Wednesday, 23 January 2008


I hate rotoscoping. Back in college I found the process incredibly mind-numbing and creatively stifling. I've never found it an enhancing element to any film that employs the technique and actually feel that every example that I've seen of it in cinema has only been detrimental to the film in which it is being used (yes, even Snow White, but that is an exception for various reasons too long to go into now.)

I just find myself disconnected from rotoscoped scenes, simply because the results are just too distracting and jar with the appeal of a moving image (animated or otherwise). I'm not talking about the light saber type of rotoscoping, I'm refering to when it's used to deliver performance - i.e. organic movement and acting in characters. The result is neither animation nor live action, it's a weird component that doesn't sit well in my head and takes away from the impact of the scene. I find it adds unnecessary details, when really you want to go the other way.

But this morning I watched ‘L’Eau Life’ a short film by Jeff Scher and I absolutely love it. I've watched it several times now, and other than being completely inspired by the whole package of perfectly matched music to well-paced visuals, the timing in each sequence, the style and indeed the editing works beautifully to convey the sheer pleasure of the subject matter. I should also mention that every frame is done completely in watercolours, painted from video footage.

This is the single example of the rotoscope technique being used to effectively remove the superflous stuff and distill the action down to it's essence. Scher goes a little further too in this film, and gets the feeling of his subject matter across too, the way a painter would, but with specific emotional context as a film-maker should.

So I need to reassess this hatred for rotoscoping. Evidently it's not about the process itself but how it's used by the artist. It's just been used to mediocre effects thus far (I'm thinking of you Linklater) and been given attention for all the wrong reasons. 'L'Eau Life' is a tiny glimpse at what the possibilities could be. Go watch it now.


  1. I'm really into what Linklater did in "Waking Life" so I have to disagree. As far as I remember there were 8 different artists styles used throughout the movie from almost literal to very loose and abstract. I see what you mean if it's "A Scanner Darkly" that you refer to, but only to a point. I found the style of the film added to the strangeness of it all and given the subject matter it somehow made sense to go that route. However I do agree with you about everything else...

  2. Love your blog.

    The trick to the rotoscope is to have fun painting and drawing. It's just a reference, not the law of your line.
    It's no different than using a camera obscura or some similar drawing aid. Painters have been using them since the invention of optics. David Hockney wrote a swell book recently about the history of optical drawing tools. If Leonardo had just traced instead of being liberated from the mechanics of reproducing the world in two dimensions realistically his work would be as slavish as most rotoscope work is.

    There are so many opportunities for mischief between the frames, I can never resist testing what I can get away with. I always remind myself that cinema is the result of the difference between frames.

    Anyhow thanks for the kind words. And here's a couple links. The first is to a film I made for the Sundance Channel. It's Billy Collins reading his poem.
    The second link is to my website.


    Jeff Scher

  3. Cheers for the comments Jeff - you certainly hit the nail on the head with this bit:

    "cinema is the result of the difference between frames"

    The more hand-drawn animation I do, the more I value the importance of every frame, and how crucial "change" is to the moving image. I'm constantly looking for ways to build movement within movement, and striving for that perfect amount of "change" - be it in shape, line, a character's emotional state, etc.

    I mention hand-drawn animation because it's easy to forget about specific frames when working in CG.

    Love your first film, yet another enjoyable piece. You have a very striking website too. Look forward to seeing more of your work!