So I am a visual effects (VFX) artist, putting fake things into movies with computers (often referred to as CG effects). You think you know me? You don't know me! You know that CG makes things like Gollum and dinosaurs and pretty much everything in Avatar, but most of the CG you've seen in your life, you didn't know was CG at all.
Just a collection of 1s and 0s.
For instance, did you know that there was only one real helicopter in Black Hawk Down? Or that most movie sports stadiums are filmed completely empty, or that no buildings were harmed in the filming of the Bourne trilogy? If not, then we know we did it right. If you ever find yourself saying, "That's a pretty cool CG effect there!", that means we fucked it up.
Everyone assumes VFX happen in an office that looks something like Mythbusters except with excited artistic types gathering around computers, talking about what kind of dinosaurs they want to make today. And for the top ranking people, the ones who get to talk on the DVD special features, it might be.
But several steps down the ladder from those guys, you have an army of peons whose job descriptions seem to have been created as part of some cruel psychological experiment. If you dream of a career making super heroes fly, these jobs are where you'll start, and you may never leave.
So, as you watch some $200 million VFX-filled blockbuster this summer that has CG in basically every frame, remember to say a prayer for the...
Rotoscoping is a fancy word for "tracing." Specifically, tediously tracing around hairs on an actor's head, over and over and over until you long for the sweet release of insanity.
If you've ever tried to, say, use Photoshop to put some celebrity's head onto a naked fat man, you know just how fun it is to painstakingly trim out the background around a guy's head with your mouse. Roto is basically that, all day long.
Rotoscope artists look at film frame by frame, 24 frames in each second of film, carefully tracing around individual hairs or hoodie cords so that someone else can have the satisfaction of putting the actor or object behind or in front of explosions or dinosaurs or Jar Jar Binks. For the rest of their lives, roto artists are thus instinctively drawn to people who wear tight clothing and have short slicked-back hair, so there's a pro tip if you're looking to date one.
Roto artists' attempts to speak up for their community are often mistaken for PETA protests.
Why would someone want to trace Brad Pitt's head for ten hours a day? Well, it's a stepping stone to the cooler jobs (like Compositor, the guy who gets the satisfaction of actually pasting different elements together into a frame that actually looks like something). Roto is an initiation stage, like a fraternity pledge or a knight's squire, only if most pledges and squires never got promoted.
The second reason you'd want to do roto is if you live in India. A lot of this grunt work gets outsourced these days, because it looks pretty good if your only alternative is to have your eyes put out by a red hot poker and sing for your money, which is what I gathered about Indian career options from Slumdog Millionaire.
Don't even get me started on the gang problem.