Who Framed Roger Rabbit – The 3 Rules of Living Animation

Who Framed Roger Rabbit – The 3 Rules of Living Animation

Animation has a long history of
sharing the screen with live action as you can see here with
“The Enchanted Drawing” — the first piece of animation ever put to film. The magic of animation from it’s foundation was about bringing these two-dimensional characters to life — not just on the page, but in the real world. And nowhere has that been better than in Robert Zemeckis and Richard Williams’ 1988 film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” So today, I want to look at the three fundamental elements in integrating animated characters over the live action environment and what made Roger Rabbit
stand out from the rest of them. The first and probably the simplest from a technical perspective is “eye line.” Eye line is important for a number of reasons — it establishes an emotional connection with the animated character and the actor, it sets a blocking reference for the animators, and it also convinces the audience that both characters are occupying the same dimensional space. And, when the effect works it’s a seamless interaction, but when it doesn’t, the actors seem to be blankly staring into dead space. Which is the case with a lot of the animated scenes in Mary Poppins. You can see her eye line never quite connects with the other characters’. And, no matter how beautifully animated those penguins are, it still breaks the illusion. Now, let’s look at this scene from Roger Rabbit where Eddie and Roger arrive outside of Maroon Studios. Roger’s character model stands roughly three feet tall. And you can see here, Bob Hoskins actually misses his eye line. Same mistake as Mary Poppins. But, the animators used a creative workaround to correct it. Having Roger stand up on his toes against the wall, making him a bit taller to reconnect the eyes. And there are a lot of clever moments like that throughout the film. Here, Roger’s hand comes up higher as he jumps on the bed because that’s where Hoskins was looking in the shot. And a lot of these gestures were done out of necessity, since re-shoots were
absolutely not an option. The live action portion of the film had to be shot in its entirety before a single frame
of animation could be done because the animation was drawn
directly on the photostats. So, that meant any contact made by a toon
had to be 100 percent premeditated. Which brings us to element #2 —
physical interaction. [ unnerving music ] – [ unintelligible ]
– [ grunts ] – With any level of interaction,
no matter how small or how large, chairs bumping, windows crashing, plates shattering, – ♪ No pain! ♪
[ shatters ] – The special effects division had to
develop a custom mechanism to mimic that movement. And a lot of times those mechanisms
were specific to one single effect. Baby Herman’s cigar, for instance,
was manipulated by a copycat system with servo-controlled motors in order to create all 6 degrees of movement. Something that couldn’t have been done
with string and marionettes. And it would’ve been much simpler
to just use an animated cigar, or have the weasels carry animated guns, and most people wouldn’t notice. But there are rules the govern
the universe of Roger Rabbit. If Roger’s drowning in real water,
then he spits up real water. And every little detail like that serves
as a reminder to the audience that, yes, these characters
are inhabiting this world. Just look at this shot of
Roger on his soap box. It looks as if every slight shift
in weight has an equal reaction, when in reality, it’s the action
influencing the movement. It’s part of the reason Roger’s
such a klutz throughout the film. It gave the production team more excuses
for him to interact with the environment. It’s about blending the mediums,
not just sandwiching them together. And far too often with
live-action/animation hybrids characters exist almost
exclusively in separate planes. If we look at this scene with Eddie and Jessica, she’s on his lap, in his coat, she grabs his hat, she has real presence and weight,
and that’s what sells the illusion. But if we compare that to a similar scene
in Ralph Bakshi’s 1992 film 𝘊𝘰𝘰𝘭 𝘞𝘰𝘳𝘭𝘥, you’ll see there’s nothing really
connecting these two characters. I could cut out Holli with a pair of scissors,
and nothing would change. You can also see how
subtle camera movements make it seem like Hollie’s locked
to the front of the lens. Almost floating against the background. And the separation between
the character and the environment becomes very obvious. Which is why, historically,
there was an unwritten rule amongst animators who mix mediums
to keep the camera stationary. And there was really only
one reason for this rule. – Because they’re lazy. [ chuckles ] I mean, we’re supposed to be able
to turn things in every direction. That’s our job. So, you can shoot your movie,
and we’ll just fit the character in. He said, “Well, isn’t that a lot of work?”
Yeah. Twice as much work. – Camera movement is an essential part
in making these moments feel cinematic. And the animated element in Roger Rabbit
never compromised that movement. it’s shot like a real film
because it is a real film. And you have to remember — this synchronization of the
characters against the camera was done before the age of digital compositing, so there was no tracking software
to account for the movement to keep the characters in corresponding motion. This was all accomplished by eye and by hand. Not only drawing each frame,
but drawing each frame in perspective. And that becomes a lot more
impressive when you consider the layer build of each character. Which brings us to the third
and final element — shadow. Or, more specifically, light and shadow accuracy. And this is what set Roger Rabbit
apart from its predecessors. Each toon is their own individual layer, but there also at least 5 additional
cells of shadow and highlight layers for each character in each frame built up like a watercolor painting. Starting with a mask as a backlight,
then a shadow matte painted with hard edges and
then softened in the optical printer, a second shadow mask as a cast shadow, an interpositive, and an articulate mask for any
physical interaction with the character. And when composited together, it gives a realistic three-dimensionality
to the characters. Now, keep all those layers in mind
when watching this scene. – You said you’d never
take another toon case! What’d you have?
A change of heart? – Nothing’s changed. Somebody’s made a patsy
out of me and I’m gonna find out — – This is called bumping the lamp. A phrase coined by Disney during
the production of Roger Rabbit to describe going above and beyond
what was expected of the animators. It would’ve been perfectly feasible
if Roger stayed flatly illuminated throughout this scene like
a cartoon normally would, but instead the animators put in
the time to shade every cell uniquely so that the practical light would bounce off
from the same way it would a physical object. And they had to account for that
dynamically shifting lighting with every contour in Roger’s limbs,
his clothes, his face, the cast shadow he creates on the environment
as well as the texture of the light, the slightest difference in color
temperatures, the lamp sways, even Roger’s ears have a slight translucency since they’re much thinner
than the rest of his body. They thought of that. Audiences had no expectation
for this level of realism in 1988, but all these seemingly-superfluous details
help sell the effect at a subconscious level. And the best part of the film is that —
without having noticed any of this — having no technical knowledge of the
animation process or the filmmaking has no effect of your enjoyment of Roger Rabbit. It’s an incredible film by its own merit. The storytelling and the heart and the humor. That’s where the true movie magic is. But it’s those technical subtleties
and the dedication to the craft that really inspires new artists. And that’s something to be admired. So, in your work, always take the chance to bump the lamp. Because somebody out there will notice. ♪♪

