Imagine watching a sequence of live-action images, a movie sequence, or character movements and wondering:
“How can I make this animation?”
The answer to this question would be: with the art of rotoscopy.
Rotocopy allows any videotaped object or character to be used as the basis for an animated character.
In this process, the main frames of the video are drawn by hand or by computer to reproduce the natural movement of the character.
But that is not all. To address its definition, we invite you to explore this comprehensive summary and course guide on rotoscopy animation to understand all about the technique.
Now let’s get started.
- 1 What is rotoscopy?
- 2 Why is rotoscopy so important?
- 3 Who created the rotoscopy technique?
- 4 When was this technique first used?
- 5 How was rotoscopy used before the digital age?
- 6 Who was interested in the expiration of the patent for rotoscopy?
- 7 Is rotoscopy still used today?
- 8 What films have used the rotoscopy technique?
- 9 Why is rotoscopy the process every broken VFX artist should learn?
- 10 The best rotoscopy software for your animation project
- 11 Conclution
What is rotoscopy?
As we said, rotoscopy is the technique that animators use to create realistic movements. In principle, it helps to add more life to animated actions, characters and objects, as they were designed from live image sequences.
The technique dates back to the early days of cinema, when animators drew sequences of live-action images projected frame by frame on paper, either to be used as a reference for movement or to be copied directly into work.
Why is rotoscopy so important?
In simpler terms, imagine that you trace or draw a shape around an object in a live captured frame, cut and paste it into another frame, or add it to it to make necessary changes.
Filmmakers could create a silhouette by tracing an object, which serves to extract the purpose of a scene for use in exclusive backgrounds.
In other words, it can be said that rotoscopy animation has allowed the evolution of visual effects in any recording process that uses movements.
Over the years, computers and software have replaced the manual process. Currently, the process involves the use of automatic techniques and software functions such as matting, masking, painting, motion tracking, snapping, and compositing, which are considered after-effects in Visual Effects (VFX).
Rotoscopy is a great way to get started in motion design, as motions can be incorporated quickly, without having prior knowledge of all the principles of animation.
Who created the rotoscopy technique?
Photo: Max Fleischer, creator of the first cartoons
The Polish-American animator, director and inventor, Max Fleischer, was the creator of rotoscopy technology, which he patented in 1915.
Back then, it was known as the “Stereoptic Process” and was exclusively used by Max Fleischer. To give you an idea, it took this animator three years to make his invention a popular technique.
When was this technique first used?
Max Fleischer used rotoscopy in his animated series Out of the Inkwell (1918-1927), noted for being the first rotoscopic animation.
The pioneering work was developed to demonstrate the invention of the rotoscopy technique, with the famous animated character Koko the Clown, modeled by his younger brother Dave Fleischer.
In addition to Koko, Fleischer Studios used the technique for other animated characters, such as Popeye (1933) and Gulliver’s Travels (1939).
How was rotoscopy used before the digital age?
The history of rotoscopy and large film studios begins in the 1930s, more specifically in 1934, when Fleischer’s patent and exclusive use of it expired, and other animators and studios used rotoscopy without restrictions.
Who was interested in the expiration of the patent for rotoscopy?
Walter Elias Disney, yes, Walt Disney.
Disney adopted the rotoscopy technique, but he used it somewhat differently. Rather than tracing over footage already filmed, Disney filmed live-action footage sequences as a reference for character movements.
This new technique was first used in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1938 and continued to be used in all subsequent figures.
To produce Alice in Wonderland, in 1951, Disney had to use rotoscopy for body movement, mouth and face gestures.
Fun fact: Walt Disney and Max Fleischer became best friends.
Photo: Max Fleischer (center) visits Walt Disney. On the right is Fleischer’s son Richard, a film producer.
Is rotoscopy still used today?
As we mentioned, before the digital age, rotoscopy was more traditional and time-consuming, since it was done manually.
Today, with the use of automated software, it is possible to imagine how complicated the rotoscopy process used to be.
But, answering the question of the topic, yes, this technique is still widely used today, and in some big blockbusters, such as Planet of the Apes and Guardians of the Galaxy.
Do you want to know what other famous movies used this technique?
So, take a look at the next topic.
What films have used the rotoscopy technique?
Countless movies have used the rotoscopy technique since it was invented by Fleischer. But here we bring a list of popular movies that you may have seen that used this revolutionary technique:
- Star Wars applied the technique to create a glow in the legendary lightsabers, which were nothing more than wooden sticks and swords that actors held in real scenes.
