Amazon’s ‘Undone’ takes rotoscope animation to new heights

Undone’s rotoscoped animation style, which was produced by the studio Minnow Mountain and involves drawing over live-action footage, helps it stand out from everything else on TV today. Every second of the show makes it clear how far we’ve come from Richard Linklater’s Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, thanks to lush watercolor backgrounds and immersive three-dimensional environments. Undone is such a revelation I wouldn’t be surprised if it leads to a revival of rotoscoping, a technique pioneered by the early 20th century animator Max Fleischer.

“We think that the show plays the tension of reality,” Purdy said in an interview with Engadget. “The fact that it is both live action and animation simultaneously, allows you to come in and play with your imagination, but also to be stretched in terms of that kind of initial feeling of ‘What is this? What is this that I’m seeing?’… The fact that it is moving between mediums or is existing simultaneously between these mediums is playing thematically with what the show is exploring.”

Undone Amazon Prime Video

After binging the entire series over the past week, it’s hard to imagine Undone being presented any other way. Alma’s journey gets trippy quickly — she might jump from floating in space to reliving a childhood memory of a family trip to Mexico. At one point, she runs down a seemingly infinite hallway as she encounters her past self. At times, Undone resembles the works of the anime director Satoshi Kon, who used the limitless potential of animation to craft scenes that would be incredibly expensive (and at times logistically impossible) in live action.

Surprisingly, Bob-Waksberg, who also created Bojack Horseman, says he and Purdy didn’t write Undone with the intention of animating it. But upon reading the script for the first time, director Hisko Hulsing quickly realized that rotoscoped animation would be the ideal medium.

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