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  1. It's a shame that Hollywood have the balls to make another movie like this again. It would get demolished by CGI.

  2. Excellent explanation of what made/makes this movie the masterpiece it is, and I think I need to revisit it. I don't get how anyone would downvote this, but I guess everyone needs a hobby, even chronic-whingers,

  3. I think there is a successor to Roger Rabbit now, it's not a movie but I sure wish it was. Gorillaz newest music video Humility. Just amazing.

  4. I always found the villian a bit freaky, maybe it was because of how he ended up towards the end but this made the child version of me unsettled and I never wanted to watch the VHS tape again. After seeing this video I am genuinely suprised about the level of detail and animation this movie had. I remember there was a looney tunes movie that was almost like this but I don't remember it anymore. They were both very interesting but the looney tunes one was less freakier.

  5. Roger Rabbit ripped off Ralph Bakshi. His Coonskin movie had better and more mature plot. While Brother Rabbit was able to fight the American Mafia, a racist NYPD detective under Mafia, and a false prophet called Black Jesus (a manipulator of the African culture in Harlem), Roger Rabbit goes to someone else for aid and gets hit by a ton of bricks (literally).

  6. I am glad I don't have to play by Disney's shitty rules. All this is doing is misleading me to be conformed to doing what THEY want you to do. We don't need perfection in animation. Sure Cool World was not well with some things, but it had more mature story and it had a climax referencing Superman's fight with the powers of Mister Mxzyptlk (if you knew that as a DC Comics fan when movie was supported by DC).

  7. Was this reuploaded from somewhere else? Because I swear to god I watched this in 2016. My friend showed this exact video essay to me freshman year of college, and that was Fall of 2016. I remember that last line specifically too. The music cut at the end makes me think this was a reupload for a channel move. Am I crazy?

  8. Holy fucking fuckety fuck I loved that movie and you are correct I could watch it a million times and never realize the work involved. Yet just this taste of how hard it was brings tears to my eyes.

  9. Actually, you were wrong at 0:19, the first animation wasn’t The Enchanted Drawing, or live action/animation, but was a fully animated short called Fantasmagorie.

  10. Also they were smart enough to bump the lamp more at the start of the movie to help get the audience on board with the concept.

  11. Jessica, if you're reading this, I'll give you £20 if I can squeeze your tits together.

  12. A great example is when Jessica is singing "Why don't you do right" and the light and shadows come together beautifully

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