The trick that made animation realistic

The trick that made animation realistic

This walrus didn’t get these dance moves on
his own. They came from Cab Calloway, a 1930s jazz
singer and band leader. Do you see it now? Cab was a source of endless inspiration for
early animators, who transformed his dancing into that walrus, and a ghost, and a very
moonwalky old man of the mountain. “The old man of the mountain!” The way those moves got from real life to
cartoon was a breakthrough in technology and method. It’s an idea that forever changed animation,
when an inventor took pictures that had just started to move and made them dance. As…“riveting” as that was…early animation
had a problem: the first animated shorts didn’t look right. Don’t focus on the drawing. Look at the motion. See how clunky his arm move is here? And how his shoulder doesn’t move realistically? Max Fleischer saw that problem too. This is him, the inventor, blowing bubbles
in some of the first films that revolutionized animation. And this is the clown that did it. See how naturally Koko the clown moves compared
to the umbrella guy? That’s where the invention called the rotoscope
comes in. You can understand it from the patent application. It was a way to film real movement to create
better animation. First, they filmed live action motion in the
wild — for Koko the clown, they filmed Max’s brother, Dave Fleischer, dancing around in
a clown costume on Max’s roof. He was in front of a white sheet, for contrast. The sheet actually blew around so much that
once Dave almost fell off the roof. So, don’t try this at home. That film gave them individual frames of Koko
moving around, like in the patent. They used a projector, hooked up to a car
headlamp to amp up brightness, and it showed each frame on a screen with tracing paper. Then they just played it back, frame by frame,
tracing what they needed. It had the creativity of animation, but the
precision of live action. The results were astonishingly smooth, and
lots of people noticed. The New York Times said Koko, “The Inkwell
Man,” “leaps as a human being,” and it made sense — he was one. Take Cab Calloway’s performance. Now, animators didn’t have to guess what
subtle movements came in the middle. They had a filmed guide to every frame. Later, it helped out with Superman — using
photos and film to model Lois, like here. Gulliver’s Travels also had hyperreal movement
inspired by real motion. When the patent expired, other animation studios
followed. But Fleischer’s work was more than just
one invention. Now these cartoons and other ones at the time
are filled with tons of cringey stereotypes that wouldn’t pass muster today. But the creativity? That, that is not dated at all. “Here we go!” Fleischer studios invented the bouncing ball
song, where you can follow along with the lyrics. Oh yes, there’s a patent. Max and Dave patented multiplane animation
as well. See how they could film the main character
moving and separately move the background elements, like pictures and models? This created depth and saved animators time. It enabled gorgeous motion like in this scene
from Superman. As it evolved, Fleischer animation mixed all
these technologies with skilled artistry and improvisation. And that’s why rotoscoping is a versatile
tool still, whether it’s inspiring some of the animation in early video games or in
its logical extension in motion capture, where real movements are
given over to animators’ fancy. But even that undersells their achievements
a little. That Cab Calloway Walrus cartoon — Minnie
the Moocher — is a Betty Boop cartoon. But it is a work of art filled with infinite
delights that tantali—… Scratch that. It is straight up weird, in the best way possible. Phones have lips, handkerchiefs talk, ghost
skeletons get drunk, tonsils scream — the list goes on. When Cab Calloway saw himself turned into
a dancing walrus, he fell to the floor laughing. An invention made that work, but it was a
different type of genius that made Cab Calloway fall to the floor. You can patent a device. But you can’t patent that. That’s it for this episode in this series
about big changes to movies that came from outside of Hollywood. If there are any other animation examples
you find striking, let me know in the comments. I do want to take a chance though to underscore
just how far outside of Hollywood the Fleischers were — in addition to their New York Studios,
they had one in Miami, Florida, and that is where Gulliver’s Travels was actually made.

