Features and Columns · Movies

Why the Living Animation in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ Works So Well

They’re not bad. Quite the opposite. They were drawn to maintain an eye-line.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
Buena Vista Pictures
By  · Published on August 2nd, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on how Who Framed Roger Rabbit approached live-action animation.

When animated characters are poorly integrated into live-action environments… you can tell. But it can be difficult to articulate why it looks “off.” Bringing two-dimensional characters to life — not just on the page, (or the computer screen), but in the real world — is a tall creative and technical order. And if certain details get missed, you can sidestep your way into an uncanny valley of sorts. Think Mary Poppins staring through rather than at the dancing cartoon penguins. Or: Cool World‘s femme fatale, Holli Would, feeling like she’s on another plane of existence than her lusty male co-stars.

With no disrespect meant to Space Jam: A New Legacy, when it comes to live-action animation, one movie stands apart: Who Framed Roger RabbitReleased in 1988 and directed by Robert Zemeckis, it sees gruff private eye Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) investigating the marriage of Maroon Cartoon Studios’ star player, Roger Rabbit. Like his wife, Jessica, Roger is a “toon,” and they’re members of a kind of undervalued artist class. As Eddie digs through Jessica’s dirty laundry, her rumored lover, Marvin Acme, turns up dead. With Roger pegged as the killer and Eddie convinced of his innocence, the pair team up to solve Acme’s murder.

With human/cartoon interaction being, uh, central to the film, believable living animation was a must, to put it mildly. So the animators came up with a couple of rules to “sell” the gag:

  1. Maintain the eye-line between animated and human characters.
  2. Sell the illusion of physical interaction.
  3. Light and shadow accuracy.

The video essay below delves deeper into each of these three rules and how their tireless implementation made Who Framed Roger Rabbit feel so dang special.

Watch “Who Framed Roger Rabbit – The 3 Rules of Living Animation”:

Who made this?

This video essay on the rules of living animation according to Who Framed Roger Rabbit is by kaptainkristian. The account is run by Kristian T. Williams, whom you can follow on Twitter here. You can subscribe to kaptainkristian and check out their back catalog on YouTube here.

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.