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How to Rotoscope with your Bamboo Tablet

How to Rotoscope with your Bamboo Tablet

Fresh on the heels of my look at the new Wacom Bamboo Fun 2nd Generation tablet I present the first creative use to get you started in the world of animation. I teach film and animation for a living and regularly have students using tablets to create digital animations.

The tutorial takes the traditional rotoscoping technique and applies a digital workflow. Trust me it works perfectly with the Bamboo range of tablets.  Rotoscoping is the technique of filming a section of film and then creating a drawing of each frame and was probably most famously used in the A-ha video “Take on Me” the video is on YouTube be be warned the audio is terrible (and that is not a dig at A-ha).

Using the traditional paper route the process works well but can be challenging, prone to errors and produces a serious amount of paper.  The following animation is by Californian based animator Benjamin Arthur and is entitled “Once upon a time in the woods”. To date this animation has been viewed almost a million times !

I am especially thankful that Benjamin has agreed for me to publish his digital workflow for this animation using a Tablet, Photoshop and  Apple Quicktime.

We are especially excited that Benjamin has agreed to talk us through the digital workflow for this animation using a Tablet, Photoshop and Apple Quicktime.

1. Film the scene using my canon digital camera.

The easiest part of the process and any video camera will work including footage from an iPhone or Flip Video.

2. Import the footage from the camera.

The same process you would use to import any captured footage from your mini DV camera. You can import footage from DV using Quicktime.

The process is really very simple.

  1. Connect your digital video camera.
  2. Click on the QuickTime Pro icon.
  3. Select”New Move recording” from the File menu.

A new window should appear like the one to the right. Simply click the red record button and QuickTime will do the rest.

Once you have imported the movie click the stop button and save your “instant” QuickTime File.

The process also works for recording audio directly to QuickTime which may be of use when overdubbing a movie clip etc. The process is identical only this time select “New Audio Recording” from the file menu

I then opened it in quicktime, then chose File>Export… then I chose to export to image sequence. You’ll need to make a folder for all the frames. I chose to export at 12 frames per second, just to make it a little easier (if you watch the Bill Plympton video on Current, he says how he animates at only 6 frames per second!).

(note: If you’re animating more than 30 seconds of footage, I’d suggest cutting it into 10-30 second clips and exporting the frames to separate numbered folders, if you have thousands of frames in a single folder, you end up scrolling forever when you go to open them).

3. Working with the Footage

Now you have to make some decisions based on how the footage looks, if it’s too bright, you’ll need to use an action in
photoshop to darken it, so it’s easier to see outlines. An action in photoshop is a saved sequence of events within photoshop that you can batch to all the frames in one folder.

To create an action, first open the actions menu by choosing Window>Actions (if the window is already open, of course skip that).

(Note: You can save time if you adjust this in a video editing program, such as final cut pro or premiere before following step two. I prefer the longer way, because photoshop has so many effects it’s easier to get exactly what you want).

First, open a frame from your animation, the one the most reflects the image problems you want to fix. Create a new action by clicking the page turning at the bottom of the actions window, and it will prompt you to name it.

After you name the action, you will be recorded, so carefully edit the image to the point where you’re satisfied. I mostly adjusted levels at this point, which brings out the blacks. Then, while you’re still being recorded, change the size of the frame to the size you want the movie to be. 640×480 is what I used for mine, just make sure to preserve aspect ratio, so that the frames don’t get stretched.

At this point you can blow the image up to HD levels if you want, regardless of the size of the source video (for example, 720×480 can become 1080×720)

Next, you’ll want to create 2 layers, a layer behind your frame, which is filled with white, and a blank layer in front of it. Now adjust the opacity of your frame so it blends with the white in the background. This allows you to more easily see your drawing over the original frame.

Now you can stop recording your action by pressing the circular button on the bottom of the action menu. Close the frame you worked on, and do not save it. I would then open another frame of your animation and test your new action on it, just select the action you made and hit the play button, and everything should happen automatically.

If there’s problems with the action, or an alert window pops up, open a new frame and try again to carefully record the action – remember, every step you take is recorded.

4. Batch Processing

Select File>Automate>Batch…. The action you just created should already be there, just choose the folder you saved the frames to, and make sure the destination is save and close, then click “ok”. Photoshop should automatically begin opening, changing and saving all your frames. This could take a while, depending on your computer.

5. Drawing Time

Now it’s time to start drawing. I drew the entire thing in chronological order, which worked for me. I used my wacom tablet to draw everything. I test- drew one frame at the beginning, trying to figure out which details to keep, and which to drop. It’s important to be consistent, you can’t have objects blinking in and out, so keep track as you draw each frame.

Once you fully finish one frame, click the eye next to your original footage layer, and your drawing will be sitting on a white background. If you want to add color, come back through after you finish all the line-work. Once the frame is fully done, with your line-work on a white background, just save.

6. Check your Progress

To see the progress of your animation, go back to quicktime and choose File>Open Image Sequence… and open it at the frame rate you chose when you exported it.

7. Shading

To shade my animation, I took the original footage in each frame (using another action) and used the cutout filter, then de-saturated it to make it black and white. I left the opacity at around 30%.

The time needed to do this is considerable, as each frame can take from 2-10 minutes, drawing time. even if you drew extremely fast, say 2 minutes per frame, and were only doing 12 frames a second, it would still take you 24 hours of work to finish one minute of animation. My “In the Woods” animation took me about 3-4 hours a day for six weeks, so about 125 hours total.

Whew, ok, thats about the whole process, if you have any questions (or improvements), I’d be happy to address them.

Benjamin Arthur

Check out Benjamin’s site and demo reel.

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