Rotoscoping: Why we love to hate it

*The above image was rotoscoped using the method described herein. It is taken directly from the finished video I edited for a new reality television show titled, 2ND Chance.

Years ago Rotoscoping was tedious, time consuming and, for many editors, overwhelmingly frustrating. Prior to the advent of Adobe After Effects an Editor would more often then not have to dedicate a full day (sometimes weeks) to successfully rotoscope a moving image just for the simple pleasure of removing (or adding) a non exsisting “element” to either the foreground or background of moving video.

In the early days in order to successfully rortoscope an image an Editor would have to literally trace around a subject by hand (or sometimes the “Talent”) by using the “mask” tool in programs such as Final Cut and early versions of Adobe Premiere.

Most of us were first attracted to the idea of Rotoscoping because we wanted to create our own lightsaber effects. Admit it! We all wanted to be Luke Skywalker, right? For me, however I soon came to realize that due to the insurmountable amount of work that I needed to invest into these effects, and the overwhelming amount of focus I needed to have in order to rotoscope properly I indeed failed horribly.

Today, Rotoscoping is a much simpler process, yet it is just as hard to master, unfortunately. Though, using After Effects it is easy for any visual effects artist to Rotoscope in mere seconds (it’s the rendering process that will make you scream). With the press of a button (literally) you simply trace around your subject and After Effects does the work for you.

Again, let me stress that if you want to Rotoscope your video first know what your doing. Understand the mechanics of After Effects, Mocha and so on. If you go into the process without a clear understanding of how the process works you will inevitably become so frustrated that you give up on it completely. It may sound simple enough to just outline your subject with the roroscope tool (pre-loaded as part of any recent version of After Effects). However, the process is still hard, sometimes incredibly hard so if you want professional looking results then hire a professional.

Rotoscoping in After Effects is not like removing an unwanted background from a picture in Photoshop. These are not static images and depending on the steadiness of the camera you may very well spend hours motion tracking your video as well. It is important to also recognize that when you remove a background from your video you must also be aware of depth perception. Using a background against an image that is disproportionate, stretched, too tall or too wide will make you look like an amateur. Again, be cautious and hone your skills before attempting anything of this caliber.