Colormation Colormation


This just in! Another candidate for my Comic Con program,Worst Cartoons Ever!

Talk about motion capture! It takes the Clutch Cargo/Syncho Vox concept to a whole new level. Director Peter Avanzino (Futurama) found this test clip (circa 1962) posted by Something Weird Video on YouTube. Pete thinks this technique might be good for a Beowulf remake.

The clip is credited to Leon H. Maurer, who has quite an impressive resume, and is apparently related to Norman Maurer (comic book artist, film director, Moe Howard’s son-in-law), who used a similar process (called “Cinemagic”) in his 1960 feature film, The Angry Red Planet. In 1955 Leon started Illustrated Films, Inc. (with Norman) and they co-invented Artiscope, a “full animation-by-automation” system (per Leon’s resume, “Realistic character animation without artists – world’s first practical “real-time motion capture” system”). If anyone can shed any further light on this technique, please let us know.


    I personally found this creepy and unsettling……….though i expect it will not affect everyone in the same way. Quite possibly the closest anyone has yet achieved in visually depicting one of my stranger nightmares…..being a cartoonist myself, i am prone to some odd dreams, and i reckon this resembles some of them!

  • Ok, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this style would actually be a hit today for a new “retro” animation program.
    For some odd reason I found myself absolutely intrigued by this clip and disappointed that it wasn’t used more for an actual series. I actually want to see this series! When I first started watching it I wondered if in fact it was not just some animator’s idea of a joke or “style choice” produced with modern 3-D animation programs. However, if it is a truly circa 60’s animation test, it was fun and had some real potential for greatness in my opinion!

  • AJ

    “A woman pilot!?”


  • purin

    I think it’s really cool. However, I see it more as a visual effect than animation. How was it done exactly?

  • How does this clip look like something different than rotoscoping?

  • A WOMAN?!

  • Zach

    It kind of reminds me of the rotoscoping technique from Wizards and Lord of the Rings, only without Bakshi’s odd charm.

  • At first I thought it was just odd, but then I started liking it. By the end I wanted to see more. If it wasn’t for the extreme sexism I wouldn’t categorize it as a “Worst Cartoon Ever”, but rather just an animation curiosity. For some reason I found the female pilot’s hair really intriguing. As has been noted it actually felt kind of modern somehow and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it was a fake retro piece.

  • Gummo

    Wow, creepy & intriguing at the same time. Once I started getting used to it, I could certainly see it being used in a modern animation setting. It certainly looks better than most rotoscoping/motion capture — the accuracy of the facial movements was really unsettling!

  • Apparently Leon Maurer is an unsung genius! According to his resume (posted here) Leon was the the mind behind the 3-D comic book craze of the 1950s – and was a 3-D technical consultant to Disney and Famous Studios (he also lists Terrytoons, but I’d assume that was related to the 3-D Mighty Mouse comic book). As a consultant to Techicolor, he claims he “invented and developed the first practical and economically feasible (dye transfer imbibition) “coloration” system for B&W films.” He says his Animascope system was licensed for use in feature films, such as Yellow Submarine, Lord of the Rings, American Pop, etc.

    And apparently he is still alive and living in Manhattan. Someone should go interview him – fast!

  • Yes, definitely creepy, bringing us the worst aspects of rotoscoping in what looks like a literal transcription of a ’50s comic book. If it was able to bring something else to the party I’d want to go along, but the “sets” look more cardboard than those of the original Star Trek. Several others have invoked the name of Ralph Bakshi — this makes me think of Roy Lichtenstein. It’s so retro it’s good for a giggle but that’s about all it had going for it.

  • Reminds me of Sin City… which isn’t animation, but still looks cool..

    The only really unsettling thing is that the guy’s head and neck look fused together… no flexibility at all! That stiffness, without knowing what your looking at, could lead you to believe it was computer generated.. certainly no done 50 years ago!

    Jerry, if this was licensed for Yellow Submarine etc., was it actually used? I’d imagine we would have heard of this process before…

    And were the backgrounds mostly drawn? (Except obviously for the gear the pilot grabs…)


  • joecab

    Is this guy supposed to be Steve Canyon? (I couldn’t bear to watch the entire thing to find out: WAY creepy. And they really went a little further on the mascara than they had to.)

