The animation technique of rotoscoping is nearly a hundred years old, but the advancements in technology and technique have made being a rotoscope artist today far different than in your great-great-grandfather’s day. While today’s rotoscope artist works almost exclusively with computers and continuously evolving rotoscoping software, the fundamentals of rotoscoping remain the same as a century ago: Rotoscope artists provide traced outlines (mattes) so that live-action objects can be integrated into layers for films, television shows, and video games. Today, instead of manually tracing each frame by hand, computers and complex software is used to make the process slightly easier.
Rotoscoping is considered by many in the animation field as some of the simplest work, yet it’s also some of the most tedious, requiring a great deal of patience. The fundamental duties of a rotoscope artist are to trace over live-action movements on film, to create more realistic and fluid animation; the tedious work of tracing these movements frame by frame has been somewhat alleviated in the modern digital environment. The old technique of projecting film images onto a glass panel to be redrawn (the projection equipment is the “rotoscope”) has been almost completely replaced by computers. Today’s digital rotoscope artist creates detailed digital mattes with 2-D image processing and drawing tools; the mattes are then used to remove wires, rigs, and other unwanted elements, as well as to make background fixes and extractions. Rotoscope artists are important in the visual effects field, manually creating mattes that combine different elements of foreground images to be composited over background images to create a single image; the goal is to create superior live-action or CG composites, and in turn create visual effects far superior to those done without rotoscoping. While rotoscope artists are not called for in every instance of animation or visual effects, they are still required by many studios, and knowledge of rotoscoping is considered fundamental to those desiring careers in effects and design.
Skills & Education
Though it is an entry-level position, becoming a rotoscope artist requires a great deal of education and experience; most commonly held degrees by rotoscope artists are degrees in fine art, drawing, animation, or graphic design. Knowledge of the latest programs, like Shake, Nuke, Digital Fusion, and other node-based software, is extremely helpful. Drawing and painting skills are a must, as rotoscoping requires a steady hand, a keen eye for detail, and the ability to create exact and consistent images in a timely manner, whether manually or digitally. Besides skill, knowledge, and the desire to spend hours on end rotoscoping, three of the most important attributes to becoming a successful rotoscope artist are patience, patience, and more patience. While it may not be the final career destination for most, it can be a key to proving your digital artistry and work ethic on the path to bigger and better things in the animation and visual effects industry.
What to Expect
Rotoscope artist is an entry-level position at most studios. You can make anywhere from $15-$50 dollars an hour, depending on experience, the project, and the studio. Steady work with a studio is possible, but you should expect to be hired on a project-only basis. The position of rotoscope artist often leads to more lucrative and skilled positions such as compositor. You should also be prepared to learn new software as it appears, and be ready to work on commercial and film products that may not be as romantic or challenging as hoped; while rotoscoping an advertisement for investment banking firm may not be the goal of most artists, it’s a great way to get your foot in the door.
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