What is rotoscoping?
The rotoscoping technique was invented in 1915 for turning photos and film into images that look more like cartoons or realistic paintings. Rotoscoping is best defined by example. It was most famously used in two Richard Linklater films — “Waking Life" and “A Scanner Darkly."
At left a still from “A Scanner Darkly," an acclaimed dystopian science fiction film based on a novel by Philip K. Dick.
The two movies were the first films to be created entirely with rotoscoping. Linklater used expensive software to link hand-painted film images. The Internet Movie Database reports each minute of the movie required 500 hours of work by 50 animators. They spent a year and a half working on the movie.
The rotoscoping technique was also used in A-Ha’s classic “Take on Me" video and a more recent set of otherwise dull Charles Shwab “Talk to Chuck" ads.
To properly use a rotoscope technique for film, you will need either expensive software or a team of animators, or both. Even the Schwab ads look more digitized than the more imperfect and dreamlike animation of “A Scanner Darkly."
The rotoscoping effect is more simple for a single image, making a unique piece of art from any photo. There are several rotoscoping techniques. Like most anything, the more time and money involved, the better the results will be.
Here are five rotoscoping techniques, listed from least effective to most effective (and most time-consuming).