The Simpsons Couch Gag Gets Rotoscoped

Amazingly, after a zillion episodes and a couple of centuries on air, The Simpsons is still coming up with new variations on the opening couch gag. The latest episode pays homage to an animated oddity called rotoscoping, or “a noble experiment that failed,” as Lisa puts it.

Rotoscoping, in case you didn’t know, is a technique where the characters are filmed for real with living actors, then the animation artists basically make tracings of the film cells. It was like 2D version of performance capture in other words.

During the heyday of Hollywood animation in the mid-20th century rotoscoping was frowned upon by animators as if it were somehow cheating, or a barrier to creative freedom. It was used on Disney’s Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs for some scenes of Snow White and the Prince, but after that Disney only ever used rotoscoping as a study tool, to research movement rather actually using it for the final screen characters again.

However by the ’60s and ’70s some animator realised the the slightly weird effect created by rotoscoping could be used for specific artistic effects and it was used for certain scenes in films like the Beatles Yellow Submarine, Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord Of The Rings and Heavy Metal.

With the introduction of computer design to film-making rotoscoping became digital. Director Richard Linklater used software called Rotoshop on his films Waking Life (2001) and A Scanner Darkly (2006), both of which were filmed in live action then given a computer makeover to make them look “drawn” .




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