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Rotoscoping is the process of drawing animation over live-action film.

Max and Dave Fleischer invented the process in 1915 to animate Koko the Clown of their Out of the Inkwell series, and later used it to animate Cab Calloway's dancing in three Betty Boop shorts, but the most famous Fleischer rotoscoping was done in the studio's Superman Theatrical Cartoons.

Disney Studios had used rotoscoping from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (explaining the slightly different art style of said characters) all the way to 101 Dalmatians.

Rotoscoping has been used lightly (to create realistic movements for otherwise stylized characters) and heavily (nearly tracing an entire actor's movements, form, and facial expressions). The downside of heavy rotoscoping is that the animated actors tend to teeter on the edge of the Unintentional Uncanny Valley.

More recently, computer technology has created new life for rotoscoping as a medium, allowing for much greater detail and smoother movement. Fully computer-generated characters are Serkis Folk, much like fully animated characters give it the Roger Rabbit Effect.

However, rotoscoping has a bad reputation among the animation community, including men such as Richard Williams, Milt Kahl, Shamus Culhane and John Kricfalusi, being perceived as a lifeless, poor substitute for character animation. Even Ralph Bakshi, a frequent user of it in his feature films, admits that he loathed using it and that it was only used due to his low budgets and inexperienced younger artists. In fact, Max Fleischer himself came to realize the limitations of the very device he created early on, opting for more creative use of character animation instead (although he did make some exceptions).

Compare Motion Capture, which is how computers do it these days. Rotoscoping over CGI, rather than live action, is considered a form of Painted CGI.


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  • The Talk to Chuck ads for Charles Schwab, directed by Bob Sabiston, the developer of the Rotoshop software used on Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly, etc.
  • A series of bumpers for Nickelodeon that was produced by Buck.
  • This unsettling PSA from Safety on the Move's Drinking and Driving Wrecks Lives campaign. A man's haunting, ghostly face stares right into your soul, and recounts how his "great bloke" Mark killed the parents of two children in a drunk driving accident on Christmas.

  • The anime adaptation of The Flowers of Evil has become notorious for ditching the original manga's character designs in favor of using this process to animate the characters. In an interview, Director Hiroshi Nagahama he chose this process over traditional animation because the manga is fairly realistic in the depiction of its themes. He went on saying that he wasn't interested in doing a live action drama either because in those the emphasis is always on the actors and not in the characters. For Nagahama, rotoscoping was the way to go.
  • Trapeze shifts to rotoscoping from time to time, specially during close ups on the characters' faces.
  • Opening sequence of Fela Pure.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion has its moments, specially in End of Evangelion.
  • Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt uses several animation styles, and even rotoscoping very briefly in the episode segment dedicated to Chuck, specifically the scenes from its point of view.
  • The opening to the The Perfect Insider anime includes a few dancing scenes animated in this style.
  • Fujiwara's dance in the ending for episode 3 of Kaguya-sama: Love Is War was rotoscoped, though the animation is done so fluidly that many people mistook it for being CGI.
  • The Case of Hana & Alice is a 2015 prequel to the 2004 live-action film Hana and Alice. All of it is animated using this process to allow the cast to reprise their roles physically without running into an extreme case of Dawson Casting.
  • In Episode 19 of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, a flashback scene of Tanjiro's father doing a kagura dance is rotoscoped.

