Some animated movies show real characters (men/women) in them like in the movie Avatar. How do they mix real characters with animated characters? Does it cost more than a purely animated movie? What is the shooting/filming process to achieve it? Which technologies are used?

  • 1
    For something like Avatar, the actors are dressed in certain suits for the CG directors to paint over, the other characters are either done in the same manner for a smaller group, or created out of nothing by the same CG directors.
    – Tablemaker
    Feb 1, 2013 at 14:39
  • For an example of what @TylerShads mentioned, see how was Davy Jones created. Apr 15, 2014 at 0:25

2 Answers 2


Mixing of real characters with animated characters is done in several ways (wiki link)-

  • double-printing two negatives onto the same release print.
  • More sophisticated techniques used optical printers or aerial image animation cameras, which enabled more exact positioning, and better interaction of actors and animated characters.

Example- In the penguin sequence in Mary Poppins, they filmed the live action part first, having the actors sitting in front of a painted background. Then the penguins were added using cel overlay which was then reshot.

enter image description here

For more modern films like Avatar, advanced techniques in green screen and compositing technology have made this process much easier (in the right hands).

Look at this FX reel (skip to 3:00 mins) to see the use of green screen to combine a live action character with an animated character (in this case a sky dragony thingy).

In the case of a film like Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Bob Hoskins would be playing his scenes to a prop rabbit or a tennis ball on a stick to ensure consistent eye levels. The animators (Richard Williams' team) would then go in and animate over the live action plates, with the final images rendered, shaded and composited in computer.

enter image description here

Here's a great old feature that explains a bit about the process:

  • I am a non technical person for this concern so got with little information may oliver_c or nobby come up with something better
    – Ankit Sharma
    Feb 1, 2013 at 6:44
  • @nobby thanx for the edit. I un-deleted it to show your nice edit
    – Ankit Sharma
    Feb 2, 2013 at 14:54
  • 3
    Good man - now go rack up some points ;)
    – Nobby
    Feb 2, 2013 at 15:06
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    In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Hoskins was acting against nothing. The prop rabbit or tennis balls were only used in rehearsal.Before digital compositing, it was a lot harder to remove objects from scenes, especially when the camera was moving, Sep 12, 2016 at 11:20
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit was optically composited (using optical printers), not composited using computers. See this article: highbeam.com/doc/1G1-90190306.html Sep 19, 2017 at 10:42

The older style of combining animation with live-action is called rotoscoping.

As TylerShads says, the newer method is to dress the actor in a "Capture Suit" which tracks the 3D position (in the room) of various spots on the body.

There is an older method of motion capture, where the actor wears a simple suit of a solid color, and the spots to be tracks are simply dots on the fabric in a contrasting color. This gives the necessary geometric information, but the graphics department must do a lot more work to manually track the points in the camera image.

Yet another method is used in the films This Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. For these, the live-action was filmed normally and then animation was drawn over the top (using the computer to emulate key-frame animation).

Still other methods were explored for creation of the classic Tron, where they employed a black-screen technique more similar to photographic (darkroom) methods than the others here. Various layers of the digital environment were burned into the same film during multiple passes while dodging the actors. This required the camera to be absolutely still during composite scenes with actors. All-virtual cut-scenes were naturally more dynamic by the use of flying cameras.

  • 1
    Arguably, rotoscoping isn't concerned with combining live action and animation - rather it is a technique to create animated characters by drawing over live action - see the early Disney films or Bakshi's Lord of the Rings.
    – Nobby
    Feb 2, 2013 at 13:47
  • @Nobby I don't follow the logic there. Any live action left undrawn-over persists into the final product: thus a combination. There are early Disney films that do this. Mary Poppins. Feb 2, 2013 at 13:52
  • Right - but I interpreted the original question as combining an animated character with a live action action so that they interact, as in 'Roger Rabbit'.
    – Nobby
    Feb 2, 2013 at 13:57
  • And wasn't Roger Rabbit rotoscoped? I remember documentary footage where the actor hopped around in a bunny suit. Feb 2, 2013 at 14:00
  • No, it appears not. Wikipedia: 'VistaVision cameras installed with motion control technology were used for the photography of the live-action scenes which would be composited with animation. Rubber mannequins of Roger Rabbit, Baby Herman and the Weasels would portray the animated characters during rehearsals in order to teach the actors where to look when acting with "open air and imaginative cartoon characters".' Feb 2, 2013 at 14:03

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