Digital Imaging

Week 8: Rotoscoping Animation

Lesson Objectives

At the end of this lesson students will be able to:

  • to work at depth in the Adobe Photoshop timeline
  • create abstracted images for animation
  • demonstrate making complex moving images using the rotoscoping animation technique
  • create an animated video


Rotoscoping animation can be very time consuming if you are making a complex animation so get started as early as possible. Hopefully it will be a fun exercise for you!

Rotoscoping is a technique that animators use to trace over motion picture footage, frame by frame, to produce realistic action. The action can be very carefully constructed to flow smoothly, such as in old Disney animated films or can be simple with a looser movement, which gives the output an interesting and hands-on look and feel.


Watch this in-depth overview of rotoscoping animation from The Little Big Screen:

In practice, the idea is not necessarily to trace the exact likeness of the image behind, but the essence of it. Watch this short group example with many different styles and levels of fidelity applied to the same simple running cat video.

A student in this class shared this awesome find from a class in Australia who collaborated using rotoscoping animation on a Bruno Mars song:

Rotoscope Animation Example and Process

This video is a great example of a carefully constructed simple story that has been filmed specifically for this purpose. Notice that the only areas that are rotoscoped are the people moving or the items moving, the background generally remains static. Watch the next video to learn more about how they shot the film that they used for the project.


Contemporary Rotoscope Animation Examples




Historic Examples


Rotoscope as Video FX

‘Rotoscoping’ can have a slightly different connotation in modern film and special effects production where an area of the film is masked out and replaced with an overlay that follows the motion of the film or an area is masked out to have a different background. Nearly every film produced relies on this technique to either create special effects or for fixing problem areas. Sometimes this can lead to the uncanny valley feeling that we get watching nearly realistic movies.   This is a complex process achieved in software like After Effects in combination with Mocha plugin and not what we are doing this week but it has evolved from the original rotoscoping idea. Read a little more about the basic of this technique here if you like.  

By the way, soon, rotoscoping vfx will become much easier in Adobe After Effects, updating the rotoscoping brush to dramatically save time:


Additional Resources



Rotoscope Exercise

Step 1

Find a short video you want to use for rotoscope animating. Look for something simple, with movement that has an interesting part that is very short – you are looking for a segment about 7-12 seconds long to use for this exercise.

Here are some resources for video and audio that you can use if you like, you may know of others. You are also welcome to use your own video for this exercise!   Note: if you use someone else’s video, pay attention to whether the author requires attribution and make sure you do that in your work somehow. Bensound, for example, has some fantastic background music and just asks to be referenced in credits.

Video –

Audio –

Step 2

Follow the instructions on the videos below to create your animation. You can also look through the additional resources section for more tutorials or do your own Google search for one.

Adding additional elements is optional

Adding color is optional but encouraged!


Step 3 – Export your video

To Export as video (mp4) file, go to File Top Menu -> Export -> Render Video… and save your video file.

Upload it to your YouTube account for sharing. Choose Public or Unlisted option.

**Important Notebefore you spend any time on audio, double check that you can export from Photoshop as video first. There is an annoying bug in some versions of Photoshop that causes the video export to hang up on ‘Initializing Video Export’ about halfway through. Our workaround for this, for now, is to export it as an animated gif –  like we did last week:

  1. Top Menu ->   File -> Export -> Save For Web
  2. Make sure it is set to GIF (upper right) and Animate Forever (lower right)

instead of a video file. :-(. If you really want to figure it out, my suggestion is to try updating your Creative Cloud and Photoshop applications to the latest version before trying to export. If you have the full CC suite, make sure your Media Encoder is also up to date.


Create a new post on the course site and title it ‘Week 8 – your name’. Give it the Category “Week 8”.

Copy/Paste the URL to your finished video of your rotoscoping animation. If creating the video file did not work, please upload your animated GIF instead.

Write a bit about this process – What do you like about it vs the GIF animation for the last exercise? Do you have any favorite rotoscoped animations you want to share a link to? What was challenging about the process or was it easy and why? Did you run into any trouble and how did you solve it?

Final Project Proposal

Please go to the Final Project instruction page. After reviewing the project, please create a new document in your Google Drive folder   called ‘Final Project Proposal’ and outline the basic idea for what you plan to do.

Search for any tutorials you may want to follow and include the link to those tutorials. Include images that you are inspired by as well – anything that will help you work on your project over the next few weeks and help solidify the idea in your mind before you start the process.

Your ideas may change over time over the next few weeks – that’s fine, just document any new ideas you have in this document along the way to show the process of your inspiration.


Commenting on other student’s posts is encouraged this week. No formal discussion.