    Films — Animation 
  • Heavy Metal has several instances of this:
    • The B-17 bomber is entirely rotoscoped from a 10-foot mock-up.
    • Taarna, the title character of the last major story, was rotoscoped from the model Carole Desbiens. This is the only instance of rotoscopy in the film where otherwise scarce time and money was dedicated on cleaning up the outlines.
    • Also, the landscape with its several canyons across which Taarna flies is clearly a result of rotoscopy.
    • Lack of time (the release date was rescheduled, leaving only half as much time to get the film done) actually averted the rotoscopy of the explosion of the astronaut's house at the end. Instead, the raw live-action explosion footage that should have been rotoscoped was included in the final film itself.
  • Ralph Bakshi did extensive rotoscoping; Wizards, The Lord of the Rings, American Pop, Fire & Ice, and Cool World. Bakshi actually hated using rotoscoping, feeling it to be a lazy form of animation, but had to resort to it due to tight budgets and working with inexperienced animators.
  • Don Bluth's Anastasia and Titan A.E., as well as almost every other movie he's done. Every human appearing in The Secret of NIMH and An American Tail are rotoscoped, giving them a stark, realistic contrast to the cartoonish mouse characters.
    • Don Bluth also often did this with certain objects as well, from the tractor in Nimh and the Giant Mouse of Minsk in American Tail, to even the ship in The Pebble and the Penguin!
  • All of Waking Life (digitally, using software called Rotoshop). The "plot," to the degree that there is one, is that the protagonist is trapped in a dream, which the rotoscoping enhances with its surreal quality.
  • A Scanner Darkly, from the same director and producer as Waking Life, used this to good effect.
  • Done in Yellow Submarine for the "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" segment, using old live-action musical footage to striking effect.
  • The song "Sita's Fire" from Sita Sings the Blues, one of the 5 art styles used in the film (though this is only used for one song.)
  • Disney's most well-known use of it was the vehicles in 101 Dalmatians. They built models of the cars and trucks, painted them white with black "outlines" on the edges, shot them in stop-motion in front of a white background, and then photocopied the results directly onto the animation cels. They would continue to use this technique in The Aristocats and The Rescuers, largely using the exact same models.
  • Felix the Cat: The Movie uses this to animate the princess.
  • The little-known, less-seen, and not-entirely-completed masterpiece Happy New Year Planet Earth (never released owing to licensing and contractual issues). A Canadian cross between Heavy Metal and Yellow Submarine set to music by the band Klaatu, it is mostly rotoscoped.
  • Specifically averted in Lilo & Stitch. One of the special features shows the animation process of the opening hula dance scene, in which the animators watched footage of actual dancers and painstakingly animated the movements by hand, as rotoscoping would not have created an appealing performance.
  • An interesting case in The Great Mouse Detective which can be considered the Ur-Example of the Painted CGI style more popular since the late-2010s. The gears inside Big Ben at the start of the climax were done in CGI, but were then traced onto paper by a computer, xeroxed onto cells and painted in. Oliver & Company took the technique even further, using it for all of the films vehicles as well as the New York cityscape, and required the creation of Disney's first in-house computer animation department.
    • Disney revisited the "3D-to-2D" background method a decade later for Tarzan with the Deep Canvas technology, in which the films backgrounds were created in CGI and then digitally painted over by animators to appear hand-drawn. Deep Canvas was later used in Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet, albeit to a lesser extent.
  • Loving Vincent is a film about the death of Vincent van Gogh done in the same style as his paintings. Each frame was an oil painting based on live-action footage projected onto the canvas, allowing the filmmakers to make a film in the same method Van Gogh did his artwork.
  • Disney's The Fox and the Hound has some scenes that were rotoscoped from sketches in order to redo them quickly and cheaply after someone had stolen the original cels.
  • Tower: This film is a documentary feature about the infamous 1966 University of Texas tower shooting. Unlike most documentaries, the bulk of the film, namely all the historical recreations of that day as well as many of the talking heads, are done with rotoscoped animation.
  • Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood: The film uses a style of animating over live-action footage similar to previous Linklater projects such as A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The lightsaber effects in the original Star Wars trilogy. Rotoscoping is still the word you would use to describe the prequel trilogy's lightsabers, but it's the modern computer-aided version. The sequel trilogy (as shown in some behind the scenes photos of The Force Awakens) used prop glowing sticks (similar in look to the Force FX lightsaber toys), with some digital enhancements to it.
  • Used in Return to Oz to make the ruby slippers sparkle.
  • Used as a transitional device in The Charge of the Light Brigade between the animated sequences created by Richard Williams and the live action shots. The animated sequences themselves, despite the hyper-detailed designs, used no rotoscoping.
  • The seagulls flying over the burning gas station on The Birds were actually shot at a Cliffside in Spain. Rotoscoping was used to mask out the sea and cliff, leaving only the birds.
  • The book the Library Ghost is reading in Ghostbusters. When the effects team optically processed her into the filmed footage, the optical-printing also processed her book, which, being a real object, had to be a harder image than the ghost. It's done so well that the pages seem to have a little bit of telltale grain.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • Animation has been used to restore some of the missing episodes for DVD release. The animators sometimes use rotoscoping to remain faithful to the few short bits of footage that survive, with the regeneration scene from part four of "The Tenth Planet" being a good example.
    • The first reanimation project, The Invasion, does this with footage of one of the animators running through their offices in a baggy coat, for shots of the Second Doctor running in long shot.
    • "Day of the Daleks: Special Edition" and a few other special-edition titles make use of rotoscoping when certain effects have to be replaced.
  • In The Invaders (1967) rotoscoping was used to add the red glow over dying and incinerating aliens.

