Performance Capture Technology circa 1966: AnimaScope

Mo-Cap, Shmoe-Cap!

Move over Robert Zemeckis – your ideas are old hat. Max Fleischer invented the rotoscope in 1917 and, thanks to this newly discovered piece of film, we now know Westworld Artists conceived motion capture for animation in the 1960s. Only they called it AnimaScope (nifty title, eh?).

AnimaScope was “animation without drawings”. It was created by Leon Maurer (brother of comic artist Norman Maurer) and is related to his Colormation technique, which we posted about in 2007. AnimaScope was used in the original Yellow Submarine (ironic, isn’t it?) and several Bakshi feature films, but essentially abandoned after that. Here’s a look at the future of animation, that never was:

(Thanks, Andrew Sylvester)


  • Mike Russo

    No matter who does it and when it’s still creepy as hell.

  • http://www.commanderkitty.com Scotty A

    I love how they compare the cost of a minute of animation to the entire budget of Ben Hur… Sign me up!!!

  • Mike!

    Looks like robots then, and it looks like robots now. Nearly fifty years of technological development hasn’t really gotten us anywhere with this technique, has it.

  • http://joelbrinkerhoff.blogspot.com/ Joel Brinkerhoff

    I beg to differ with you about this technique being used for Yellow Submarine. Those sequences are traced from film as rotoscope. Some of Lucy in the Sky clips were from Metropolis by Fritz Lang.

    • Dingdongdog

      The process was licensed to the Yellow Submarine producers through King Features. Where it was used in the production is unknown. Animascope is NOT rotoscope—which requires penciling each live action frame by hand. Animascope shoots the live actors directly on film and converts it into line drawings on cels, or directly on film (Colormation), automatically. (No animators or inkers needed)

    • Dingdongdog

      According to Len Maurer the process was licensed to the Yellow Submarine producers through King Features. Where or how it was used in the production (Made in London) is unknown. It was also licensed to Bakshi’s company for the production of the Tolkein Feature Films and American Pop. Animascope (formerly Artiscope) is NOT rotoscope — which requires penciling each live action frame by hand. Animascope shoots the prosthetic make up and costumed live actors directly on film and automatically converts it into ink line drawings on cels, or directly (Colormation) onto 35mm film along with the background matte paintings — through a 3-pass sequential series of 35mm traveling mattes. (No pencil animators or inkers needed). It is truly the first fully automated 3-D motion capture animation system (all on film) that is completely emulated by current digital CGI animation and live action special effects systems. The Colormation tests were the first research applications of the improved (all film) Animascope process. It was written and designed by Milton Caniff, and produced by Maurer as a demo for a proposed fully animated, low cost, TV series of Caniff’s Steve Canyon comic strip. (The next TV projects were to be Lil’ Abner and Buck Rogers). Unfortunately, the WAP company was forced to close before all the bugs were fully ironed out and the initial pilot film completed.

      • Jeffrey Gray

        For those who were wondering where Animascope was used in Yellow Submarine – maybe it was used in the “Eleanor Rigby” sequence featuring cameos by some of the crew?

  • Ian Merch

    I don’t know if anyone’s seen any really bad cell-shaded animation from a video game or anything, but this is EXACTLY what it looks like.

    I’m still not totally sure why everyone wants to get rid of animators so much. I’ve only worked at two studios, but everyone I’ve met has been pretty nice so far.

  • http://blissfulignorance551.deviantart.com/ A.J.

    Huh, shows what 50 years can or can’t do haha
    I seriously think people should just stop hating this industry.
    I think they forgot to mention that those hundreds of Artists had families :P

  • trn

    how creepy. wasn’t disney accused of doing something similar to this with snow white?

  • squirrel

    Hey, Animascope is a nifty name? How about… “MO-CAP”!? That’s sure to become a timeless, memorable term also!

    I really wish people of those days didn’t explain the process of animation as “magic”. It defeats the purpose of getting people to appreciate the work involved and you can see trickles of that to this day, what with so many clients and companies misunderstanding it.

    Oh, and one more thing. They say it’s “without paper”. It IS WITH paper! They still have to draw over the filmed performances!

    • Art weston

      Only rotoscope (such as used for Snow White, Gulliver’s Travels and other realistic animated feature films) requires artists to draw over the filmed performance on paper and later transferred to transparent celluloid. The processes used for the initial Animascope and (later) the colormation tests and demos apparently goes directly from the live filming to the animation cels or onto the finished animated film by a travelling matte process..

