This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.
Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 attempt to animate the first half of The Lord of the Rings, comprising the entirety of The Fellowship of the Ring and about half of The Two Towers, is a film blighted by ambition. Like James Cameron during the production of Avatar, Bakshi was intent on using the production to spearhead the use of a novel and innovative technique. Unfortunately, in Bakshi’s case, the technique chosen yields visual results that fall far short of the expense and effort involved in deploying it.
Bakshi made the unusual decision to film the entire film using a rotoscoping technique, whereby all the scenes were filmed in live action and then animated, with the animators (including a young Tim Burton) literally tracing the live-action frames, embellishing them, and setting them against lush painted backdrops. (The voice actors, some of whom played their roles in the live reference footage and some of whom did not, then did the voice track). This, as one might imagine, is an insanely time-consuming process; Wikipedia notes that in his later rotoscoped films Bakshi had his animators use the live footage merely as a guide, rather than tracing, since the tracing process took forever.