    Music Videos 

    Video Games 
  • The original Prince of Persia and its sequel.
    • And before that, it was in Karateka, developed by the same guy behind PoP.
  • Another World, also known as Out of This World
  • Flashback, from the same developers.
  • Smoking Car Productions's The Last Express (by the same developer as Prince of Persia).
  • A few SNK fighters, most famously Art of Fighting 3.
    • SNK is using a similar technique for The King of Fighters XII and XIII. Instead of live action, the animation is drawn over CG models. Arc System Works did similarly for BlazBlue (however the methods differ as BlazBlue characters are animated using cel-based animation whilst the two HD King of Fighters games use traditional dot art animation).
  • Elena's animations look a little different from the rest of the Street Fighter III cast, largely because all of her animation was rotoscoped. This was probably done because capoeira may have been too daunting for the artists to hand animate convincingly.
  • The Just Dance games.
  • The kiss scene between Blair and Angel in Wing Commander II was rotoscoped, with series creator Chris Roberts providing the basis for Blair's body.note 
  • Rotoscoping animated the characters in Project Firestart.
  • When the animators of Star Wars: Dark Forces had difficulty animating Darth Vader, they had C. Andrew Nelson (who had suited up as Vader for commercials, print ads, etc) perform the actions that they wanted the Dark Lord to do. The animators then used rotoscoping to match the already drawn cutscenes.
  • FAITH: The Unholy Trinity features rotoscoping to intentionally terrifying results. While the game usually uses very primitive animations similar to early video, during cutscenes the characters are represented by jarringly life-like rotoscoping. Combined with the primitive text to speech, FAITH burrows its entire experience deep into the Uncanny Valley.

    Visual Novels 
  • Hotel Dusk: Room 215 and its sequel, Last Window. Actors and actresses are brought in, and they are filmed performing various movements. The most essential "frames" of their movements are then drawn over and spliced together to create the grainy, film-noir novel style. You can watch the "behind the scenes" video here.

    Web Original 
  • Most MikuMikuDance motion data files available on the internet are this, being choreographies traced from videos of real dancers for use in making music videos.

    Web Videos 
  • Freshy Kanal: "Robin Hood vs. Guy Fawkes" starts off with several traced drawings of each rappers, mostly Robin as he gets the first verse, before a Robin Hood drawing in a wanted poster cleanly shifts into his live-action self.

