process, so it became a job for people with artistic abilities who could not be hired as animators. Because of the introduction of computer graphics in later years, rotoscope animation became a much simpler process. The animation is created using rotoscoping, which allows for the removal of the background and the placement of an actor against the original background.  For the project, a projectionist is used, and the tracings are then used as a guide on the animation disc to rework the roto tracings.

How Rotoscope Animation is used in Modern Movies?

However, we return to the strange resurgence of rotoscope animation in the early and mid-2000s. Not only do we have films like Waking Life and Scanner Darkly by Linklater, but the art form also found its way into music videos and ad campaigns at the time. However, rotoscope animation, like many other artistic styles that had fallen out of favor for practical reasons, was embraced for its eccentricity. Rotoscope animation is used effectively as a jumping-off point for a new style of artistic expression in films such as Waking Life. And, as a meditative, experimental film about the nature of reality, dreams and lucid dreams, consciousness, the meaning of life, free will, and other existential themes, the art style was used to help the audience disconnect from a standard live-action or animation world. Instead, they could feel liberated in a hybrid style with its own set of rules.

Next Gen Rotoscope Animation Software

 Bob Sabiston, an animator and computer scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, developed a computer-assisted “interpolated rotoscoping” process in the mid-1990s, which he used to create his award-winning short film “Snack and Drink.”Sabiston and his proprietary Rotoscope software were later used by director Richard Linklater in the full-length feature films Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly.  Linklater licensed the same proprietary rotoscoping process for both films’ looks and was the first filmmaker to use it for an entire feature film. Sabiston’s company, The Rotoscope, Inc., was awarded the contract to develop a commercial version of the technology as rotoscoping gained popularity. The software was later licensed to major studios like DreamWorks and Warner Brothers, who used it in several successful animated films.







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