TV has used rotoscope animation before, but never has it been used in every scene of an ongoing series — until now. Amazon’s upcoming half-hour drama/sci-fi/comedy hybrid “Undone” screened its first two episodes at Comic-Con Thursday afternoon, wowing a large crowd with the trippy story of a young woman investigating her past to solve the mystery of her father’s death.
Star Rosa Salazar took part in a panel discussion following the screening, alongside co-creators and executive producers Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg, and the “Alita: Battle Angel” actress said she “immediately connected” to the story — before she was even told her performance would go through rotoscope animation.
“I went in to audition for something else, and [casting director Linda Lamontagne] was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, great, great great’ and she opened a secret drawer in her desk and said, ‘This is why I brought you here,’” Salazar said. “She’s like, ‘OK, read it,’ and I sat there and read the whole first two episodes — she wouldn’t let me take it anywhere — and then she said, ‘OK, now we’re going to put you on tape for it.’”
Though the creators knew at that point they wanted to use the advanced animation technique, where animators sketch colors and textures over each frame of recorded video, it wasn’t until their director, Hisko Hulsing, suggested it that they decided to make the leap.
“He had worked with [producer] Tommy Pallotta, who worked on ‘A Scanner Darkly’ and ‘Waking Life’ with Richard Linklater, and had a good collaboration with him,” Purdy said. “Hisko said, ‘I loved working with Tommy and I love doing rotoscoping because you can get all the micro-expressions.’ And there’s so much emotion in this, we didn’t want to lose it.”
The episodes screened tracked Alma (Salazar), a dissatisfied San Antonio day care worker who’s getting fed up with her daily routine. But when a car accident puts her in the hospital, her reality starts to shift; her perception of time doesn’t fit our typical linear timeline, and suddenly there’s a mystery to be solved about her father (played by Bob Odenkirk), who died in an accident when she was a young girl.
While the first episode cleverly implements rotoscoping, as well, it’s in the second entry that Alma’s world falls off the screen like crumbling puzzle pieces and settings rotate in and out like a ViewMaster. One moment, Alma could be watching the world slide by her window like she’s on a moving train, and the next she could be hopping from slab to slab as they appear beneath her jumping feet.
Salazar, who’s worked in VFX-heavy productions like “Alita: Battle Angel” and the “Maze Runner” movies before, said taking on these kind of roles can be invigorating.
“I was just so in,” she said. “Obviously, I’d been animated before. I’d been an alternate version of myself, and I really like doing that. I feel like it frees me from this body, and I can really give birth to a character — someone completely different — and be free from this mess.”
More importantly, Salazar said she’s always walking around with a “wealth of emotion,” and this role gave her a perfect place to bring out every side of herself.
“When I read these scripts, I said, ‘Oh my God. I can actually use all of it!’” Salazar said. “I really wanted to have a job where I was being used to the fullest degree. I didn’t want to have any time where I was sitting around, putzing on my phone. I really wanted to be used, and boy did I get what I asked for.”
Salazar said the shoot was very fast, even for television.
“It’s like doing black box theater,” she said. “We shot one to 23 pages in one day, and if you work in the industry, you know that’s a heckuva lot of pages. Usually you do about an eighth of a page on movies. So it was really intense to be in an emotional state and a heightened physical state all day every day. After the first week, I felt ill. But then I was like, ‘OK, now I know the level of adrenaline I need to bring to every single week that we shoot.’”
“Undone” premiered at the ATX TV Festival in June. No premiere date has been released yet, but you can get an idea of what’s to come via the first trailer. Season 1 consists of eight episodes and will debut on Amazon Prime Video later this year.
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