Sunday, July 6, 2008

Secrets of A Scanner Darkly

The movie, A Scanner Darkly, directed by Richard Linklater, didn't really embed itself into public consciousness, but it did get the attention of artists and animators. The question that a lot of people lucky enough to watch it is: How did they make a live-action film look like an animated one?

The answer can be summed up by one word: rotoscoping. This technique is an old one which was popular prior to the days of computer graphics. You can see it in action in such classics like Star Trek (the original series). It's basically tracing an object to be placed onto a different background or given a different texture.

In A Scanner Darkly, digital video footage was overlaid with animation to give the resulting "unreal" characters a fluid motion with shifting patches of color hues. Linklater used a software called Rotoshop, which was also applied in a previous project called Waking Life.

The Rotoshop was developed in the late 1980s by Waking animation director Bob Sabiston. It lets an animator with a Wacom tablet to trace over characters in DV footage, skip a few frames, and let the software do the tweening, or in-between rendering.

Basically, A Scanner Darkly was shot and edited like a normal film (in DV), an then it went into production for the animation overlay. Producer Tommy Pallotta says it's like making the same movie twice.

Shown in the pictures is actress Wynona Ryder as she would appear as a Rotoshopped cartoon.

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