The Colorful Art Of Rotoscoping

Rotoscoping is an animation technique in which animators trace over live-action film movement, frame by frame, for use in animated films. Originally, pre-recorded live-action film images were projected onto a frosted glass panel and re-drawn by an animator. This projection equipment is called a rotoscope, although this device has been replaced by computers and software like Adobe After Effects.


The technique was invented by Max Fleischer, who used it in his series Out of the Inkwell starting around 1915, with his brother Dave Fleischer dressed in a clown outfit as the live-film reference for the character Koko the Clown. Max patented the method in 1917.

Fleischer used rotoscope in a number of his later cartoons as well, most notably the Cab Calloway dance routines in three Betty Boop cartoons from the early 1930s, and the animation of Gulliver in Gulliver’s Travels (1939). The Fleischer studio’s most effective use of rotoscoping was in their series of action-oriented Superman cartoons, in which Superman and the other animated figures displayed very realistic movement.

Walt Disney and his animators employed it carefully and very effectively in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 Rotoscoping was also used in many of Disney’s subsequent animated feature films with human characters, such as Cinderella in 1950. Later, when Disney animation became more stylized (e.g. One Hundred and One Dalmatians, 1961), the rotoscope was used mainly for studying human and animal motion, rather than actual tracing.

Ralph Bakshi used the technique quite extensively in his animated movies Wizards (1977), The Lord of the Rings (1978), American Pop (1981), and Fire and Ice (1983). Bakshi first turned to rotoscoping because he was refused by 20th Century Fox for a $50,000 budget increase to finish Wizards, and thus had to resort to the rotoscope technique to finish the battle sequences. (This was the same meeting at which George Lucas was also denied a $3 million budget increase to finish Star Wars.)

In the mid-1990s, Bob Sabiston, an animator and computer scientist veteran of the MIT Media Lab, developed a computer-assisted “interpolated rotoscoping” process which the director Richard Linklater later employed in the full-length feature films Waking Life (2001) and A Scanner Darkly (2006).

Rotoscope output can have slight deviations from the true line that differ from frame to frame, which when animated cause the animated line to shake unnaturally, or “boil”. Avoiding boiling requires considerable skill in the person performing the tracing, though causing the “boil” intentionally is a stylistic technique sometimes used to emphasize the surreal quality of rotoscoping, as in the music video Take on Me.

More Uses of Rotoscoping

Text Quoted from Wikipedia.

Author: evad
David Sommers has been loving color as COLOURlovers' Blog Editor-in-Chief for the past two years. When he's not neck deep in a rainbow he's loving other things with The Post Family (, a Chicago-based art blog, artist collective & gallery.