Today was my first attempt at rotoscoping, it took me 4 hours to complete (with breaks). I began with shooting a simple 4 second video of my hand on a white background coming into shot then sliding slowly off. I’m now going to document the process of how I turned this video into an animated video using the technique of rotoscoping.
I took the footage to Premiere Pro where I exported every 2 frames as JPEG to my desktop. So for 4.17 seconds of footage (113 frames), I took 55 snapshots so that when piecing it back together, I could animate with 12 frames per second instead of 24 (so I can get away with doing half the amount of work).
Then, in the style of Benedik Finborud, I tuned my laptop upside down and drew over each image onto tracing paper – even the blank images. I made sure that I wrote the number of each frame on the actual drawing – something I had also learned from Finborud. This makes it easy to organise the drawings if they get mixed up – especially as they all look so similar. I also made sure to draw around the actual frame in the form of a little square; I thought this might be helpful when trying to align the drawings one after the other at a later stage.
With two drawings per sheet of paper, I then had to cut round each square so that I was left with 55 square pieces of tracing paper, all drawn and numbered.
The next step was to take images of each of these drawings. I’d like to mention here the difference between scanning the drawings and taking pictures of the drawings – 2 very different methods to be aware of. With a scanner, you can place your drawing in the machine, and it will come out straight away as a JPEG of a flat drawing, the light from the scanner will illuminate the black lines and every image should be the same. The physicality of this process involves putting a drawing in the machine, pressing buttons, taking it out and repeating. With a camera, you are relying on the weather (if using natural light), for lighting, the surface on which your drawings are laid for the background, the angle of your camera for the outcome of the shape and the quality of your camera for the quality of your image.
To cut the corner of alignment, I attached sellotape to my camera to make a little square so that i could place each drawing within the sellosquare and it would be not too far off the previous image in terms of placement.
With the photos now back on my computer – I adjusted the brightness and contrast – 100% and 60% using Photoshop, so that the images came out brighter and there was a clear distinction between the black lines and the white background, avoiding a big grey blur. If i were to use a scanner, I wouldn’t have had to complete this step – something to note for the future.
In Adobe Animate, I imported each of the 55 drawings onto a 1000×1000 pixel document, cut them to shape then used the ‘onion skin’ tool to property line the images up.
The onion skin tool is the best in the game – it allows you to see what comes before or after the frame you are on. For this little project, it was most handy to see the frame before the one I was on, so I could move the drawn square box to be somewhat in line with the previous image. I made this adjustment to all of the images so now I had a continuous flow of aligned images. I then used Encoder to export the video to a high quality. 4 hours later – job done. My first rotoscope – 4 seconds long.
What I find most interesting about this project is the process. On reflection, I think the way the boundaries between physical and digital elements blur is so mesmerising. Hand > camera > computer > paper > camera > computer > result = video of hand. This cycle is confusing and includes an array of programs both on screen and off.
Even trying to explain the process through this blog has been difficult and to be honest, I think if I were to read this before attempting a rotoscope, I would’ve been put off. That’s because it sounds so much harder and lengthier than it really is. 4 hours of work for 4 seconds of footage seems long and maybe even a waste of time but I can safely say it’s not. 4 hours is nothing when you think about it. And the result is really pleasing, the 4 hours of labour is gone but the evidence of those 4 hours lives on in the form of 4 seconds – time replicates time.