Friday, February 6, 2009

Rotoscoping, shortcut or cheating?

This is a series of images to show a test case I made for using the technique known as Rotoscoping as a way of quickly creating reasonable graphics from photographed images.

The idea behind rotoscoping is that you use a photographed (or filmed) image as the basis for a hand-drawn image or animation. This is a series of images to show a test I made to create an image of "Admiral Black" for the Dispatches From The Romulan War" when there is only one canon image on the internet of him. Luckily the actor who played Admiral Black in the episode "In a Mirror Darkly", Gregory Itzen, has also starred as President Logan in the hit series, "24" and there are a number of excellent publicity images of him such as this one ...

I made it monochrome and increased the contrast in my graphics editing application (I use Ulead Photoimpact)

I then used the "find edge" tool (it's name might vary in different software packages) to emphasise the edges and used "Invert" to form a negative image

Now, if I had a graphics tablet, I could trace those edges (with experience I might even skip some of the steps) and keep this entirely digital. However I can't afford one so I have to do it the old-fashioned way with a home-made light-box, made out of an old asparagus crate, a desk lamp and some scrap opaque perspex ...

I can now trace the graphic using a pencil to give me an accurate sketch.

Up 'til now there is virtually no skill or talent involved and if, say for example, you just wanted a rough outline for a storyboard this might suffice. However in my case I wanted to see if i had any of the old sketching talent left and turned it into a pen and pencil graphic of Admiral Black by substituting an admiral's uniform for Gregory's presidential suit.

Not bad. I tried different methods of getting different depths of black for the deep blue admirals jacket. By the way I tried to colour one of these and totally stuffed it up! There are some things you just can't take shortcuts with!

What about the ethics and legality of rotoscoping though?

I read an interesting Blog post today that gave me an interesting insight into the artist's viewpoint on this entitled, "Copying, tracing, reference and plagiarism" by xaqBazit who does the cover art for the audio drama Star Trek: Defiant - you can see his covers HERE and HERE.

It adds a new depth to the discussion about copyright. Certainly I am technically in breach of copyright by creating an unauthorised derivative work of Gregory Itzen's publicity photo from 24 but as long as it is used in a fan production and follows all the accepted rules, this is no different from using Star Trek theme music in an audio drama or fan film or Star Trek trademark names in a fan fiction. If the copyright owner asked me to take down my derived work I would - although I would almost certainly not do so quietly since I believe they would be doing themselves a disservice.

But plagiarism? Hmmm. Only if I tried to pass the sketch off as an original work of my own and even then ... what if I labeled the work as "Pen sketch photo-referenced from publicity photograph of Gregory Itzen in '24'"? Surely if I make the point that I'm not laying claim to the composition but merely my pen sketch then ethically I would be in the right.

By the way, I believe that my use of the "24" graphics in this post are covered by the dictates of "fair use" as a technical and artistic example of the technique of Rotoscoping. However, as with all my fan work, no copyright infringement is intended and (yes, you're going to hear it one more time!) it is made available for free, so if you ever see them for sale you are being ripped-off and are encouraged to report the retailer to the copyright owners.

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