- The Lord of the Rings used rotoscopy to bring the iconic character of Gollum to life.
- In Mary Poppins it was used to remove a lot of objects when the actress was flying across the stage.
- In Planet of the Apes they implemented it to create the movements of the apes.
- Guardians of the Galaxy used it to create the character of Groot.
Why is rotoscopy the process every broken VFX artist should learn?
As we have seen, rotoscopy is an important process for image management. Animation professionals have recognized the importance of adapting to new technologies, and today the technique is essential for film studios, production companies or any company that is dedicated to film production.
Rotoscopy is a relevant art of physical animation for motion graphics, live images, and realistic visual graphics.
The best rotoscopy software for your animation project
If you are just beginning to learn the technique of rotoscopy and want to use it effectively, the right rotoscopy software will be your best friend and your most important resource.
Now what is the best rotoscopy software to start with?
Adobe After Effects CS3
As one of the leading rotoscopy programs, After Effects offers everything you need to make an animated or VFX version of a movie scene. By allowing it to clip objects easily, you can do just about anything from adding rain to a scene to creating an animated logo or imaginary character.
After Effects also comes with some incredibly useful advanced features for text, which will come in handy. With these functions you can create credits or animated titles, and if that were not enough, After Effects allows you to animate almost anything with the use of expressions or keyframes.
This Academy Award-winning software is best known for its ripping and painting functionality. The program brings a complete composition system and a 2D non-destructive painting system that users never get tired of.
Why is Silhouette FX so cool? Because it allows you to restore, remove dust, cables and equipment from scenes quickly and efficiently. Plus, you get a unique set of channel building tools and a proprietary matte removal technique that can remove virtually any object from an image with the push of a button.
Do you love the dragon scenes in Game of Thrones?
You’ll want to take a look at NUKE’s node-based visual effects and digital compositing app used by studios like Walt Disney, DreamWorks Animation, Sony Pictures, Netflix, and many more.
This Oscar-winning software for Technical Achievement stands out for its set of composition tools that includes a rotoscope, keyers, color corrector, vector painting, and more. Additionally, Nuke is packed with compelling editorial and review features, GPU acceleration, and workflow capabilities.
This software allows 3D tracking and model building for your project. It’s no wonder Netflix uses this app for Netflix Originals.
Fusion is widely used in 3D animation, movie graphics design, and broadcasting. This program was explicitly developed for visual effects artists as one of the world’s leading songwriting programs.
This software has been used for more than 30 years, on television shows, Hollywood blockbusters, and other media. Users love its robust interface, which makes it easy to create effects.
Fusion gives you all the tools you need to get the job done right if you want to create amazing titles and broadcast graphics visuals. An added bonus is that this software offers support for all VR headsets on the market and also provides live viewing so you can see everything in real time, making it easy to create stunning animations.
This Oscar-winning software provides an effective solution for visual effects and post-production. Mocha offers a GPU object remover for fast rendering, a new toolkit with loads of features, and a freehand spline for faster time to market.
Mocha has acted recently alized its user interface to make it more intuitive, thus making it easier for users to understand how it works. Now this program includes 360 mono / stereoscopic effects, planar tracking, and advanced impact tools.
Natron is an efficient software that offers a set of flexible rotoscopy and roto-painting tools that generates unlimited masks, mattes, and shape layers. It features an intuitive user interface that streamlines the entire creative process. This free and open source node-based software influenced by compositing software, such as Nuke and After Effects.
One of the best features of Natron is its 2D and planar tracker, which helps reduce the hours of the rotoscopy process so you can get the job done more efficiently.
Softimage software is a high-performance visual effects application that is best known for producing 3D computer graphics, 3D modeling, and computer animation.
The program includes intuitive, non-destructive workflows and innovative tools designed to help artists create high-quality visual effects with ease. Softimage has been used to create special effects for well-known movies, such as Jurassic Park, Terminator, and Titanic.
Every new visual artist, from animators to YouTubers to new filmmakers, professional or otherwise, is embracing the art of rotoscopy as a vital tool for VFX.
There are a variety of resources and software applications to get started, aside from the main ones we’ve outlined above.
So if you want to learn how to do rotoscopy or any other animation technique, take a look at our catalog of Art and Design courses.