Rotoscoping In Animation: The Secret Weapon Of Animators

by | Aug 7, 2013 | Creative

Guess how many frames were drawn to come up with this 25-second video?

You probably would never have guessed that there are exactly 303 frames constructed to make this short story come alive. The author, Ray Lu, had to create more than 30 frames just to show a simple 3-second movement of the girl’s hand in the clip.

But don’t be scared away by the number of frames that goes into animation making. Are you picturing all the animators working nonstop to draw out all the frames, one by one, on blank canvas? Not quite. Animators back in a few decades ago have already figured out some amazing techniques to make the process easier, and we are still applying the old wisdom in today’s animation world.

Rotocsoping in the Classic Animations

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is one of the classic Walt Disney animated film produced in 1937. The powerful character building of the classic received global attention and led to the major box office success.

Can you recognize this lovely lady in the photograph?


Marge Champion, an established American dancer, and choreographer was, in fact, the live-action dance model for Snow White. Marge was invited to be the “understudy” of Snow White and she showcased her dancing talent and perfected the movements of the character. CBS even did an interview with Marge several years ago.

Here are some other classic animation characters and their action models; you will be amazed by how they all look alike.


Rotoscope, invented by Max Flesicher in 1915, is a widely used technique that aims to enhance movement study and outline tracing. Instead of creating animations from scratch, animators use rotoscoping to capture objects movement with better control in a shorter time frame. Rotoscoping has contributed to the history of animation making greatly. There have been copious rotoscoped animations created and the list of rotoscoped animations is continuously expanding.  I am sure you’ve heard of Alice in the Wonderland, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty, and yes, they are all rotoscoped animations.


Make Rotoscoped animations with Animation Desk

There are many software applications that have the capabilities to do rotoscoping. Adobe’s After Effect and Illustrator are among the popular tools in the field. The proliferation of mobile devices has generated another playground for animators, as their work is no longer being confined in an office setting. With the limited screen size, making animations with iPhones is a tough job. Rotoscoping helps pin down the glimpse of your ideas for shorter and quicker animation creations.

Update: Rotoscoping is now available in the new Animation Desk. (2017/11/09)

If you like the mobile creating idea but would like to do it the old-fashioned way, our new Animation Desk enables you to draw detailed outlines with more brushes, colors, and a complete frame management system on a much larger canvas that iPads offer. With our recent major update, users enjoy the cleaner interface, stylus integration, and images imported from the popular multimedia note-taking tool, NoteLedge. Yes, now animators have NoteLedge as a pre-animation tool to make blueprints to be used by Animation Desk.  With the easy tools we provide, anyone can be an animator.

The iAniMagic Animation Competition

Maybe you are the next great animator, you just don’t know it yet. Why not give yourself a chance to unleash the artist in you? We are excited to announce our Third Annual iAnimagic Competition that welcomes all animators, amateurs or professionals, to demonstrate their creativity using Animation Desk.

Entering the iAnimagic competition is free and simple. The list of prizes is growing: MacBook Pro, Mac Mini, a $500 iTunes gift cards and many more up for grabs.  The winner will even be invited to be on our judging team next year.

Peter Nalli’s Pond Life has won him the first place in iAnimagic 2012, can you beat his work? We can’t wait to see everyone’s creativity in iAnimagic 2013.

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