David Anderson

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100 thoughts on “The trick that made animation realistic

  1. EM Nemesis says:

    Mc Bess dropped me here

  2. condro p says:

    i knew rotoscope from richard linklater's movies

  3. Gianluca Valli says:

    Ghostemane vibes.

  4. Nicholas Scott says:

    Snow White used rotoscoping long before the patent expires. Though Disney and fleichter did work together on some projects

  5. Anthony Zaza says:

    Thanks for the video. Just throwing in a idea for your next video topic. How Anime play a big roll in Hollywood movie.

  6. Adam Badri says:

    Loved it.

  7. woop slap crowbar says:

    i hear Mamamoo's Dab Dab at 1:17 and 1:29 lol

  8. Why_are_there _no_names says:

    Wow, these guys couldnt come up with their own ideas so they just ripped off cuphead

  9. Aim Shoot Develop says:

    I’ve been incorporating this into my work and it’s stepped it up 10x !

  10. The Wolpertinger says:

    taking a summer animation class in a couple months and vox rlly be hyping it up for me even more w all these videos aaaa!! ❤️❤️❤️

  11. Raycifer says:

    nah man he got mo-capped

  12. ivantheczar says:

    Rotoscoping in Aku no Hana~~

  13. Dimso Denso says:

    so this is how Chika Dance was born

  14. Bearish - 9D Tunes in HQ says:

    Ghostemane – Mercury

  15. KarlBunker says:

    I love thinking about Cab Calloway laughing hysterically at the animation of himself as a walrus.
    And anyone who hasn't seen Betty Boop Minnie the Moocher should look it up ASAP.

  16. Chnce K says:

    I recognized so much of this art from lil peep and ghostmane collabs n songs ?

  17. nikshmenga says:

    Passing Mustard?

  18. mrvcy says:

    Early animation has really high quality movies and creative animators. For example Wan Brothers from China, Shezhnaya koroleva (snow queen) movie from Soviets and i think the best of its time La Bergere et le Ramoneur movie from Paul Grimault and Jacques Prevert.

  19. DankKoolAid says:

    Ghostemane fans report in

  20. RETiredGM says:

    I can't prove it, but I wonder if Cape Calloway's ROTFL reaction was the required response in dealing with white supremacy in a nation where he had no legal civil rights.

    Did the animators get permission and compensate Mr. Calloway for using his image to enhance their animation?

  21. Dragon Skunk Studio says:

    I wanted a reference on how to go from sitting on the ground to standing up. I found a video and rotoscoped it, sort of. The problem with rotoscoping, you risk entering the motion version of the uncanny valley. Since I'm using a 3D model I tend to have the video in the scene next to the actor instead of directly over. That way it is still manual animation driving the character.

  22. pinochet antifascista says:

    Short answer: rotoscopy

  23. Adam Pierce says:

    I enjoyed this presentation but a POX on political correctness.

  24. Lights Off says:

    Old animated characters move more swiftly.

  25. JupiterRising says:

    What's the jazz song that was playing in the first half of the video

  26. Robert says:

    U.S government : we need something to distract the children while we make war so they wont ask any questions
    Rotoscoping : ok

  27. BertyFromDK says:

    HAH! Even before clicking on the video, i just KNEW that it had to be the Rotoscope. 😀

  28. TheFlutteringPenguin says:

    Anyone know the name of the song on the intro?

  29. Joseph says:

    Only old people say Rotoscoping. Young Hip visual effects artists call it "pulling a matte"

  30. Melchizedek Phuah Siow Jin says:

    Yes, the animation of Fujiwara Chika from the ending of Kaguya-sama: Love is War was also achieved through rotoscoping. Thanks a lot for the video!

  31. Lisandro Julian says:

    The first animated film (el apostol) was made in Argentina by Quirino Christiani

  32. chongjunxiang3002 says:

    Any chance you make video of how Flash makes animation possible for amateur until they also achieve their success?

  33. JH Park says:

    Peak of rotoscoping is Chika Dance

  34. Ric Sanches says:

    Vox should make videos on programming!!

