What is Rotoscope Animation? And How It Works?

In the rotoscoping, or “roto,” method of animation, live-action footage is used by tracing over motion picture film and may be used to create animation. Rotoscoping was developed in 1915 by animator Max Fleischer to produce more lifelike, fluid cartoons.

Tracing live-action videos accelerated the animation process rather than having to create everything by hand. For the first rotoscoped cartoon character, “Koko the Clown,” Max famously videotaped his brother Dave wearing a clown outfit. Filmmakers were also able to add features to live-action movies that they might not have been able to otherwise thanks to this approach for creating intricate animation sequences and characters.


An antiquated technique known as rotoscoping turns live-action video into an animation. The process entails overlaying the live-action video with several still photos, which are then added to a background track of motion to create the final animated scene. Rotoscoping is most frequently linked to the early silent film era, when craftsmen worked by hand, creating sequences later composited together.

However, the word persisted, and rotoscoping is still a widely utilized kind of animation in the visual effects business. Eventually, this method was converted to digital. But from its inception, this digital rotoscope animation approach has been primarily concerned with manually producing a matte for an element on a live-action plate so that something new may be composited over a different background.

Rotoscope animation may nonetheless, however, sometimes offer more accuracy or, in many instances, more room for artistic interpretation and expression. This is because a skilled operator may struggle to accurately replicate the visage of the lead actor using a computer.

Interesting Rotoscope Films

Rotoscoping animation can bring to life a completely new world of animation, one that captures the imagination and takes us to new and thrilling dimensions. The technique has subsequently been used in other well-known movies and animation productions.

Few of the most well-known examples of rotoscoping animation:

  • Loving Vincent
  • Waking Life
  • Wonderland’s Alice
  • Fantasia
  • TRON
  • Cinderella
  • The Fellowship of the Ring
  • In a Darkened Scanner
  • Yellow Submarine by The Beatles
  • Heavy Metal
  • Cool World
  • Sin City

These successful rotoscoping movies have boosted the popularity of rotoscoping as an animation technique. Filmmakers actively employ this technique to build masks or mattes for certain items (such as characters or objects) to remove them from a scene or recolor them. This enables them to produce scenes that would be challenging or impossible to do otherwise.

The game industry is now using rotoscoping to create immersive and realistic gaming experiences outside of animated films. Rotoscoping is a technique used by game designers to provide realistic character animations that react to game-related circumstances, enhancing the overall gaming experience. Rotoscoping has also been used to restore vintage films, boosting the quality of the video and improving its aesthetic appeal.


Animation Rotoscoping’s History

When cinematography began to take off in the early 20th century, a method for stylizing live-action views of performers was required.

In this case, rotoscoping includes using a paintbrush and specialized technology to replace or change certain elements of a scene. Through the use of rotoscoping, a section of a shot could be made to appear more intriguing or dramatic by the artist using his or her artistic skills.

An established method of animation from the 1930s. In his groundbreaking animated series Out of the Inkwell, Max Fleischer, an animator, used the rotoscope technique for the first time. The “Fleischer Process” was used in early cinema credits and was largely created by Fleischer for several years. The process of rotoscoping took a lot of work. As a result, those with artistic aptitude who were unable to find employment as animators turned to it as a profession.

Rotoscoping has been much simpler over the past few decades thanks to the advancement of computer graphics.

Animation Using Rotoscoping in the Early 20s

The technique was created that year and was first employed in films like “The Jazz Singer” and “Fantasia” in the 1920s.

Rotoscoping was traditionally carried out in a special effects studio by projecting the source video onto one half of a piece of transparent film, then tracing those images onto another sheet of film, which was then exposed and developed. Rotoscoping can now be carried out either on paper or with computer software.

The 1928 Max Fleischer short “Poor Cinderella,” starring Betty Boop, is when rotoscoping first attracted national attention.

Innovation and adventure flourished during the 1920s. During this decade, there was a boom in vehicles, air travel, media outlets, and talking films. Around this period, filmmakers also employed inventive techniques like stop-motion animation and rotoscoping.

Types of Rotoscopy

Rotoscoping is the method of frame-by-frame tracing over live-action video in animation.

Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” became the first film of  1937, to employ this method

The technique has subsequently been used in other well-known movies and animation productions.

The most often used rotoscoping techniques are classic black and white, digital with a pencil-drawn appearance, and photorealistic, which makes use of lovely textures to imitate real-life sights like water, hair, or skin.

  • Rotoscoping in black and white
  • Digital photorealistic rotoscoping
  • Pencil-drawn appearance

Different rotoscoping techniques can be used to generate beautiful textures that mimic natural features like water, hair, and skin.


Rotoscoping Techniques

Now that you are familiar with rotoscoping, it’s time to give a try to your knowledge to test. Depending on the software you’re using and your current working project, the rotoscoping techniques you utilize will change, but you must take these general steps to follow:

  1. Record and Examine the Reference Movie

Before you begin rotoscoping, you need:

  1.           A concept of the object or person you want to utilize the technique on
  2.           Look for the situations you wish to use as examples and start.

