Rotoscopy – Then and Now

Apr 27, 2015 | Film VFX | 0 comments


Breathing life into inanimate objects is not easy. But when it is done, the results are marvelous and captivating. Rotoscopy is one such trick that leaves you captivated. Let’s take a walk through time with an eye on what rotoscopy started as and where it has come to!

Out of the Inkwell

The first time the world saw the miracle of rotoscopy was when Max Fleischer brought forward Out of the Inkwell in 1915 in the making of the main character Koko the clown. This technique was later used in many of his other cartoons like Betty Boob and Gulliver’s travels.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

But the very first time, we saw the extensive use of rotoscopy was way back in the 1930’s in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with most of the scenes involving Snow White, Prince Charming and the Evil Queen. The Evil Queen’s sequence was initially shot in live action and then converted in animation using rotoscopy. It highlighted realistic gesticulation, expressions, costumes and hair movements. The downside of it is that it fails to bring up a photo-realistic animation effect. A few scenes may have left us hoping for better but the movie was the first step to an all new trend in movie making! Many followed later.

It wasn’t just animated movies that saw the use of rotoscopy though. Even music videos started using the technique to create more captivating videos and a few even won awards for them!

A-Ha‘s- Take on Me

A-Ha Take on Me exclusive video with rotoscoping effect earned them six MTV Video Music Awards in 1986. The whole video runs on live action scenes with pencil sketched animation. It took about 3,000 frames of live action video and more than 16 weeks to wrap up the whole video. The entire motion picture ran on special effects throughout.

Dire Straits- Money for Nothing

This music video was awarded the Video of the Year in 1986. It showcased traditional computer animation. We get to see a live feed of the rotoscoped animation clad in neon colors and light emanating from the front singer’s head and an invisible man with the guitar.

INXS- What You Need

What you Need video by INXS had a visually enticing rotoscoped concept and also earned them the Best Video Award at Australia’s ‘Countdown Music and Video Awards. It was used for adding animation and color effects.

This back in the 1900’s though. Here is a peak at the first few steps taken in 2000’s! Two cases of the rotoscope effect in modern times are Walking Life in 2001 and A Scanner Darkly in 2005. Both these films depict the rotoscope effect clearly and not to forget the amazing use of rotoscopy.

Waking Life

The movie does not fit into the stereotypical genre and is rather unusual. Most of the scenes are pretty disjointed. It presents a man travelling through a fantasy like world. The unearthly scenes in the movie are further enhanced with the rotoscopic effect and add more meaning to the movie.

A Scanner Darkly

This sci-fi movie is quite strange and unusual. It presents a dystopic future. The whole alien-esque feel of the movie is enhanced by the rotoscopic effect.  The detailing work is highly appreciable as even the edges between frames are done with finesse and help the film to attain remarkable stylistic heights.

Rotoscoping have evolved further over the years. Now it can be referred to generate a matte for better visualization on live action footage, and to composite it on a different backdrop to make use of in a movie. You never know if a movie was actually shot on location or on a green screen anymore!

Toolbox Studio