  35. Vincent1109 Campbell says:

    Do a video on scouts please

  36. streets ahead says:

    great video but i'm kinda bummed y'all didn't bring up one of the most iconic animators who used this technique; Ralph Bakshi

  37. Alexander Wolfgram says:

    Ghostemane heavily breathing

  38. Steve Austin says:

    Good effin job vox !

  39. OK4Y says:

    Cab calloway is a legend

  40. Alpha Goat says:

    Chika dance

  41. mfaizsyahmi. says:

    2:57 "When the patent expired"
    Wait, is that allowed?

  42. Ry Phi says:

    When a Walrus dances better than you

  43. Dylan Dreisbach says:

    Life was truly simpler when you can trace video for animation and have it be a legitimate breakthrough in the artform. And it can be a unique patent.

  44. warius1 says:

    Thanks Edward

  45. AidanI says:

    I used to watch these Betty Boop cartoons at my grandmas when I was little. Good times.

  46. Filipe Da Silva says:

    Wait?! What game was that? I used to play the heck out of that game when I was a kid

  47. Jishnu Savith says:

    Can u make a video on Bollywood

  48. Casi R. says:

    god i love this so much…. i love that this is now becoming more popular and well known. also cab calloway had some amazing songs.
    id love for you guys to tackle lotte reiniger, master of shadow animation, one of my favorite animators and one of the first animation film directors (who, yes, directed a fully animated feature film before disney came with snow white). she and his husband have a fascinating history, from rubbing elbows with berthold brecht and fritz lang while in germany, to working in italy with the most respected italian directors at the time.
    (also she used multiplane cameras even before these guys, so)

  49. Bell says:

    What I loved about fleischer studios was their absurdity in making cartoons. People are quick to refer to Disney when talking about old animation but fleischer's weird style is what their most likely talking about subconsciously. If people thought disney was weird back then; they we're merely watching a watered down version of fleischer's cartoons.

  50. Riyann says:

    Chika dance is the pinnacle of rotoscope.

  51. rich perez says:

    Ralph Bakshi gets no love from Vox! Shame on them. Coonskin, Heavy Traffic, The Lord of the Rings, and Fire & Ice are classics that shouldn't be forgotten.

  52. Jonathan says:

    Wow, that's so relevent to me since I study animation. I've been following Vox for years so this is really cool.

  53. Green Couch says:

    In one of the last scenes you see a black maid cleaning the room oh boy bad times

  54. Ike Black says:

    Realistic? Cartoon? What drugs you on?

  55. The Colorization Channel says:

    The Rotoscoping effects on Lord Of The Rings scared me when I was younger. Those Orcs looked like they could be from a Black Metal band

  56. lost dynasty says:

    All I see is ghost mane ?

  57. Amir says:

    it will be interesting to see the difference between the east and west production of animation and how they handle their artists. also why the western and American gradually move to 3D while japan still 2D

  58. Dook larue says:

    Spreading the great word of


  59. Rockin Robin says:

    What happened to animation

  60. Gautham Krishna.S says:

    These cartoons where inspired by CUPHEAD

  61. Penny Lane says:

    They got a patent for tracing a projected movie? Jesus. I guess trivial patents aren't a new invention.

  62. Max Hill says:

    thank you, very informative and well made

  63. soham das says:

    Roto scoping is used primarily to save time other than that after Ollie jhonston and Frank Thomas wrote 12 principles of animation roto scoping is rarely ised

  64. DangerDave says:

    Talk about early lantern plays and shadow theater.

  65. Russell Fernandez says:

    I guess I do have some dancing skills

  66. Anime Fan says:

    Vox: Did Cab Calloway receive any credit and/or remuneration at the time?

  67. Shock N Awe says:

    The trick that made animation realistic: TRACING.

