: Sam Morris > Tutorials > After Effects Tutorials > After Effects Rotoscoping Tutorial

After Effects Rotoscoping Tutorial

07.11.2009 Bookmark and Share

This tutorial will take around 2-4 hours for most people to complete. 90% of the time will be doing the actual rotoscoping. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to rotoscope footage. A few hours is relatively little when it comes rotoscoping footage. In addition, we’ll be rotoscoping a cube which is very simple object in comparison to something like fingers playing guitar or other organic objects.


Before you start rotoscoping I’ll explain exactly what we’re doing. Have a look at the screenshot. What we’re doing is using the footage ( as our background, but at the same time we’ll be using part of it (The cube) as our foreground (Roto Top). We then put the text between the two layers. Roto Top will reveal the text along with Roto Bottom, but because Roto Top and Bottom are duplicates of each other the only noticeable difference will be the text revealing itself. With this particular frame the area of interest is shown by the green box. As you can see there are areas of the mask (the yellow line) that are not following along the cube (EX: Bottom right). Because nothing is being revealed except for the area in the green box, it would be extra work to trace the whole cube. Watch the footage and finished movie if you haven’t already, so you get a better idea of what you’ll be doing.

1 . Start off by creating a new project (Ctrl+Alt+N) and importing (Ctrl+I) which we’ll be using as our footage. After it’s imported drag it down to the “Create a new composition” button. By dragging the footage to the icon After Effects will create a new composition based on the settings of the clip.

2. You should now have a composition with 1 layer which is your footage. Duplicate your layer (Ctrl+D), and name the top layer “Roto Top” and the bottom layer “Roto Bottom”. You can rename a layer by selecting it and then pressing the return key.

3. Create a new type layer (Ctrl+Alt+Shift+T) or Ctrl+T and draw a text box. Pick a font and then choose a size that fills up the width of the composition. Click the “3D Layer” button so we can put our type in perspective.

4. Now we’ll rotate the text layer so it fits in better. You’ll probably need to adjust the orientation and the position. My settings are shown in the screenshot below. You can see my text is a little off since I wasn’t using the grid.jpg (Attached), if you want to make it perfect make a layer for the grid and turn down the transparency. It will be easy to match up your text with the lines on the floor. This step is optional, but it will look more interesting if your text has perspective.

5. Move your text layer so it’s between Roto Top and Bottom. Set Roto Top’s opacity to 75% and move the playhead forwards until you find where you need to start rotoscoping. There’s no reason to start rotoscoping until the cube starts to reveal the text. For my example it isn’t until 0:00:01:04 that the cube starts revealing the text. After you decide where you want to start rotoscoping, put the opacity for Roto Top back to 100%. (If you want, you can create a marker by pressing the* key on the num pad)

6. Select the Pen Tool (G) and select Roto Top. Your playhead should be at where ever you decided to start in step 5. Draw your mask around the left side of the cube. Remember, you do not need to trace the right side of the cube. You also may not need to go around the top left corner, but this depends on the font/size of your text. In my example I didn’t need to start tracing the corner of the cube until a few frames in. After you’ve drawn your mask turn on automatic keyframing by clicking the stop watch. This will make it so as you make changes to each frame a keyframe will automatically be made.

7. To jump to the next/previous frame you can use the Page Up / Down keys, or the Time Controls palette (Ctrl+3), I generally prefer using the keyboard. After you’ve gone to the next frame, adjust your mask. You can do this by moving the whole mask or free transforming (Ctrl+T), or you can use the arrow keys and nudge the mask. If you want to move an individual point you can shift click it and then you will have one point selected. If you want to select all the points again you can double click the edge of the mask, use Ctrl+A, or click “Mask Path” in the timeline. You should see keyframes starting to accumulate as you make changes on each frame. If you need to zoom in on your timeline you can try Alt+Scrolling on the mouse wheel, or the bar right above the numbers in the timeline. It’s easy to move your layer’s position instead of the mask, especially when zoomed in. Your layer position will be 360.0, 243.00 (default and centered for NTSC). If you move the layer’s position every frame after it will be correct, but all the frames before will be off. Make sure your layer position does not get changed and check it every few frames.

8. Each time you go to a new keyframe you’ll need to realign your mask by moving the whole mask or point/s of your mask.

9. Remember that only a few points of your mask are important and the rest will not have any effect. In this screenshot the 3 points in red and 1 point at the bottom right (Off screen) are the only important points.

10. You’ll want to zoom back out to 100% and turn off the masks so you can see how it’s looking. The best way to do this is with the “Toggle Mask and Shape Path Visibility” button. Make sure to regularly check and play through your frames to avoid any developing issues.

11. Now go through all the frames, or as many are needed until your type is completely revealed. You can expect it to take at least an hour if not a couple. It may be hard to work on smaller monitors with low resolutions. If you need more space you can move the mouse over the Viewer and press the ~ key. This will make your viewer window take the whole screen. You can use the ~ key again to go back to normal, be sure to check the timeline every few frames to make sure everything looks alright. You can zoom in and out with the Magnifying glass tool (Z) or Ctrl+ +/-.
After_Effects_Rotoscoping_Tutorial_11.jpg This is probably the simplest form of rotoscoping you’ll find. It’s an extremely commonly used technique and it’s important to have a grasp on how it works. Any comments, questions, etc are welcome. If you make it through the tutorial, submit a comment with a link to your finished movie file.

My AEP file will have “Rotoscope Outlines” and it will be a shape layer instead of a type layer since most people don’t have the font I used.

There’s also a fade in/out and the text moves off the screen after it’s revealed, just like the

I also added some layer styles to my text (Gradient Overlay and Stroke) which are not part of the tutorial. You can add layer styles to your text by going to Layer > Layer Styles. You’ll see the change when looking at my type in step 5 vs step 10.

After Effects Tutorials

  1. Paul Brain
    September 9th, 2009 at 06:56 | #1

    Thanks, very straightforward and informative.

  2. November 20th, 2009 at 09:00 | #2

    This is a nice tutorial… i like your website btw…


  3. November 20th, 2009 at 09:03 | #3

    You should do more tutorials… AE

  4. Harry Putnam
    November 30th, 2009 at 16:41 | #4

    The first paragraph tells us to import
    Where is that to be found?

  5. November 30th, 2009 at 17:25 | #5

    Hi Harry,
    The files at the top of the tutorial had the incorrect names, sorry for the confusion.
    Here’s the file you’re looking for:

  6. Harry Putnam
    November 30th, 2009 at 17:43 | #6

    @Sam Morris
    Ahh.. Thanks Sam… got it.

  7. fvc
    March 22nd, 2010 at 15:53 | #7

    Really helpful introduction to rotoscoping in AE. Thanks.

  8. August 8th, 2011 at 14:57 | #9
  9. Jo Robinson
    September 26th, 2012 at 00:29 | #10

    Thanks SO MUCH!! I learned so much. I am super new to After effects and you explained all the stuff I should know, but dont. Very straightforward and complete!

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