  • it was deffinitely an interesting process. does anyone know how they pulled it off? it doesn’t look rotoscoped. was it come kind of manipulation of the film stock to get that effect?

  • BWSmith



  • Jules

    If you can’t locate the man himself, track down writers Jeffrey Scott or Michael Maurer, who’d be his nephews and may remember something about this process. This looks like what was once called electronic matting. There must be a color version somewhere, or why else would it be called ‘Colormation’? It does look a bit like the world of Clutch Cargo, crossed with the crude makeup of silent film, shot on a two inch Ampex video tape system resembling orthochromatic film stock, which dropped out all grays. The early 1960’s was a time, not unlike today, when traditional full animation for tv was deemed too expensive and any drastic alternative was attempted, which is why Dick Brown’s Synchro-Vox system was such a hit. My guess is audiences of the time weren’t ready for the stark visual hybrid seen in this example, (the characters and backgrounds seem to exist in two different arenas, uncomfortable for viewers used to one or the other) but it would absolutely work today. The biggest difference in today’s tv production approach is that the perspective wouldn’t be worked out so accurately due to the lagging skill levels in whatever country they’d schlep it through with no money or time.

  • Steve Gattuso

    I’m intrigued by this as well. It looks like an early blue-screen process, with the foreground color de-saturated and projected on the illustrated background. Aside from the 60’s-level sexism, I’d call this more of an oddity than a truly awful cartoon.

    But yes, find this guy and interview him. He sounds like a pioneer in video effects.

  • Kris

    It’d be great if someone knew how this system actually worked. It doesn’t look like modern motion capture, to be honest with you–frankly it has too many subtle motions to be modern 3D mocap disguised as a “retro” piece, as many people accuse it of being. It LOOKS like someone took live-action film and filtered it somehow to make it look like comic book art.

  • Marvin

    It’s really just a cheap version of what Frank Miller’s Sin City pulled off. Sin City easily cost over eighty million and this thing probably rang up a bill of fifty bucks, but the end results aren’t all that different.

  • slowtiger

    I’ve never seen this before, but I think it is a legitimate forerunner of TRON – it’s even the same genre. And, as others have noticed, to our trained eye a trash like this looks pretty cool now. How would this style work out in the hands of a Tim Burton (since Ed Wood isn’t available any more)?

  • John A

    I don’t see why a digital version of this technique couldn’t be attempted. A few ‘held cels’ to conteract the “driftiness” of straight rotoscoping, and a digital artist minimizing the eyeblinks, and a studio could probably create a film that resembles hand drawn animation. Interesting.

  • julian

    i wouldn’t call this “the worst cartoon ever! ‘couse it’s not a cartoon first. it’s just an post production effect. it’s a bit interesting but very very weird for sure. I doubt the guys who did sin city have ever hear about this but for some moments it’s pretty similar but hey! this was done in the 60’s! give them some credit for that!
    i loved when he was running in the same place and the background moved!


  • Zapnut

    This is a fantastic technical experiment! Thanks for sharing it with us.

  • Wasn’t there some sort of plot point having to do with creating cartoons directly from photographed humans in that cinematic classic The THree Stooges In Orbit?

    And wasn’t this film Written by one Norman Maurer?

    The pieces are falling into place!

  • It has its charm.

    I’d almost like to see this technique used in something like a Terry & The Pirates animated film, but then it might just come off like reading the strip while hallucinating on cold medicine.

  • Peter

    I was thinking they had hand traced the film, but that the actors must have been in some heavy white makeup with all the facial definition- lips, eyes, smile lines- drawn on in black. Also their clothes would have been specially made with black piping. The woman would have had a wig or shower-cap on with the hair drawn on. This would have made the film very clear for tracing. I’d love to see some behind the scenes photos.

  • Andy Rose

    I must say, I like this better than the super-creepy process used on A Scanner Darkly and all those Charles Schwab commercials.

  • Mr. P

    I seem to remember a sequence in a Three Stooges feature, (Three Stooges In Orbit?), where the boys are made up in hideous black and white make-up to perform in a new kind of cartoon made through the use of a new camera invention.
    The film had Norman Maurer as a producer/writer I believe.
    It looks like the process involved heavily made-up actors with black accented costumes and wigs (like plastic DEVO hair!) shot on a high contrast film stock.
    It definitely is other worldly looking, but certainly isn’t animation, just as I would describe motion capture.

