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The careful, hypergranular process behind Amazon’s artful undone

Shot by Justin Wolfson, edited by Jeremy Smolik. Click here for the transcript.

Let’s be the 47th outlet to say it: nothing else on TV or streaming looks like it Cancel. Amazon Prime̵

7;s animated science fiction series centers around a woman named Alma (played by Rosa Salazar) Alita Fame) who suffers an accident that changes their relationship with the world. And while Alma is dealing with this ongoing 180, she tries to investigate her father’s mysterious death (played by Bob Odenkirk, Better call Saul). The story … well, rather less and avoid spoilers for future viewers.

Cancel However, style deserves all the words you can dedicate. If you’ve heard of the show before, this is likely due to the fact that it is the first major streaming series to be done entirely in the rotoscope, an animation technique that involves artists using a variety of methods and live actors Paint over styles. (Maybe you saw the documentary about filming on campus tower or Richard Linkliter Wake up Life; This is rotoscoping in action.) Rotoscoped work can be dreamy, museum-like, nightmarish, disjointed, or beyond – sometimes all at once. In other words, it could be the perfect creative visual choice for a show like Cancel.

Three vision companies are implementing this vision behind the scenes: Tornante in Southern California, Submarine Productions in Amsterdam and Minnow Mountain in Austin, Texas. If this type of global collaboration doesn’t say it, we will: The process was complicated. But you haven’t had to take it away from us since Cancel Director and production designer Hisko Hulsing kindly sat down for our latest entertainment episode of “War Stories” and outlined the tedious process that makes up the show we all seem so effortlessly beautiful when we watch at home.

More than a thousand words

Rotoscoping on this scale turns out to be a double challenge. First, it has to make sense from the narrative perspective – which means that the final images fit the narrative and Things don’t move too close to the eerie valley and remove viewers from history. Hulsing said Cancel At first I flew a little too close to the eerie valley (this gray area where things look almost realistic, but only so different that they annoy you), but the team increased its impressionistic instincts and increased the artificial nature of the show world. These optimizations were ultimately made Cancel History also strengthens the decision for this highly stylized approach.

“We used rotoscopy first because this is a more realistic approach to animation,” Hulsing told Ars. “Second, the story remains ambiguous as to whether Alma is schizophrenic or has a nightmare or flashback. To me it seemed like we would create a very unreal atmosphere with rotoscoping while we seem realistic. So for the audience, it is not always clear when they experience something totally unreal … I think that rotoscoping helps. Even the realistic scenes can be a little suspicious Act. “

Eat the elephant one bite at a time

The second major challenge in rotoscoping is all of the technology required to complete eight episodes. Manufacturing Cancel encompassed everything from directing the actors on a sound stage to mapping projection to old-fashioned oil paintings. And every step of the process probably reached a more detailed level Cancel than it would be with another project. Take the Soundstage filming for example.

“A lot of people think we just shot and followed live action, but that’s not how we worked,” said Hulsing. “We filmed actors on a sound stage in LA, but there is no actual set. There are only a few grids that help us determine the perspective for our virtual sets. So before we shoot an episode, we design each environment that will appear – every room, every house We design it on the outside We make floor plans with dimensions On set, my assistant Nora uses tape on the floor to show the actors where the walls are so that they don’t cross the walls when they act . “

In the end, the production of the show took a whole year (with more than 50,000 hours of character animation and more than 130,000 hand-drawn frames according to the deadline). But when the production team encountered problems that implemented an ambitious idea or scene, they found solutions by growing small. “If you want things to look big, all the small details have to be small,” as Hulsing put it. You can hear the longtime animator provide beat-by-beat details in the episode above, but the results speak for themselves. Amazon extended the series for a second season with two months of its debut, and some critics even believe the show deserves an 2020 Emmy nomination for best drama.

“Ten years ago, no distributor would have thought that this could be successful. The whole story is written in a very risky way. There are many genres: comedy, tragedy, drama, science fiction and some psychological thriller elements. There is so much, it could have gone so wrong, “said Hulsing. “I always thought that Hollywood produced so many formula films because too many people got involved and it was put down. And what struck me Reversed, It is the opposite. When you are on this set, you have a lot of very good heads and everyone contributes to the whole. You have a lot more intelligence to actually do the right thing. “

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