  • http://willfinn.blogspot.com/ Will Finn

    This looks like that 3 Stooges “instant cartoon” thing. It appears to be basically very high contrast photography (exposed on 2′s apparently?) and painted flat, then integrated into some sort of traditional BG. It’s really more a form of regressed live action than it is any kind of animation.

  • http://stevenegordon.com Steven E Gordon

    Disney also used this a little bit in Night on Bald Maountain and Dalmations, but don’t think for a minute that artists weren’t used to some degree – even if they were low paid kids straight out of school. Someone had to trace around those ‘live-action’ actors and give shapes for the painters to paint. Just like animators were still necessary for Avatar despite all Cameron’s (and his actors) claims to contrary.

    At Bakshi’s it was called Roto-photo and young artists spent hours outlining adding alements and whiting out background elements – ask Tim Burton, he whited out photos for Ralph. Bet you don’t see that on his resume;)

    It was a great training tool and a great way to get into the industry.

    • Dingdongdog

      Yeah, Ralph Bakshi used the earliest Artiscope process, invented by Norman and Len Maurer, that used transparent cels — before the all 35mm film Colormation process came along — which needed no rotoscope artists, inkers or colorists, and required no retouchers or line corrections. The reason Bakshi changed the name to “Roto-photo” is because he and his partners decided not to pay the royalties and therefore infringed the original Artiscope and Animascope patents. Disney never had this process, but there were other earlier rotoscope methods that could give similar results but still had a certain amount of line jitter, and took much longer and was more expensive to produce. Max Fleischer patented the rotoscope process in 1917 after he made his Out of the Inkwell series in 1915 with his brother playing Koko The Clown. Line jitter was not a serious problem in the crude b&W cartoons produced before Disney used rotoscope to make Snow White in 1937.

  • Jay Sabicer

    Looks like Westworld was just using very-high contrast film (much like what the old ‘stat’ cameras use). I agree with Joel, probably not the exact same process. Yellow Submarine and the Bakshi films most likely took existing black-and-white footage and re-exposed it (one frame at a time) onto high contrast film cels. But the process, since taken directly from live-action takes away the ‘cartooniness’ of the animation. Odd, that they showed only stills of the stylized cartoon characters. Imagine having to act inside one of those cartoon modern papier-maché heads.

  • Saturnome

    I love how they show stylized characters, but can’t show them moving !

    Wasn’t something similar used in Disney’s 101 Dalmatians, for the cars?

  • Bugs Jetstone

    Westworld- is that out near Uncanny Valley country?

    What is it with the word Westworld and soulless, dead-eyed machines?

  • Isaac

    Astounding how much like CG these shots look, especially the boats and water. Animascope, combine live action and animation to get the worst of both worlds for cheap.

  • Sara H.

    Amazing how a technology can actually get worse over time.

  • http://beesbuzz.biz/ fluffy

    Realistic motion, like ocean waves looping back-and-forth!

  • Ryan

    The part right after “Animascope is versatile!” feels kind of disingenuous. They show a bunch of still images of characters with cartoony proportions, but don’t show them in motion at all, to compare to the straw man and the dancer. I guess you could apply the same principles to a puppet as to a human in a suit, but if it’s so versatile, show that versatility in motion.

  • http://hellohue.blogspot.com Hellohue

    I love how it completely disregards the appealing qualities of ‘costly, time consuming animation’. However, it’s point about budget is interesting considering last year’s hit AnimaScope blockbuster Avatar that somehow managed to be one of the most expensive films ever made.

  • Terry Walsh

    Joel Brinkerhoff’s comment about the rotoscope process being used for parts of the “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” sequence in “Yellow Submarine” is correct. Look again and you can see a spot of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers from one of their RKO musicals.

    A bit of an aside, in early 1969 several months after “Yellow Submarine” came out, the old Pickwick bookstore on Hollywood Blvd. had a couple of tables set up with dozens of matted ORIGINAL cels from “Yellow Submarine”. Offered for sale were many of the cels from the “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” sequence. The price was $25.00 each.

    I didn’t have an extra $25.00 at the time.

  • Donald C.

    I like how they mention how “versatile” it is, but don’t even bother to animate the examples.

