Patent drawing for Fleischer's original rotoscope. The artist is drawing on a transparent easel, onto which the movie projector at the right is throwing an image of a single film frame.


Patent drawing for Fleischer’s original rotoscope. The artist is drawing on a transparent easel, onto which the movie projector at the right is throwing an image of a single film frame.

The technique was invented by Max Fleischer, who used it in his series “Out of the Inkwell” starting around 1914, with his brother Dave Fleischer dressed in a clown outfit as the live-film reference for the character Koko the Clown.

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.

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.

Rotoscoping was used extensively in China‘s first animated feature film, Princess Iron Fan (1941), which was released under very difficult conditions during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II.

It was used extensively in the Soviet Union, where it was known as “Éclair”, from the late 1930s to the 1950s; its historical use was enforced as a realization of Socialist Realism. Most of the films produced with it were adaptations of folk tales or poems – for example, The Night Before Christmas or The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish. Only in the early 1960s, after the Khrushchev Thaw, did animators start to explore very different aesthetics.

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.)[1][2]

Rotoscoping was also used in Heavy Metal, the 1985 A-ha music video Take on Me, and Don Bluth‘s Titan A.E..

While rotoscoping is generally known to bring a sense of realism to larger budget animated films, the American animation company Filmation, known for its budget-cutting limited TV animation, was also notable for its heavy usage of rotoscope to good effect in series such as Flash Gordon, Blackstar and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.


Robert Downey, Jr. in A Scanner Darkly


Robert Downey, Jr. in A Scanner Darkly

Smoking Car Productions invented a digital rotoscoping process in 1994 for the creation of its critically-acclaimed adventure game The Last Express. The process was awarded U.S. Patent 6061462: Digital Cartoon and Animation Process. In the mid-1990’s, 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 and A Scanner Darkly. Linklater licensed the same proprietary rotoscoping process for the look of both films. Linklater is the first director to use digital rotoscoping to create an entire feature film.

Additionally, a 2005-06 advertising campaign by Charles Schwab uses rotoscoping for a series of television spots, under the tagline “Talk to Chuck.” This distinctive look is also the work of Bob Sabiston.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article “Rotoscoping“.

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