cowboy bebop vs naruto

Wikipedia defines rotoscoping as:

Rotoscoping is an animation technique in which animators trace over live-action film movement, frame by frame, for use in animated films.

This technique is often used to avoid doing a motion test– which is, in my opinion, the most frustrating part of doing animation.
A motion test is the process of testing the way your figures look across many frames, to make sure you’ve created a convincing illusion of motion in your animation. Often times, your figures, will look great, but move strangely, thus adding hundreds of test drawings to the animator’s workload.

By drawing over a film, the animator can use the motion expressed there, and only worry about how the figure looks, rather than how it moves.

This is all fine and good– until people begin to get sneaky. What happens when the animator rotoscopes footage they don’t own?
Or worse, use other animation, not film, as a motion test.

Observe the images above, from Cowboy Bebop, and Naruto.
It is clear that Naruto has rotoscoped the frames from the above Coyboy Bebop fight scene.

Now that’s just an obvious case of outright theft going on there, but what if you’re stealing from yourself?

Take the example below, where Disney has borrowed from it’s own films- cutting corners by reusing the motion work done in one film, in another.

No wonder the jungle book and robin hood always seemed so similar!

What of the thousands of works based on motion pioneer, Eadward Muybridge?


How many animated horses have stolen their gallop from this little guy?

The real questions here are:

Who owns movement?
Can you trademark a gesture?

What do you think?

About Star St.Germain

I am a tornado disguised as a girl.

  1. Ramon says:

    I think you’d have a hard time arguing in a court of law that gestures or motion itself can be trademarked. Motion is an inherent property of life and can’t be trademarked any more than an expression or an emotion.

    Then again I don’t particularly think that it is possible for any of us to really own things like this. The moment something is created and shared with the world it becomes open to replication by others, be it lawful or otherwise. Mashups are a perfect example. Art is used as a basis for more art. Obviously there are some interesting points when it comes to intellectual property. But can one trademark general concepts like a love story, or a story of revenge? If I remade Star Wars with different character names and set in the old west and called it something else can I be found guilty of trademark infringement? Like if all the shots were as true to the original as possible? Hell, even Star Wars itself is based on other stories. :-/ All ideas are based on concepts, narratives, elements, etc that are derivative. Would we get anywhere if it were impossible to create without someone somewhere charging us a licensing fee?

  2. To be honest, I don’t have a formed opinion on this yet, as I’m still getting over the “wow, I just learned something new, cool, and all together shocking-ness of this post.” Which is to say thank you.

  3. thisisstar says:

    @ramon- Yes, this is precisely my point. I don’t feel like movement is something you can really pinpoint ownership of like an image or some text.

    but at the same time, looking at these examples, it’s clear that it merits some discussion…

    I’m still really unsure about all of it, which is why I wrote this post.

    @ashe- You’re welcome! Looking at these 2 examples, particularly as someone who does a great deal of work based on rotoscoping & photoreference (my own reference, mind you) really made me think a great deal about all of this stuff. I couldn’t really find any other resources on the topic. At least in the waxing-poetic-about-human-movement sense of the thing.

    I’m hoping it all sparks more discussion. I want to know what others think about it.

  4. myrrh says:

    fascinating and thought-provoking post!

    it’s true that as artists we are all standing on the shoulders of those who come before us… and as artists, i feel like the line between plagiarism & influence falls where the artists’ work uses someone else’s research or material as the building blocks of something new, with a different symbolism, a powerful story, a fresh perspective. it gets really murky for me when we talk about a company like disney: an entertainment company which employs excellent artists in the name of works whose aim are to entertain.

    i wonder, too, in the case of the above examples, whether it was the artist’s choice to use those other works as references, or a directorial choice. the bebop/naruto example looks pretty damning. the disney stuff is similarly eeriely lined-up, but i wonder if disney doesn’t have a common repository of motion work from which the similar passages are derived.

  5. thisisstar says:

    @myrrh- regarding both examples, it’s clear the same reference was used.
    In the case of the bebop/naruto one, it is obvious that naruto is in the wrong here…

    For disney in particular though- does it make it okay since they were copying themselves?

    I’m not sure!

  6. Mostly, I want to punch myself for never noticing how darn similiar the Naruto/Neji sequence is to the Cowboy Bebop one, after watching both those about a zillion times each.

    I would think, honestly, that the Naurto Team was in the wrong here. It’s almost disapointing, in a way, when you think of how many fight scenes they must have created for the series and then in the one that was one of the more major battles of the earlier season to, you know, got right head and mimic the Cowboy Bebop scene.

    I think, though, it gets a bit iffy when you’re copying yourself. It looks a bit more, lazy, I think. Lazy at best. I don’t think you can really be faulted for it. It just looks like Disney didn’t want to waste time on things and such. Wrong? No, maybe not (at least to me), but it looks pretty lackluster and makes a person wonder why they should care about the end product if it’s just a rehash of something they did a lot (if it was a largescale copy.)

    Right? Something like that.

  7. Liz says:

    One thing I’m curious about is the original source of the Cowboy Bebop motion? Is it possible that Naruto and Cowboy Bebop just happened to use the same film to draw over? Which may or may not be any more ok assuming that a third party made the original film… This is the first time I’ve ever even heard of this sort of thing, so I really have no idea how this works.
    As far as copying yourself I guess I’d say it depends on what your goals are. Even if motion were protected, legally copying yourself would be ok. At that point it’s just a matter of how you feel about originality I think. More a question of if you feel all your work should be something completely new and where do you draw the line with that…

  8. Pip says:

    Why isn’t anyone talking about Fair Use? Why all the obsession with controlling and protecting? Maybe I just have deep seated issues with intellectual property.

    But seriously, sure its commercial, but rotoscoping is pretty transformative, and if the claim is the bit in Naruto is going to hurt the commercial interests of Cowboy Bebop, I find that claim dubious. Is anyone not going to buy the Jungle Book because they’ve already seen those dance scenes in Robin Hood?

    Sure, its nifty someone clever noticed… but as Melissa pointed out, she’s seen both of those scenes many times, and never noticed.

    I think its an example of artists doing art. You can call them “thieves”, but I question that sort of hostile, accusatory language.

  9. Jeremy says:

    Legality and morality aside, this is fucking LAZY. Do your own fucking work. This is not a mashup, this is drawing over someone else’s drawing. There is no commentary on the original art happening here. What this is laaaaaazy.

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The figure in motion; rotoscoping & plagiarism

Posted on

November 23rd, 2009