Waking Life — Rotoscoping a Movie

Back in 2006 I was a vector junkie. It was still when Adobe Illustrator was an outlier in the independent digital art world and photo manipulations were all the craze (especially on DeviantArt). I contributed to a blog called VectorTown to help promote vector art to the indie digital art community. I recently dug up this piece that I wrote about Waking Life. At the risk of embarrassment, I thought it would be fun to republish it in all of its original, unedited, glory.

In his independent epic philosophical movie, Waking Life, Richard Linklater did more than just create a fascinating story. He utilized the talents of Bob Sabiston and a group of 30 or so animators to turn his story into a visual dreamscape. How appropriate for a movie about dreams and reality to be visually represented as an artistic dream world.

The method in which this fully animated film was created is astonishing in itself. Using “off-the-shelf” Sony handheld cameras, Linklater was able to capture the scenes, which would then be turned over to animators for production.

Using a technique labeled “Rotoscoping” several animators were assigned different sections with their own characters. “Rotoscoping” is a technique where animators trace over actual scenes to reproduce film in frame-by-frame animation sequences. So, with Wacom tablets, animators traced over the scenes taken from Sony digital cameras, while throwing in some of their own unique artistic flare.

In the end they produced a fully animated movie, in which characters’ emotions as well as dialogues were manipulated simultaneously with color and sidebar illustrations. In-depth and far-reaching discussions were simplified and made more understandable through visual representations.

With the impressive and innovative works displayed within this stunning movie, a question remains to be asked. Could similar art direction and techniques be re-applied towards the creation of a movie created fully in vector format?

Many vector artists today already utilize tracing techniques very similar to that of the “Rotoscoping” described in the production of Waking Life. In the near future could it be possible for vector artists and flash animators to create feature-length movies out of their own basements with just the tools of a handheld camera and a copy of Adobe Illustrator and/or Macromedia Flash?

There are already sites on the Internet, which feature short films produced using Macromedia Flash. Will we ever see feature-length movies in .swf format appearing at the Sundance film festival? Software is already available for such a production to be feasible.