  68. faez ezzy says:

    the most recent animation that stick out the most to me is spiderverse. Sony did it very well

  69. Hite. says:

    Its actually the heil sign

  70. Adriel Tassiov says:

    ghostemane vibes

  71. Mark Tweedale says:

    I feel like this subject needed a longer video. For five minutes, it does its job, but it oversimplifies in ways that I feel feed into the general public's misconceptions about animation.

  72. Yubi K. says:

    I heard rotoscoping freaked people out when it was first used.

  73. Rory Blessington says:

    Aardman and Nick Park revolutionised the stop-action animation in Britain and now the globe with Wallace and Gromit. They are a truly brutish invention.

  74. Vickycc says:

    Ghostemane – Mercury

  75. Michael Gutierrez says:

    I mean with lyrics like
    "She messed around with a bloke named Smokey
    She loved him though was cokey
    He took her down to Chinatown
    And he showed her how to kick the gong around".
    This cartoon is pretty trippy

  76. Coco Meador says:

    I lowkey really wanna work for vox, I love binge watch these videos❤❤❤

  77. Matt Perez - Glassheart Records says:

    If you haven't seen the Fleischer Superman films, you are doing yourself an incredible disservice.
    Also if you get the chance, check out KaptainKristian's video essay that goes over those films a ton, it's a great video from an underrated YouTuber.

  78. michale andmore says:

    How far have we come

  79. Alec Gross says:

    Ok but also that “old man in the mountain” episode is by far one of the creepiest cartoons ever made. Whoever thought that was appropriate for kids… probably didn’t have kids

  80. Blaise Dahl says:

    What was the name of the song used in the beginning?

  81. Maddy Corrasa says:

    Japanese animation is awesome

  82. Edgy Nightmeme says:

    I’m surprised there aren’t as many people talking about Cuphead here.

  83. Althea Equatorin says:

    cab calloway is such a legend.

  84. Althea Equatorin says:


  85. Noel Vermillia says:

    Have you seen a Chika Dance? That's some outstanding animation.

  86. sit down drank says:

    where the ghostemane fans at

  87. BurningThroughTime says:

    I highly recommend Linklater's Waking Life for some super weird digital rotoscoping!

  88. Nate Smith says:

    Rotoscoping is a valuable tool in any animators arsenal but it tends to put characters in the uncanny valley, meaning it has that creepy effect of being almost life-like but not quite. The real breakthrough came from the 12 principles developed by Disney animators in the 30’s and 40’s and described in detail by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas in their book, The Illusion of Life.

  89. GHOSThead NOW says:

    Wow, I love learning about animation history !!!

  90. bruh says:

    2:22 look at this poor clown, he lost one of his AirPods

  91. Vas Bennett says:

    Lord of the rings 1979 was like that.

  92. alteredillusions100 says:


  93. SaOrA6 6 says:

    Thank you for switching light on these amazing techniques that are usually dismissed
    Max Fleischer is not really heard about these days anymore

  94. Cheydinal says:

    Patens expiring? Gosh, what is this, 1019?

  95. Devin Williams says:

    I love the old way of animation tbh.

  96. Devin Williams says:

    Rotoscoping is the best way to do it

  97. Maarten Slof says:

    Hey Phil,
    I was wondering if you could tell me something about copyright infringement in this particular case. Wasn't Cab's dance his artistic work at the time, which, appropriated to the cartoon, still his copyrightable work? I know there is a blurred line when coming to inspiration and imitation, especially with dance I find this so apparent, since there is always a dancer who performs a dance (In this case a cartoon) and makes it inherently his/her performance. But there also is a copyright to the choreography. I wonder if any of these issues came by your research. Cheers, Maarten.

  98. Sincerely Eccentric says:

    my animation heart is so thankful for rotoscoping! It makes animating so much easier

  99. J A says:

    This is why I love Vox. Im always learning!

  100. Markus Burke says:

    So basically, the 'trick' that made animation realistic is not an improvement in the skill of the animator, but using a cheat to simply trace the drawings.

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