Claymation Rotoscoping Is Now a Thing—And It's Incredible

Claymation Rotoscoping Is Now a Thing—And It's Incredible

Images courtesy the artist

Imagine if you discovered a deleted scene at the end of an old Gumby VHS, and our gummy green hero was eating magic mushrooms in the woods. That's the closest we can come to describing depthcope, a new video experimental animator Baku Hashimoto made for a Japanese TV show called TECHNE - The Visual Workshop.

Hashimoto's secret weapon is a Kinect depth camera, a tool for which artists are constanly surprising us with new uses. The kit senses how much clay is in every given spot in the frame, and projects a green dot onto the surface when Hashimoto and his team reach an edge of the 3D object, not unlike a similar setup the US military was using to turn sandboxes into terrain maps a few years back.

"The system works like a human-powered 3D printer," he tells The Creators Project. "We only had to form the clay so that the all dots on it turn into green." At approximately 20 minutes per shot, they spent two weeks creating the 500-frame film, clocking in at just over 40 seconds of mind-bending animation. So, maybe instead of acid, this is more like Gumby's smoking really good salvia?

Anyways, the technique behind the short film, 3D rotoscoping, is as painstaking as it is innovative. Rotoscoping is when an artist traces each frame of live-action footage to render it as a cartoon. It's deeply rooted in film history, exemplified in films like A Scanner Darkly, and Waking Life, and in music videos like A-ha's "Take On Me."

With depthcope, Hashimoto isn't merely tracing a flat image, but a 3D object like you might see in trippy 3D GIF or cinematic bit of CGI. His process translates those digital objects into real ones with the classic claymation technique used in Christmas classics like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Radiohead's recent video for "Burn The Witch," and, of course, Gumby. The artist adds that Bears on Stairs, a short from DBLG, which used 3D printing to render a digital animation into reality, was a direct influence on depthcope.

In his new project, Hashimoto applies the mind-altering style we recognize from his take on Olga Bell's video for "ATA," without being afraid to get rough around the edges. Experiments like these are how new genres are born, and we can't wait to see what Hashimoto and his contemporaries come up with next. 

Baku Hashimoto has published a detailed account of the process he developed for depthcope on his website. Click here to see more of his work.

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