Thursday, May 16, 2013

Rotoscoping Tutorial Part 1: Character Design

For the first part of my rotoscoping tutorial, I will show you how to design a character, because if you're going to animate using this method, it's best to keep your character's proportions consistent.  There's nothing worse than having your character's head suddenly shrink a size just because the original sprite you drew doesn't match up with the proportions of your rotoscope model.

The first order of business is to do a bit of cosplay.  That is to say, dress up as close to how you want your character to look.  This step isn't essential, but it makes things a bit easier.  If your character is wearing a long coat, for example, it will help you convey the movement of fabric much easier if you rotoscope than if you animate it freely.  Once you've gotten into your outfit, get your camera on a tripod and take a photo of yourself in the 4 main directions, plus diagonals if you're feeling fancy.  You might want to do it in front of a blue or green screen, but that isn't totally necessary either.  I usually just do it against a backdrop that isn't excessively cluttered.

Once you've got your views, it's time to go to your paint program and resize them.  In my case, the average height of sprites is anywhere from 67-70 pixels.  This guy will be 70, so we will resize accordingly.  This will make the photos nice and pixellated, like so:

Now comes the fun part.  If you open up your individual resized views, you will see how pixellated and blocky they look.

This is where you begin the process of tracing, aka rotoscoping.  It all depends on how much detail you want in your sprite.  Sierra games would more or less import this as-is, since they were shot against a blue screen.  All they had to do then was a bit of cleanup and downgrading of palette.  For purposes of this tutorial, we are going to trace.  Pick your palette, usually about 4-5 tones per area, and get started.  With a bit of luck, you'll end up with something looking like this:

From there, it's just a matter of tracing the rest.  Keep in mind you don't have to stick to your model.  Obviously, the character can have a different hairstyle, or the color of the clothes can be different, or the skin tone can be lighter or darker.  The only problem with using yourself as a model is that it can be tough to do different body types.  Height is easily adjusted, but if you want a heavy character, making yourself wider can look a bit silly.  In cases like these, I usually do a Google image search or get someone else to pose for me.

Final result:

Next time, I'll cover animating a walk cycle for this character.


  1. Great tutorial, some might call rotoscoping 'cheating' but it's still a pile of work - even without the period correct cosplay :D

  2. Anyone who calls Rotoscoping cheating has clearly never done it. :)

  3. Cheating is basically the core element of any good game design IMO.