  • http://smomotion.com :: smo ::

    zany! so these essentially printed out blown out film on cels to be painted? i’d like to see examples of animation of those cartoony character designs at the end there, i’m a bit skeptical…

    funny how methods like this that capture real motion look like amaturish 3d animation done today!

  • Pedro Nakama

    Disney used this technique with models on 101 Dalmatians for Cruella’s Automobile.

  • http://cartoongeeks.com Michelle “Ms. Geek” Klein-Hass

    This looks better than anything Zemeckis has done. :P

  • Iritscen

    Ah, finally I get an answer as to what was actually going on in Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings when it got really ugly there at the end. It was clearly too “solid” to be traditional Fleischer rotoscoping, so I assumed it was simply some sort of high-contrast filtering of live-action footage. It seems that I was basically right about that, however it also seems that Westwood was painting over the strawman in that sample footage, cleaning it up and coloring it by hand. Am I wrong?

  • Gerard de Souza

    Uncanny Valley 60s Style.

    So what was the process? White costumes and white make up with black lines on contours and edges to then have frames printed as cels? That’s all I can imagine the process. For effects like Cruella’s car and technical drawing as mentioned, this works; for characters it’s Uncanny Valley. I noticed what Donald C. said too. They assumed that to whom they were pitching couldn`t tell the difference of the stylized drawings and traced live action.

  • http://www.shandafantasyarts.org Mike Curtis

    I believe this technique was used even before this in THREE STOOGES IN ORBIT, and developed for that film by Norman Maurer.

    In the plotline, the new animation method is to be used on a 3 Stooges show for inexpensive stooges cartoons. It’s called ARTISCOPE.

    http://www.kiddiematinee.com/t-3stoogesorbit.html

    It can be seen briefly at this YouTube video at the 4:00 minute mark
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSeoBnBwhRs&feature=related

    “The animation process that which Norman Maurer created for both THE THREE STOOGES SCRAPBOOK and THE THREE STOOGES IN ORBIT was called Artiscope. This animation process preceded CGI cartoons and Pixar by a few decades. It’s sad that this unique form of animation was never recognized. “

  • http://robcatview.blogspot.com robcat2075

    I’d say if you want rigorous rotoscoping like in Bakshi’s “American Pop” this would solve the jitter problem. Beyond that?

    I’d be curious to see what their results were with the cartoony characters they showed, if there were any results. But if they could have they would have, so I presume they didn’t.

  • http://www.artofzacharyknoles.com Zachary Knoles

    That was awesome. I love how the narrator emphasizes (twice) using “a real actor … for automatic lip sync!!” and then the character speaks and the lips barely move at all.

  • http://animationapocalypse.blogspot.com/ Baron Lego

    Animascope! Whatever you can imagine, we can create it! Provided it can be approximated by dressing up someone in a suit, that is…

  • http://www.tuortoart.blogspot.com Patrick

    @Mike Curtis
    Hey Mike, great Three Stooges links, those posters are awesome! And those Aliens look like midget versions of Frankenstien.haha! Nobody can top the Three Stooges…NO BODY! Thanks for posting!

  • jic

    I loved how when they were showing the vast variety of character types that could be animated with the technique, none were actually animated! I don’t see how you could possibly do most of them without drawing over the frames, which would eliminate the benefits over traditional rotoscoping.

  • Geoff

    Wasn’t there work being done on real-time animation using motion capture around this time (work that led to the Scanimate process)?

  • Mandy

    Almost 50 years and they still can’t get the eyes to move.

  • Mandy

    To anyone saying 101 Dalmations used animascope.

    They used xeroxing so they wouldn’t have to paint over the lines to save time and money. And they probably rotoscoped the cars, but they didn’t use this technique. 101 Dalmations was released in 1961. Animascope didn’t come out until the mid 60s.

  • Pedro Nakama

    Hey Mandy it was used with models on 101 Dalmatians. At that time it wasn’t called Animascope it was just a method to get the proper perspective on objects. Check out page 330 of The Illusion of Life.

    When you photograph a white car with black pin stripes the negative of that is a black car with white pin stripes. That can be burned onto a sheet of film or as some of us know as a photo-roto. Drawn animation can be placed on top of it. It’s the same principal.

  • Mandy

    My mistake. I just checked my book. Thanks for the heads up Pedro.

