The other day Australia’s free newspaper MX (and with MX you don’t get value for money) ran a brief expose on how Disney artists in the 1970s used a rotoscope device to trace scenes for the ‘classic’ (MX’s word, not mine) animated film Robin Hood. This would be a huge scandal if most people hadn’t known of this for at least the last thirty years.

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The 1970s weren’t exactly a great time for animation. Disney were tracing scenes from Snow White to make Robin Hood, while the last few animated short series that played in cinemas came to an end. Hanna Barbera and Filmation made thousands of horrible animated TV shows that people of my generation grew up with and sadly now get all nostalgic about. Perhaps because things were so terrible at this time it is the reason why I gravitated towards watching true classic cartoons like Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies, Tex Avery’s MGM cartoons, classic Disney films of the mid-late 30s, etc, instead of Scooby Doo, Superfriends or The Smurfs. Things really didn’t improve until the late 1980s.

As for what the rotoscope is, this is something that MX helpfully did not explain. It was a device invented in the 1910s by Max Fleischer that enabled him to trace live action footage of his brother Dave, in order to get more realistic movement for his Koko the Clown character. By the 1930s the rotoscope use wasn’t as common as it was, but the Fleischer’s still used it on occasion with Betty Boop, particularly when she had to do an elaborate dance routine like in Minnie the Moocher.

As for Disney ‘cheating’ by using the rotoscope to do some scenes in Robin Hood, so what! Every studio has in some way cheated on some cartoons for budgetary or other reasons. I don’t see this as any worse than a ‘so called’ newspaper like MX cutting and pasting articles from Perez Hilton’s website or celebrity Twitter and presenting them as real news.

To see a list of films where the rotoscope has been used go to Wikipedia.

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