Few more pointers:

  • If you don’t do a movie to shoot, record a scene or series of sequences with the fewest sets, costumes, and props you can use a digital camera.
  • Tracing is made simpler with fewer objects and more straightforward backdrops.
    Ensure that the person or object you wish to rotoscope is present in the video. How long you want the scenario to be will determine how many videos you need.
  • Keep track of any shifts in perspective or if your key topics become hidden by other aspects as the scenario develops. Your project’s timeline and the ideal way to begin the rotoscoping process can be determined by knowing the footage you’ll be using.
  1. Choose the Correct Software and Tools

There are a lot of rotoscoping software types, counting on your project and interests. Select the software that you are most comfortable with or that you can learn to use when your project is finished. 

These are some software for rotoscoping

  • Photoshop After Effects
  • Silhouette FX 
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Fusion 9
  • Imagineer’s Mocha
  • Nuke for Foundry
  • Automobile Combustion
  • Blender
  1. Trace The Reference Film 

After deciding on your software, align the video and trace the gestures or facial expressions you want to rotoscope. Use the following procedures if you’re using Adobe Photoshop:

  • Make a timeline for your videos. Open the movie timeline in Photoshop using the window menu to accomplish this.
  • Decide on the timeline frame rate. Make sure to choose the appropriate frame rate for your project; too few frames might result in jerky animation, while too many can cause you to have to work harder than necessary because each frame requires a lot of time to create.
  • Upload your video content. Create a new, empty video layer after you’ve added your footage. You’ll export your rotoscoped animation from this new layer.
  • Draw the first frame of the video. Use as few control points as you can when tracing. You can keep track of the points more readily and create an overall smoother outline by using only what is necessary to trace the object. If you can, separate each component of a complex form when tracing it. Separate the body components that move independently of one another, for instance, when you trace a body. Since you’re not using a single outline for each scene, you may produce a more accurate animation as a result.
  • Click on the brush tool and change the foreground color to black. As many frames as you need to complete the scenario should have outlines drawn.
  1. Final Touches

After drawing the frames, you should use the tools provided by your software. Use the color fill, masking, warping, and blending tools in Photoshop when animating.

  • To add color, add a second empty video layer.
  • Use the software’s brush tool to begin at the beginning and fill in each frame’s outline.
  • Utilizing the blending tool, create texture
  • You can choose to add background scenery or transitions between each scene. 
  • If you’re using After Effects to rotoscope visual effects, using more masks will enhance your animation.

For instance, you could use this software’s blur tool to soften the border of one portion of the mask if you were rotoscoping hair. How to do it:

  • To the same layer, add another mask.
  • When you want the second mask to be invisible, keyframe its opacity to 0%.
  • To make the edge of the mask softer, alter the feathering.
  • Rotoscoping has been utilized in films for more than a century, but the fact that it is still used in contemporary films shows that this animation technique is here to stay. 

What Are the Benefits of Rotoscoping for Every VFX Artist?

Early in the 20th century, this method was used, but it has since grown to be a crucial part for many visual effects artists.

Any VFX roto artist should be proficient in this method as it is very useful for generating challenging 3D tracking shots from captured footage and erasing objects from video recordings.

VFX, rotoscoping, and digital fine art are the two main types of rotation.

To achieve certain visual effects, rotoscoping often requires covering undesired elements in a scene, such as cables that might show up when an actor is wearing a harness or any other object that does not belong.

For every VFX artist, it is a necessary tool, but mastering it might take years!



Rotoscoping is it in 2D or 3D?

In 1915, the 2D animation method known as rotoscoping was first applied. The fundamental concept is that animators trace their sketches over real-actor live-action videos to create the final animation’s realistic movement.

What differentiates rotoscoping from motion capture?

Motion capture is a more advanced form of rotoscoping that uses computerized movements and special effects. In that technique employs live-action as the basis for an animated image, motion capture is essentially rotoscoping.

What are the drawbacks of rotoscoping?

Rotoscoping is time-consuming, boring, and repetitive, which are some of its drawbacks.

Which films have rotoscoping been used in?

Many recently released films, like “The Lion King” and “Space Jam,” used the roto-scoping technique. The process of animation is called roto-scoping.

Waking Life, the first film, was made available to the public in 2001.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed, a 1926 film, was another one I discovered. There are a lot more films on this list, so check them all out to see if your favorite was included.

Final Words

An outdated, underutilized form of animation called rotoscope animation has recently become more well-known. 

One of the animation genres Gen Z might not be familiar with is this one. With that in mind, we created this instructive article that covers every aspect of rotoscope animation.

Keep exploring our animation hive till then as we’ll soon be generating another piece listing the top rotoscope animated films and videos!

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