‘Rotoscoping’ is the process of frame-by-frame tracing of recorded movements of actual humans or events. It involves drawing and painting on and manipulating video or photo sequences to produce animated frames.
This can be done using natural media on tracing paper or cinema film or digitally in any professional 2D animation software.
Rotoscoping is not an easy option to avoid drawing freehand. Producing dramatic animation requires in-depth understanding of keyframing and movement to select the frames, and good drawing/painting skills to select and reproduce elements on each frame. Drawing mechanically on top of photographs and video produces robotic and uninteresting animation – unless that is the effect required.
– rotoscoping limits possibilities for creating imagined worlds and narrative
– real actors and objects do not have line, so tracing often results in lines being too prominent and sharp, too flaccid or too stiff.
But it is possible to produce very beautiful work this way that also plays on distinctions between fantasy and reality. With good drawing skills and an understanding of ‘boil’, keyframes and dramatic abstraction, different degrees of replication and fidelity of line and/or shape can original produce a range of effects from mechanical to chaotic.
Visual experiments January 2021
1: Rotoscope as Reference: Mary’s Story, Uganda: Cow Walk
2: Rotoscope as line animation and Effects: Pig Tales, West Bengal
3: Rotoscope as impression: Airplane, Pakistan
History of rotoscoping
Rotoscoping was developed in 1915 by animator Max Fleisher who used this technique as a way to create a seemingly more ‘realistic’ (or photorealistic) style of movement. Disney and other studios used this technique as one way of enhancing ‘realism’ in animation through the mimicry of live action.
The first software to do digital interpolated rotoscoping, ‘Rotoshop Software’, was developed by computer scientist Bob Sabiston in the 90’s which he used to make his film “ Snack and Drink ”. Subsequently this software was used by director Richard Linklater for the production of his feature films Waking Life (2001) and Scanner Darkly (2006).
Digital rotoscoping: Filmed or live media are used as a reference point for the creation of digital animated movement: motion capture, interpolated rotoscoping, mattes and frame by frame rotoscoping.
Motion capture: Uses live actors and the signals of their movement is interpreted by a computer.
Mattes/Masks/Stencils: Similar to motion capture but uses two dimensional sources to create a silhouette (called a matte) that can be used to extract that object’s shape from a scene for use on a different background. This extraction is often aided by green screen technology, motion-tracking and/or digital onion-skinning. Then images are composited in layers these in much the same way as a stencil or cut out shape would work in analogue collage/layering. Digital rotoscoping plays a large role in the production of visual effects and animation.
Interpolated Rotoscoping: the digital equivalent to the pose-to-pose approach. The animator sets a particular style, line weight and colour. They then link key drawings to anchor points in the source footage. The computer then ‘interpolates’ all the in-between movements according to the action on screen.
Digital Frame By Frame Rotoscoping does the in-betweens by hand – either in physical or digital media. Each frame of the video footage is drawn or painted over, one by one. Done digitally the technique requires import of the source video, but can be done in most professional animation programmes. In physical media every source frame is printed out and manipulated before being rescanned and played in sequential order.
Rotoscoping for reference: Experiment 1, The Cow, Uganda
7 Woman gets a cow
Rotoscoping as animation: Experiment 2: Pig Fight, India
Rotoscope Pig Fight
Rotoscoping over an edited version of the Kadiri pig fight video in TVPaint. These are not so successful and not as dynamic as I would like them to be.
The line drawing would be better as a gesture drawing from live video. The coloured version would be more interesting painting into that digitally or on acetate using printouts from the line animation as underguide.