Rotoscopy Retrospective – PlayStation.Blog


Greetings, PlayStation Blog readers! My name is Johan Vinet and I’m the creator of Lunark, a pixel art sci-fi action game that pays homage to the 2D cinematic platformers of the 1990s.

Cinematic platformers attempted to immerse players by depicting realistic, methodical character mobility governed by the laws of physics. Classics like Jordan Mechner’s Prince of Persia, Eric Chahi’s Out of this World, and Paul Cuisset’s Flashback achieved this realism through detailed and lifelike animations, as well as rotoscoped cutscenes that rewarded players by underscoring key gameplay moments while maintaining a unique and recognizable visual style created .

Rotoscoping is a technique used to create realistic animation prior to motion capture, which traditionally involved carefully tracing footage frame by frame. Fortunately, modern technology has made rotoscoping much more accessible. With a little creativity and the help of a smartphone and graphics tablet, I was able to use this “lost art” to bring Lunark to life.

Here’s a breakdown of my workflow for producing Lunark’s cutscenes.

Step 1: Storyboarding

Creating a storyboard is the first step. This determines the overall look of the cutscene, including characters, camera angles, and key actions.

Step 2: Planning

After storyboarding I move on to the planning phase where I select locations (most of which are my home) and props and determine if 3D modeling is required. For example, in one scene I found that making a “crystal” out of cardboard (and covering it with transparent glue to make it reflective) was faster and gave better results than modeling it in 3D!

Step 3: Filming

Most cutscenes in Lunark with rotoscoping are still images and do not require audio recording. I was just me, equipped with a tripod and my smartphone to film myself acting out the scene, preferably in clothes to match that of the main character, Leo. I even wrapped some tape around my leather sleeves to simulate the yellow stripes on Leo’s jacket so I could use it later as a visual cue when tracing the footage. (That turned out to be a bad idea as it totally ruined my sleeves!)

Doing the job with the tools at hand was my motto, so I jumped out of my dryer and filmed myself jumping for the low-angle shot of Leo smashing through a vent grate to get out of a duct at my kids playground on the monkey bars to mimic zip line escape from a building.

Step 4: Clean up footage

After filming, I transfer the video files to my computer, where I use Photoshop or After Effects to select the best shot, crop the video, and do colorimetric retouching if I want the subject to stand out a little more. During this phase I can add effects like a dolly zoom or simulate character movements. This is also the case when I reduce the number of frames per second to 24 to give the end result a cinematic feel (and save me a lot of work). The video will also be resized to the final game resolution.

Step 5: Paint over frame by frame

Here begins the tedious part! Using Photoshop, I trace and paint over the character in the video images, sticking to my given color palette.

Step 6: Draw landscape

This step can take many forms. When the scene is still (like when you see Leo’s hand slowly reaching for that mysterious ancient engraving) I draw the background directly in pixel art. If it’s animated or complex (like the scene where the camera quickly zooms in on a detail of Leo’s ship with a “dolly zoom,” a cinematic effect made famous by directors like Alfred Hitchcock), I might use 3D software to model and render objects or buildings, which I then use as a template to paint over or clean up to match the visual style.

Step 7: Clay

While most of the cutscenes use the same musical jingle, some of them require additional custom work, so I produce sound effects or longer music to accompany the action.

Step 8: Integration

Finally, the cutscene is exported and integrated into the game engine (in this case GameMaker) with the right triggers. When the player picks up an item like a shield energy core, the game will show a close-up of the action or, if you’ve accomplished a main objective, a longer cutscene will play, connecting the different levels and adding cinematic flair to the game.

Thank you for reading this article! I hope that the result will satisfy both cinematic platformer purists and new players who will discover the genre with Lunark, published by WayForward, which will be released on March 30th for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.

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