Tuesday, March 30, 2021


 Here is an early example of live action use for animation at Disney. All human characters in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs relied on rotoscoping, except for the dwarfs. The more realistic a character concept, the more live action footage was used to help the animators get a nuanced performance on to the screen.

But rotoscoping is a tricky business. If not altered and interpreted by an animator, the result can be stiff and lifeless. Changes have to be made in order to portray these filmed performances for for graphic motion. A good animator will mess with the timing and proportions of the photostats.

Some of my favorite Disney characters who were successfully based on live action are Cruella de Vil and Roger and Anita Radcliff. Their design has various degrees of caricature, but the motion always feels reel.

Then there is Cinderella's Stepmother, a very realistic looking character based on live action, and she comes across as being very powerful.

Milt Kahl's comments about the use of live action cracks me up: "If you are going to have realistic animated human characters, I think the use of live action is necessary. If everybody on the picture was a Milt Kahl it wouldn't be necessary. But unfortunately they aren't."

Here is the Hunter from Snow White.


  1. I think there's a lot of misconceptions about how extensively rotoscoping was used in the classic Disney films, or "reference" vs direct rotoscoping.
    My guess is that it varied from scene to scene!
    Though to be honest, it does bother me a little bit that any decent figurative animation gets dismissed as rotoscoping. As if you'd be able to film something like Tarzan or Richard William's last film

    1. I had the same thought about misconceptions when I saw this.

    2. You two beat me to it! As soon as I read the post I was going to comment on the same thing.

      Andreas, I would love to know your opinion on the changes effected from the photostats to finished pencil animation in Snow White. My impression is that Walt Disney absolutely did not want the animators to rely on the photostats as a creative crutch, or to rotoscope the characters in a literal fashion as in Fleischer's Koko the Clown or Gulliver's Travels. Is my impression accurate?

      Do you consider the final animation in Snow White to be rotoscoped, or merely derived from the rotoscope? (I know you wrote that it "depends on the rotoscope" up there, but was hoping you could clarify a bit more.)

      Many years ago I recall reading a translated Miyazaki interview in which he mentioned Walt Disney's Cinderella and described it as being rotoscoped. I remember scratching my head and wondering: "But they were only using the live-action as reference, right? They did change the staging and timing when appropriate, and did not simply trace mindlessly from photostats?"

      Perhaps Miyazaki uses "rotoscope" as an umbrella term for everything else it is related to, including "live-action reference"? It's difficult to tell!

      Re the hunter animation drawings above:

      Clearly the finished pencil animation sticks very, very close to the live-action reference, but to my eyes it doesn't actually look traced. Is my observation correct, or do I need a new set of eyes? :-)

      To conclude, I watched Snow White about a month ago - and during the flight through the forest scene it struck me that Snow White's animation felt so raw, uninhibited, even distorted - that I never even thought of live-action reference. During the few final shots when we see her in quick cuts and in relative close-up there were certain drawings in which her elbow looked "broken" - moving in a humanly impossible direction (impossible unless one has hypermobility.)

      It's wonderful stuff.

      Sorry for this rambling post!

    3. Honestly, I think the best resource about the Cinderella/Roto question is Andreas' previous posts, if you can search them up.
      If I remember right, Eric Larson regretted sticking so closely to the live action for the Prince, and didn't like how the animation looked in the end

  2. This comment had been deleted by accident:

    TyleStyle commented on "Rotoscoping"

    I thought it looked like it was rotoscoped.

  3. You know....call me wrong but I don't know if there was live-action references shot for rotoscoping in "Melody Time" but I think the best early animated humans without the help of live-action were from Milt Kahl's animation of Johnny Appleseed and Slue Foot Sue.

  4. Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag, lieber Andreas! Und vielen Dank für all die interessanten Beiträge und das spannende Insider-Wissen auf Deinem Blog.

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  6. I can often identify rotoscoping in old animated films, especially by Max Fleischer's people, because it has a jerkiness to it that pure animation usually doesn't.
    But I also want to say that the coloring on that last image from the final film is so beautiful, and clearly that is without the help of the photographic references.