  • Kustom Kool

    I actually think the process looks pretty cool in a retro-Bakshi “American Pop” way. So does anyone here really know what the process was? I’m assuming some kind of high-contrast film shoot that was then rotoscoped. But the way they sell it, makes it seems like no artists are actually involved.

  • Kustom Kool

    Eureka! From a few years back here is Leon Maurer’s explanation of how it was done. It wasn’t as simple as you might think…

    Matt Haley says:
    I found Leon Maurer’s homepage and emailed him about it, and got the following response… kind of fun to find out just how it was done!

    Hi Matt,

    Yep, I made that test around 1966-7 using a new version of my Animascope™® Process which was actually done entirely on 35mm EK color film using three separate traveling mattes and two passes on an optical printer.

    The action was shot on a rim and flat front lighted black velvet stage using live actors made up using line drawings that I brush painted on the face, costume and latex prosthetics, including the hair pieces, with the color painted in flat latex washes and later flattened further using a low density low contrast positive greyscale traveling matte.

    The outlines were created by using super hi contrast B&W positive and negative travelling mattes that were etched and dyed to restore opacity. The matte film was a special order Kodalith emulsion on 35 mm mylar film to maintain absolute registration so as to prevent line jitter.

    This entire patented Colormation® process was written up as an illustrated tutorial article in the SMPTE Journal, Oct, 1967 after international patents were issued.

    The original B&W Animascope system used the same shouting technique with white costumes and makeup, and a similar etch and dye process, using standard 100 foot rolls of 35mm EK Microfilm. The hi contrast outline traveling mattes were printed in house on a matte printer used for the old cinecolor process, and all films were developed and etched in war surplus field processing machines.

    The mattes were then double loaded and projected, using my specially modified Oxberry animation stand, to print 9 x 12 auto peg punched Kodalith Cels on 100 foot rolls — which were processed in house using a military surplus, wide film continuous processing machine… Originally used for developing continuous aerial photographic film rolls during WW2. The cels were then ink retouched slightly to close up broken outlines, conventionally opaqued in color, and photographed against painted backgrounds on a standard animation stand. This process was tested originally with a short ballet film done in the style of Daumier where several of his paintings in a museum come alive.

    Disney originally estimated this 3 minute short at $150,000 and six months production time. We did it in full 35mm technicolor, with a full professional Crew and equipment in less than two weeks at under $10,000 (and disney couldn’t have done it better).

    Unfortunately, after producing a half hour pilot for a projected TV network series called the Wonderland of OZ (which never got aired) Dick Tracy and later Buck Rogers and Superman went live action, the company eventually folded, due to a financial disaster, and the patents had to be eventually sold to NYIT — when I was hired in the mid 70’s to work as a consultant on the development of the computer graphic motion control and animation systems leading to the digitization of Star Wars, Pixar, Toy Story, etc. Unfortunately, after several years of that I resigned before the CG lab closed and the entire staff went to Hollywood — while I settled down as a free lance graphic designer, artist and producer — before computers made obsolete all my old skills, and I got too old to be retreaded as a CG artist. ;-)

    During that time, when my company folded, Ralph Bakshi used the process.

  • John A

    Since this process was originally used in the movie THE THREE STOOGES IN ORBIT, wouldn’t that make it the first actual use of Moe-Cap?

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tony Mines

    Yeah, you guys can pretend if you want. But a lot of that footage pretty much worked. Certainly looked no different or worse than much of the conventional rotoscope used in mainstream films from the 50s to the 70s.

    Maybe some of the striaght-on stuff was creepy, but thats largely to do with 4th wall mechanics (hellooooo Wes Anderson) and would be confrontational using any process. Some of the mid-shot stuff, where they aren’t trying too hard to change body shapes (that lion costume, pfft) actually works, at least to the extent to prove the viability of the technique.
    It may not have caught on then, but it’s catching on now under a different name because – sorry kids – it kind of does the job!

    Anyway. That’s pretty much how they made Tron, and everyone knows Tron looks awesome – so it’s just how you apply it.

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tony Mines

    also,
    ‘Westworld Artists’
    Is that not a familiar name? Does it not rather suggest that the cartoons are going to rise up and try and kill us?

  • http://animcareerpro.com/blog Chris

    Clever, but totally loses the appeal of animation and defeats the purpose. This stuff actually looks like a Maya toon shader being used on quite a few tv series these days – but animated by animators.