×

How Animated Series ‘Undone’ Used a Mix of Techniques to Tell the Mind-Bending Tale

When Kate Purdy wanted to tell a story about the nature of reality, she knew she wanted to play with perception and time, fade in and out of memories and give voice to visions that only her main character could see. And it wasn’t long before the executive producer and co-creator of Amazon’s new series, “Undone,” realized that only animation could make the kinds of leaps and bounds her story needed. 

“In 2012, I had a nervous breakdown, and I was struggling with depression, and anxiety and I didn’t know what to do about it,” says Purdy, who wants the series, which debuts Sept. 13, to convey what she experienced. Executive produced by “BoJack Horseman” creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg, the show stars Rosa Salazar (“Alita: Battle Angel”) as Alma, a woman who discovers after an accident that she has an unusual relationship with time, which she uses to unravel the mystery of her dead father, played by Bob Odenkirk. “There’s a history of mental illness in my family, and I always had fears about losing my mind,” Purdy says.

The writer partnered with helmer Hisko Hulsing, who leads a team of artists in Amsterdam; executive producer Tommy Pallotta; and Craig Staggs and Steph Swope, who founded the Austin, Texas, boutique animation house Minnow Mountain. Together they settled on a style that would involve rotoscoping, animation, motion capture of live actors and hand-painted backgrounds. Essentially, just about any technique in popular use in animation today was part of the process. 

Despite the deadlines and pressures of TV, they knew it was right for the project. The overall look bears a resemblance to Richard Linklater’s 2006 feature “A Scanner Darkly,” and involves related methods, but “Undone” shows advances made over time and more subtle emotion.

The show also uses careful transitions and fades that take the viewer from the world only the main character knows into the world she shares with family and friends. “My style has always been very realistic,” says Hulsing. “But when I read the script, there was so much dialogue that was so intelligent, we were discussing how to make the distinction between psychosis and reality, and we wanted to take the viewer into the experience. I thought it would be better presented this way because it’s never really real.”

Pallotta appreciates the methods the crew undertook. “I think if I’d told someone at Pixar what we were going to do, they might have said we were crazy,” he says. “But when you have actors like Bob Odenkirk in your show, you want to use everything they can give you, so we worked carefully with their performances.”

Once the performances of other actors were captured, a team of about 20 animators used TVPaint, a 2D animation software package, to adapt them to the rotoscoped style. 

“Great animators have to also be great performers,” Staggs says. “They have to understand the emotions of their characters. What we’re doing now is more emotional, and we’re able to go further than in the past. We’ve also got these performances and this material that made our process so much easier when you’re pushing boundaries.” 

More Artisans

  • Joker Movie

    Make-Up Artist Nicki Ledermann on the Stages of 'Joker' Face

    When “Joker” make-up artist Nicki Ledermann came on board, she had some ideas in mind for the film and presented mock-ups to director Todd Phillips and star Joaquin Phoenix — and both Phillips and Phoenix had already played around with ideas and showed Ledermann photos. “I had to take the design and it was up [...]

  • Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, California,

    Alison Small Set to Lead Training for Netflix in U.K. (EXCLUSIVE)

    Alison Small, CEO of The Production Guild of Great Britain, is in discussions to join Netflix as head of its training initiatives out of the U.K., Variety has learned. The Production Guild, whose members include line producers, production managers and location managers, among others, advertised for a new CEO last week. Its chair is Alex [...]

  • The Gentlemen Costume Design

    How Costume, Production Pros Used Class Style to Define Guy Ritchie’s ‘The Gentlemen’

    For Guy Ritchie’s newest crime-meets-action film “The Gentlemen,” about an American drug kingpin living in Britain and trying to sell his business, the director turned to his “Aladdin” team of costume designer Michael Wilkinson and production designer Gemma Jackson. But the backgrounds and looks they created had less to do with Arabian Nights than with [...]

  • Frozen 2 Rocketman Avengers Endgame

    'Avengers: Endgame,' 'Frozen 2,' 'Rocketman' Take Top Honors at Lumiere Awards

    “Frozen 2” led the Advanced Imaging Society’s Lumiere Awards on Wednesday. The hit Disney sequel was honored with three Lumieres for immersive animated feature film, original song and use of HDR. Director Jennifer Lee was on hand to accept the prizes during a ceremony at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, Calif. The Advanced Imaging Society [...]

  • 1917 Movie

    How the '1917' Special Effects Makeup Team Created Realistic Dead Bodies

    Prior to working on “1917,” special effects artist Tristan Versluis had designed no more than five or six corpses. But Sam Mendes, director of the WWI drama, which has garnered 10 Oscar nominations, needed Versluis, who picked up one of those noms in the hair and makeup category, to create 30 corpses and dead horses, [...]

  • The Irishman

    Editor Thelma Schoonmaker on Cutting Martin Scorsese's 'The Irishman'

    When Thelma Schoonmaker heard about her Oscar nomination for “The Irishman,” she had just stepped off a plane from England. Martin Scorsese’s assistant had texted her about the news, one of the first people to do so. “The Irishman” received a total of ten nominations and was unlike anything Scorsese had done before. “He wanted [...]

  • David O. Russell

    David O. Russell Looks at 'Three Kings' 20 Years Later

    When David O. Russell made “Three Kings” in 1999, it was one of the most definitive films on the Gulf War. At the time, the director had worked on shorts “Hairway to the Stars” and “Bingo Inferno: A Parody on American Obsessions.” He had also worked on features “Spanking the Monkey” and “Flirting with Disaster.” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content