As far as format-breaking television goes, Amazon Prime Video’s “Undone” tops the list. The story centers on a young woman named Alma (Rosa Salazar) who develops the ability to jump through space and time after a terrible car accident and tries to uncover the truth about her father’s death by doing so. While the series is a drama and shoots live-action with actors including Bob Odenkirk, Constance Marie and Angelique Cabral, the final result is animated, with all characters and props rotoscoped and backgrounds painted in. This allows for complex sequences, such as one in the second episode in which the hospital cafeteria breaks apart around Rosa and her father (Odenkirk), throwing her back into her hospital bed.
Director and production designer
“In the scene there was only a table and two chairs and Bob Odenkirk and Rosa Salazar and a piece of grilled cheese on a plate. That was it. We didn’t really have a set. All the rest was designed — painted afterwards. We storyboarded it very carefully, but the room crashing we didn’t have to worry about on the set. The only thing we had to worry about was Rosa. Rosa jumped out of a chair and we hired a stuntwoman who had the same wardrobe as Rosa and jumped on a trampoline and then landed on a mattress. It was done in a very low-budget way. All the rest is 3D animation — and painted to have that oil painting quality so it would look a little different than previous rotoscoped animation.”
“We get a 3D scene that has a mockup or layout version, as we call it. This 3D scene is already a really good setup to start creating the simulation, and from this you tell a computer to create line renders. And then the image is being projected onto a canvas and being actually painted. That is a really good reference for us because we have the colors and the heavy-lifting in terms of the initial look of the scene and then we try to match it digitally. Artistically, we also have to find a good balance in the motion. When she starts falling and there are pieces of debris falling, it was quite challenging not to intersect between pieces because some elements were simulated and we were combining them with other elements, like hand-drawn [ones]. You had to make sure that everything feels natural.”
“An average scene would have eight camera angles, so we would have eight paintings. We had the live-action footage and then there would be a laid-out line drawing to show where the characters would interact. We would transfer the line art to canvas and, based on concept art, we would already know a little bit about the colors. With the line art and custom drawing we would then create the painting. The concept art was quite simple, relatively, so we pulled in our own references. For the cafeteria scene I spent one or two hours looking on the internet to see what these tables looked like, but the bulletin board was a unique situation because we actually had to leave it empty. A digital artist created the posters and stuff for that and laid it into the painting. Paintings usually took about a day but for a really detailed painting, it could take up to four days.”
“Hisko and the storyboarders figured out the angles and where the cameras would be; usually when I do an animation that’s all stuff I have to do. What I did was mainly design work: I use a digital program called Clip Studio Paint, which is very similar to Photoshop, and I show initial ideas to Hisko and then I blow everything up to the correct size and work it out in a more detailed fashion. It’s basically a two-step process for me. I spent a lot of time on the roof because there’s a lot of ceiling tiles that I wanted to catch a wave of force going through. So, in perspective, I had to try to get a ripple effect and have them break apart. I spent more than a day just on that.”