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Waking Life rotoscoping 372.jpg

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 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 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 gotten a bad reputation among the animation community, including men such as Richard Williams, Milt Kahl and John Kricfalusi, being percieved 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. 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.

Examples of Rotoscoping include:


  • 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.


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/Out of This World
  • Flashback.
  • 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 technical for King of Fighters XII and XIII. Instead of live action, the animation is drawn over CG models.
      • Arc System used a similar technique for BlazBlue.
  • 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.
  • Hotel Dusk: Room 215 and it's 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.
  • 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.[1]

Western Animation

  • Filmation did this to get stock footage for all its animated series: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, 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.
      • Which might explain why a number of fans have noted they felt that the remastered CGI effect version of the Enterprise reminds them of the look of the animated Enterprise.
  • 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.
  • Max Fleischer's 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.
    • In 1967, Warner Bros. had merged with Seven Arts which had acquired the 1931-43 black-and-white Looney Tunes shorts from absorbing Guild Films, who in turn acquired them from Sunset Films (believed to be a W-B dummy distribution firm). At that time, 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.
      • King Features had the same thing done in 1986 with the Fleischer BW Popeye cartoons.
  • 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.
  • Felix the Cat: The Movie uses this to animate the princess.
  • The animation of Josie and the Pussy Cats 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 in one episode).
  1. The female providing the base body for Angel is unknown, however, but probably an Origin staffer at the time.