Tuesday, 3 December 2019


Being as rotoscope is the main medium I work in and talk about when I'm not talking about non league football, it would be more than appropriate to write a full blog post on it. I'm aware that not everyone might be familiar with the technique.

So, what is 'rotoscoping' or rotoscope animation?

Rotoscoping is the art of re-drawing filmed footage to create an animated aesthetic.

But isn't that a bit pointless?

Yes, but so is life and we all need to do something to fill our time. On a less existential note, I feel because it's a bridge between film and animation, it allows for a whole host of creative avenues to be explored such as surrealism, sci-fi and fantasy, without needing a stupidly high budget or using lots of costly special effects. This is because you can just draw everything in. Cool, eh?!

But isn't it cheating?

If I passed my rotoscoped work off as 'traditional' animation drawn without reference, then yes, that would be lying and therefore 'cheating', though the fact is, I don't. Animation can take on a number of forms and animation is basically a series of still images linked together to create an illusion of movement. Which is what I do. There is all kinds of animation out there and this is just another form of the medium.

I really enjoy using it, because it bridges the gap between live action film (which my background is in) and traditional animation. I really like that it results in a realistic look, because I actually don't like cartoons. That's not to say I don't appreciate the amazing work that goes into less realistic looking animation, though it isn't the work I want to create. Don't @ me.

Below is an example of what I do. The left hand side of the image shows the original footage and the right, the footage once drawn over. I don't always use a sound stage (green screen room) for my work, because I currently don't have free access to one, so I just tend to use whatever location I can. It doesn't even need to be a studio, which is one of the fantastic things about it- you can do it from anywhere. I have done lots in my house, outside, around my town etc. You just need a camera which records video (can just be a mobile phone) and sound recording equipment if you want or need audio. Oh and a program to be able to import footage and draw in. I would recommend TVPaint, though also good is Adobe Animate (formerly Flash). Some people use Photoshop, too.

Below is an example of where I didn't use a green screen, but a large empty space instead, from my film Cardigan's Corner Shop (2018):

Footage imported in Adobe Flash (animation program)
Once drawn over
Final composite (with background created in Photoshop)
I came across the technique just over eight years ago when I wanted to make a music video, but realised I did not in any way have the drawing or animation skills to carry it out in the realistic fashion I envisaged. This was because I had never been trained in animation, just fine art and was midway through my film production degree.

Now I just cringe when I watch that video back, because the production values are terrible and the editing style is really, really cheesy. It also reminds me of a time in my life where my mental health was on a rapid decline which unknown to me at the time would land me in hospital less than a year after. Despite these factors, the creative intentions were all there and it formed the foundations of my love for the technique of rotoscoping. I've not stopped using it since.

Unfortunately, it's not a very commonly used technique in terms of animated output from most animation production companies. Perhaps this is set to change, because September this year was when the rotoscoped eight episode series Undone was aired on Amazon Prime Video. It was recently announced that they would get a second season, too. The animation for the series was carried out by the US company Minnow Mountain, one of the few companies using rotoscope as their primary medium.

If this post has inspired you to watch anything in this technique, then do check out Undone, Tower (2016 documentary, currently available on Netflix), A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life.

Also, I have a Vimeo channel dedicated to my own rotoscope work here and an Instagram page of the same, but includes works in progress and behind the scenes bits. Also, if I've not explained it very well or you have further questions about the technique, then don't hesitate to get in contact.

Peace and love x

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