  • Daniel

    I suspect they may have actually painted the actors faces with stark black and white to more easily get anough contrast to get the tight comic-book style details on them without having them float around. maybe even going so far as to have molds on their heads to get the same effect with their hair. After filming through whatever process to get a stark black and white, they maybe have used some old school blue-screen type technique to composite them into the backgrounds.

    I doubt this is “true” rotoscoping because it doens’t look like any part of this was actually traced by hand. it may have been more of a cheap pre-xerox era xerox process.

  • Nick

    I’m shocked that this hasn’t been mentioned, but hasn’t anyone seen “The Three Stooges In Orbit?” Part of that movie details a new way of producing cartoons where the “actors” wear high contrast clothes with Capt. Howdy-style makeup. The Stooges don the garb and there’s a short hard to see clip of the cartoon. It looks exactly like this.

    Then again, that could’ve all been movie-B.S. and I believed it like the dumb kid I was/still am.

  • A woman!?! What in blazes? I should hate this because most rotoscoping and motion capture stuff irks me severely, and that guy running throw the corridor of that space ship is hilarious, but it actually works for some reason. I think it’s the crisp, black and white linework.

  • I don’t think it was any kind of video or bluescreen compositing. I think it’s a variation on the technique that Bakshi used on certain scenes for Rings and Wizards, printing out black and white live action on cels and then backpainting the positive areas in white. Pretty neat!

  • AmPhotog

    I am not an expert, but if I had to guess I would say that real actors were filmed with high contrast media which was then overexposed; this high contrast b&w film was then layered between background and foreground artwork to create the scenes.

  • Ryan

    That was awesome! I can’t believe you’d consider that as one of the worst cartoons ever… If it ain’t animated it can’t be considered a cartoon now can it?

  • Asymetrical

    That was awesome! Maybe this will work well for Cartoon Network. Live action and animation. Then they can have their cake and eat it too! I wish there was more of this!

  • I bet they did something like shoot the actors against a plain backdrop and then make a print of that footage in super high contrast. Then they could have printed out the individual frames in a photocopy type of process that created the contrasty black and white line look. Then they composited that with backgrounds and foreground objects and there you go… a pretty darned cool little project. Lots of uses I would think – especially in the early 60s. Nice post. Thanks.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Do kinda wonder if the “Colormation” process would’ve yielded a color film in the end if the characters and backgrounds would be rendered in color eventually. Aside from the sexist comment so evident in B-movies of the day, this was not such a bad test at all, and I only wish they could resolve what happens next in that couple minutes of footage.

  • Corey

    I dunno why but that was awesome. The added sexism was a nice touch as well.

  • Oddly mesmerizing. It reminds me a bit of a handful of present-day ads for some insurance company which utilized a sort of computer-generated pseudo-rotoscoping effect.

  • Maybe the stark white make-up mentioned above and High Contrast black and white film. They used that in effects shooting in days of yore. It’s conceivable that they could have not had any hand retracing at all. I’d be real interested to see what the process was.

  • Brent Seguine

    Norman Maurer used his brother’s Artiscope process for a scene in THE THREE STOOGES IN ORBIT (1962). The “machine” is used as a plot device, with a professor (Emil Sitka) offering his invention to help the Stooges save their children’s television show. A scene of Moe, Larry & Curly Joe dancing in an Artiscope clip appears later in the movie.

    Norm died in 1986, and I don’t know if Moe’s family stayed in touch with Len Maurer, but… (fyi – Several years ago, Joan mentioned that Len was not in good health.)

    Re: comic book 3-D
    Len’s invention, and with his brother Norm and Norm’s partner Joe Kubert, the three created the Mighty Mouse comic book for St. John Publications in 1953, setting off the short-lived fad. The story of creating that book in 3-D is related in The Three Stooges Scrapbook by Joan Maurer and Greg & Jeff Lenburg. I interviewed Joe Kubert a few years ago for The Three Stooges Journal, and Mr. Kubert also related the story with some additional recollections.