    Western Animation 
  • Walter Lantz used this in at least two of his shorts; the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit short "Merry Old Soul" and the oneshot cartoon "Just a Jitterbug".
  • French/Canadian co-production Delta State is the first animated television series to be entirely rotoscoped, taking over 27 months to complete. This gives the show an... interesting look, to say the least.
  • Filmation did this to get stock footage for all its animated series: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983), Blackstar, and The New Adventures of Flash Gordon.
    • Filmation's Star Trek: The Animated Series used rotoscoping in an interesting way: the footage of the USS Enterprise, used in establishing shots (and the title sequence), was achieved by taking the actual footage used in the original 1960s live action series, and then painstakingly recreating it in animation, frame-by-frame. They hold up pretty well.
  • This video pretty clearly uses rotoscoping, although you may not notice it in the face of Mormon Jeezus.
  • Disney used rotoscoping in the Goofy cartoon "Baggage Buster", making him look way more earthbound than his usual loose, lanky self.
  • Out of the Inkwell invented this trope and used it to animate Koko, but it was quickly discarded.
  • The classic Fleischer Superman cartoons used very good rotoscoping for the main characters, thanks to their lavish budget.
  • Gulliver's Travels (also by Fleischer) used this with the title character.
  • Another Fleischer's feature-length cartoon, Mr. Bug Goes to Town, does this with human characters (who, however, appear very little).
  • Some Looney Tunes shorts used this; a few notable examples are in the climax of "Daffy The Commando" the climax scene of Hitler giving his speech, and in "Hollywood Steps Out" with some of the dancing celebrities.
    • The 1990 short "Box Office Bunny" uses it when Bugs, Daffy and Elmer dance a rap tune on a bubblegum-stained floor.
    • In 1967, Warner Bros. had merged with Seven Arts which had acquired the TV rights to the black-and-white Looney Tunes shorts (excluding the Harman-Ising Merrie Melodies) after Guild Films went bankrupt. Guild had previously acquired those rights from W-B subsidiary Sunset Productions. After the merger, W-B had 75 of those cartoons shipped to Korea to be rotoscoped – redrawn and painted in color. The tight deadlines and low budgets (all done on 6-field cels) rendered these color versions sloppy and unattractive.
    • The same thing was done in 1986 with the Fleischer black-and-white Popeye cartoons by Turner Entertainment, their copyright owner at the time.
    • The 1939 Porky Pig cartoon "Old Glory" uses rotoscoping handsomely in the scenes of America's gestation. Contrary to belief, the animation of Uncle Sam talking to Porky was not rotoscoped. Robert McKimson meticulously animated him himself.
  • The animation of Josie and the Pussycats performing in the opening of their 1970 Hanna-Barbera cartoon was rotoscoped.
  • Family Guy uses this on occasion, usually for complex dance sequences (such as the Jitterbug song "Jungle Love" and Peter performing "Ray of Light" in "New Kidney In Town")
    • Averted in the Star Wars spoofs. Many of the shots from the films were authentically recreated and the quality caused many fans to believe it was rotoscoped.
  • The Simpsons used it for a syndication promo that inserted them into classic movie scenes. It's pretty obvious in the part parodying Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
  • The notorious short cartoon The Magic of Oz has rotoscoping in one shot. Of Dorothy bending down. Given how poor the animation is, it's believable that they couldn't animate a character bending down, but it's quickly clear that they didn't know how to rotoscope properly either.
  • In the MGM Oneshot Cartoons short "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" the animation of Goldilocks is done with this technique.
  • The Captain and the Kids cartoon "Petunia Natural Park" starts with the MGM logo featuring an animated version of Jackie the Lion done with this technique.
  • Light rotoscoping was used on the Peanuts specials She’s a Good Skate, Charlie Brown and It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown for the skating scenes in the former and dancing in the latter. The footage wasn't "traced" as with typical rotoscoping, but reinterpreted for the characters' exaggerated proportions. (Fun fact: Charles Schultz's daughter Jill performed reference for both specials.)
  • 1974 short Fuji mixes this with Medium Blending, as the cartoon shows the live action film of the people on a train, shows the Rotoscoping animation of the people on the train, and later shows one superimposed on the other so the both are visible.
  • Undone: The series is animated in this style.
  • The Liberator: uses rotoscoping to decisively avert the invokedAnimation Age Ghetto. It overlays rotoscoped animation on live actors to tell a story-for-adults about an American infantry battalion fighting its way through Italy and France to Germany, with lots of realistic bloody violence.


Video Example(s):


Giant Mouse of Minsk

Drawing inspiration from the story Papa Mousekawitz told Fievel, the mice build a 'secwet weapon': a machine, based on the legendary Giant Mouse of Minsk, to frighten Warren T. and his gang of cats out of America.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheLegendOfChekhov

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