Painting each frame by hand, Leon Washere talks us through his rotoscoping animation process
The animator’s style is impeccably artistic, and is one that takes about six to eight hours for every three seconds of footage.
- 17 July 2020
- Ayla Angelos
- Reading Time
- 3 minutes
With impeccable detail and an analogue process, Leon Washere’s animation style is delectably brilliant. Paint and bursts of colour play key characters in the making of his works, where it’s obvious from the start how much time goes into a single video.
An artist living and working from his home studio in South New Jersey, Leon studied design in the city before receiving his degree in Graphic Design Communication from Philadelphia University. Then, Leon worked in design and set type, which is something he recalls as a partially fond experience as he was “pretty good at it”. But having an onlooker constantly standing over this shoulder and telling him to “shift a logo an inch” wasn’t all that liberating. Instead, he continued to paint and everything else followed suit, naturally.
A clear devotee to his craft, you’d be taken aback by the fact that he had no intention of pursuing animation professionally. “I was bored in-between jobs and thought I’d paint over a few skateboard clips and see what happened,” he tells It’s Nice That. “I wasn’t even aware at the time that [this technique is] called rotoscoping.” A process that involves the animator tracing over motion picture footage frame-by-frame, the result is a realistic action shot that’s brimming with bright hues and elements of the painterly. It’s a technique that animators have used to project photographed live-action movie images onto, before tracing over the image and proceeding with the method. A common technique used within the film industry – especially for the ease of animating a live-action scene that tracks the movement of the camera – it’s also a process also takes time, hard graft and plenty of patience to do well.
Leon does it artfully, producing an abundance of skateboarding loops where the likes of Asher Pacey, Brian Anderson, Chris Henry, Craig Anderson, Evan Mock and Mark Gonzales perform tricks on pastel-tinted backgrounds. “I’m an early riser, so I have a few cups of coffee, say good morning to my cat and then I take off,” he says of his typical day-to-day. “I’ll have a trick or skater in mind, then I start by formatting them in InDesign, then print everything out on my black and white laser print. From there, it’s about six to eight hours for every three seconds of animated footage.”
Alongside a repertoire of skateboarding shorts, Leon has most recently worked alongside director Dan Emmerson from Somesuch in London for the new Clipz music video, featuring Ms. Dynamite, Ms. Banks and Jaykae. With Leon on the animation, the video was formed with a team of editor Ben Crook, producer Tom Gardner, Grading by ETC Colour for Sony Music’s label. Referring to the process for the video as “fun”, Leon tells us: “They compiled all of this club video from back in the day. It pushed me outside of my comfort zone for sure.” The task at hand saw Leon work across multiple formats and styles of video, meaning that the challenge of making it all seem cohesive and pulled together was most certainly a tricky one – but one that Leon mastered greatly and with utter skill. The result is that each frame is hand painted through the rotoscoping methodology, where the frame is then scanned into a four-panel-per-page publication ready to be photographed.
“Otherwise,” he continues of further work that he’s taken on recently, “I just did a few process videos of how to create these things for Vans BOTW (Bouncing Off The Walls) series. Filming the process was a bit overwhelming because I’m not the most organised worker.” With a usually messy desk, the process of filming this project was hard and, “on top of trying not to sound like a dork”, he can’t stand to hear himself on camera. “Overall they turned out cool and should be up on their site soonish.”
With an aim to make every frame – one that’s typically eight seconds long – look like a stand alone painting, Leon’s portfolio reverberates with analogue processes and “90s skateboard romanticism, maybe?” Truly inspired by his peers and friends, he’s keen to stay present and experience new techniques and processes with each project that he takes on. “Most people I’ve encountered have a nostalgia for the clips I do,” he concludes of how he hopes his audience respond to his works. “Everything is hand-coloured or painted and I hope that resonates.”