  • “No wonder your space ship is falling apart, you’re a woman!”

    Wow, that was incredibly horrible entertainment.

  • Scott Jenkins

    This is awesome, and it looks one heck of a lot better than a lot of the stuff that actually gets on television. You do this nowadays with a 3D background and you’ve got something really cool.

  • Fred Cline

    I just threw up in my mouth.

  • I guess this is as “creepy” as any cartoon coming to life in a full-motion way. It’s a great test. I would have like to have seen a version with the frames broken down into twos or threes, to provoke a more pixelated look and anchor it into its static comic book panel environment.

    Reminds me of the live actors in Tron, where characters and environment were blended in a surprisingly beautiful way, even though the plot was pretty stale.

  • And imagine if Cartoon Dump was produced this way!

  • red pill junkie

    -A WOMAN!! Where’s your diaper?

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist it ;-)

  • Some (Female) Space Captain

    I kinda liked it. It did remind me a lot of “Sin City”. I thought it looked really cool (well, as long as you ignore the fact that the hero seems to have no nose… not to mention his misogyny).
    Also, BWSmith, I [heart] you. That’s still one of my favorite music videos.

  • Hedonism Bot from Futurama

    A woman? Piloting a ship? How delightfully absurd!

  • Restivo

    Bakshi’s rotoscoped stuff was shot mostly on two’s, to avoid boiling linework and jittery registration, except in certain spots, where action was fast. The footage in this test isn’t even rotoscoped nor traced at all. It’s video footage composited into a world of drawn b.g. and overlay art. It couldn’t be done on twos at that early date using that process. It is a most interesting effort to try and do something different.

  • C. A. M. Thompson

    I think this looks a lot better than most of Adult Swim’s shows. And I love the backgrounds!

  • I could see something like this being made today as a parody, complete with horribly out of date sexism – a woman?! No wonder you can’t drive!

    It’s kinda like watching Sealab 2021 on some really weird acid. How could you not laugh at this? It actually looks pretty cool, but then again, I’m not an animator myself, so I don’t share their passionate hatred for rotoscoping. But on the other hand, that Bakshi version of Lord of the Rings really sucked….

    Fun little clip. Wish it was longer; it would have been perfect for MST3K.

  • FP

    It’s efectively analog edge-detection, with what appear to be roto mattes for the backgrounds. There were multiple methods to get that sort of effect back then, with analog video and unconventionally-processed film.

    That kind of thing is way easier now. Here’s a secret plugin that will allow you to get the exact same effect with one click in AFTER EFFECTS:

    Here’s a clip I personally ran through the TOON-IT filter as a test, with no tweaking. It uses one of four presets, with footage not specifically prepared for the process:

    and a hi-con test, looking a lot like the spaceman sequence:

    Tom Goes All Over The Mayor!

  • I dunno about Jerry, but I LOVED this test film! Absolutely avant-garde for something done in 1962. It looks like something that could be done on computers today!

    It looks so much like an uncolored Jack Kirby comic literally come to life, so much that it’s frighteningly surreal! I’m astounded. SIN CITY was the first thing that came to mind when seeing this, moreso than the mo-cap and rotoscope films today. This is way too cool for something like A SCANNER DARKLY.

    Are you sure this was done in 1962?

    Again, I’m astounded! :)

  • I’d be curious who the target of this test was. This must have been part of a pitch for a series. Who saw that pitch and what was their reaction? If “Radar men from the Moon” could make it into theaters and onto TV, why not this?

  • Carina

    As seems to be the consensus here, I also believe that these characters are not rotoscoped, but rather high contrast live-action. It has a similar feel to the way movies look after they have been colorized. I do think that some retracing was done, however – if you look closely at the general’s left arm (right side of screen) at the beginning, the way that his clothes fold when he bends his arm make it seem that it must be untraced live-action footage (the folds are invisible then shadows appear suddenly), but close inspection of the more “cartoon-like” shading on his pockets and the way that some of the darker lines on his clothes (especially the long ones up by his right shoulder) don’t move along with him make me suspect that they must have been added later.

  • doug holverson

    I’m guessing that this is a recent brilliant fake done in Softimage or one of its siblings. Flat hand inked backgrounds and overlays. Hand inked skins over mo cap(pish) wireframes for the moving characters.

  • Peter

    I believe the woman pilot is supposed to be a Soviet cosmonaut; note the references to the “Eastern Sector” and “Red Star”. If that’s the case, that’s easily the lamest attempt at a Russian accent I’ve ever heard.

  • tom

    Surprisingly not horrible. Not animation, but kind of neat, I guess.

  • Schlocker

    Goes well between the old Marvel Super Heroes Cartoon show and Rocket Robin Hood.

  • Personally, I found that clip quite neat. It’s hard to call it “animation”, since the only things drawn are the backgrounds, but the visual effect is quite interesting.

    It looks very much like the CG “cel shading” that’s used these days.

    In any case, I liked it.

  • my guess is the actors are wearing high contrast clothes/makeup and they somehow rammed up the contrast/brightness in the camera too, and then possibly did something post. It says animation without artists, so that makes me think the people at least weren’t traced by anyone.

    I find this clip quite incredible. I LOVE high contrast/ink cartoons. I think done in the right way, a real short film could be done that would look amazing. Perhaps by cutting the frame rate down or something. Especially with the right script, too. Man, this could be something great. I am so curious how this was done. Jerry, if you find it out, please tell us.

  • ratchet

    I’m looking at it again and my guess was it is a video effect, assuming this is video. I work in TV and we have all sorts of analog filters that work in real time using ancient technology that ramps up contrast and etc. The actors have to be wearing makeup that simulates comic book lines. Look at their cheekbones for instance. You can’t do that automatically with today’s filters in aftereffects like what the other guy posted. The lines on these guys look way too “good”. I imagine they had to be real careful with the lighting too.

  • Great find Pete. Now I have to go take some drugs.

  • Leon H. Maurer claims to have done some advertising work for Levi’s Jeans.

    I remember some striking animated commercials for Levi’s in the 70’s which he might have possibly produced with the same “Colormation” process, only with with complete colors. Here’s a link to click on for the commercial I found.

    If you never saw the original commercal back in the 70’s, you might have difficulty distinguishing this from regular live action, due to the quality of the video.

    There was another more impressive animated Levi’s Jeans ad with cowboys roping a herd of pants floating in the air. It had a little song that went “We put a little blue jean in everything we make”. The company was branching out into other types of clothing other than blue jeans at the time.

  • Dave

    Probably shot on litho film. You used to be able to buy it in 35mm, even for 35mm still cameras. I played around with it a little in the 80s. Same kind of film that’s used in sheets for offset printing masters. Strictly black and white – almost no gray.

  • FP

    The LEVI’s commercials were hand-rotoscoped. The name Robert Abel pops into my head, so maybe he was connected with those.

    The GOOGLE say:

  • I found another 70’s vintage Levi’s commercial that looks a little more like colomation than rotoscope. It’s really hippie trippy maaaaan!!!

    Click the link below.

    The first ad I was thinking of with the cowboys probably was done with roto, but this one is far more bizarre. The plaid texture on the main figure’s pants is weird enough by itself, even by 70’s standards.

  • Pedro Nakama

    Actually I like it !

  • Mladen

    What was so bad about that? Sure it’s not technically a cartoon, but the technique they used is really effective, and the attention to hair detail was really nice.

    Looks many many times better than the horrible rotoscoping effects in Lord of the Rings, Scanner Darkly or Renaissance (which attempted a similar end result).

  • I found the patent for the technique on Google Patents:

  • randomizer9

    Those Charles Schwab commercials with the whiny people came to mind as well. It reminded me of Silver-Age comic books, a little touch-up work and it would look pretty decent, I think.

  • 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.

  • That last comment was very interesting. I’m very interested in this technique, and I plan on making a small internet series of mini-episodes using a similar technique. Of course it won’t be the same because I’ll be using the computer, etc. but this clip is what inspired it. I’ve done a few halfassed trials to see what I could get going. Each one is better than the last… My latest attempt is what I have posted as my website on here. ( . When its all said and done the plan is to have a really nice finished thing here.

  • Several years ago I stumbled across Leon’s work, and found his 1967 patent for the Colormation process. You can view it here