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Director Richard Linklater Discusses His Latest Film, A Scanner Darkly

Linklater Talks About the Animation Process Used in A Scanner Darkly


Director Richard Linklater Discusses His Latest Film, A Scanner Darkly

Director Richard Linklater

© Warner Independent Pictures
Preparing for A Scanner Darkly with Waking Life: “This one wouldn’t have happened without that,” said Linklater. “I kind of saw where we could take the animation, what would be the next step with it. As a director, I think you have all these tools at your disposal, possibilities of how you can shoot your film. I’m lucky that I have this technique as one of the colors on my palette, as a way to tell a story. So when I thought Scanner Darkly would be best told this way, having done it once before and seeing the possibilities of it, I saw how I could use it to tell this story.

It’s just different. It’s a very consistent look. We had a very much a visual design for it unlike Waking Life. It looks the same throughout. It was very difficult to do. It was much harder to do than Waking Life, like 10 times harder it felt, but that was the way the story could work. It was interesting to see that process evolve, but it was difficult. (Laughing) I don’t have another animated film I want to do just yet.”

On the New Rotoscoping Technique: Linklater says he used the technique because he knows the guy who wrote the software. “He’s a friend of mine in Austin so he was sort of creating it. It’s a computer variant of rotoscoping, which is an old technique. I don’t even know if that’s the right way of calling it, ‘rotoscoping’. It’s just a computer variation. It’s something you can do on your home computer via the software. It still takes over 500 hours to do one minute of this. It’s very artist intensive. That’s why we spent a year and a half doing it.”

Linklater continued. “It was Waking Life when I saw the earliest stages of that technique. It sort of triggered something in my brain of the story I’d been thinking about for 20 years - or kind of non-story I should say that never worked in my mind as a film. But when I saw that it was like, ‘Okay, that’s works because it’s not real, but it is real.’ That’s why I felt it worked here. Philip K Dick is always asking, ‘What is reality?’ and I think this technique puts your brain in the right place to take in this particular story.

It seems real; it sounds real. You recognize these people. Their gestures are real and it seems like the real world, but it’s not. It’s this painted world so it’s probably the right kind of split-brain thing going on in your head as you watch it that, hopefully, you take it in just like a movie. You care about the people in the same way, if not more than you would in live action.”

Acting More Animated: Did his actors use their hands more or expand on facial expressions to a greater degree knowing they were going to be animated? “Actually Woody [Harrelson], [Robert] Downey and Rory [Cochrane] I think, because of their characters, I think pushed them a little bit. But that didn’t really have that much to do with animation, it had more to do with their characters who were a little more tweaked out.”

Animating the Scramble Suit: One of the most interesting – and bizarre – animated effects in the film is the scramble suit worn by Keanu Reeves’ character. Linklater says, “In the book it’s described as a… He gives a lengthy description, also calling it kind of a vague blur. He leaves it very much up to the imagination of what that looks like, but it’s just a multi-personality. We spent months on the actual design of it, but what we came up with was, every four frames different sections of the body changed to something else so no moment is it one person - different sections are changing.

We needed illustrators who could really draw. There’s thousands and thousands of people in those scramble suits, and if you look closely there’s Phil K. Dick; there’s everyone. They’re looking through magazines and yearbooks, every ethnicity. It’s all over the map, but it’s all these people. That’s kind of the metaphor for the movie, about identity, but it was tricky to come up with. You have to be able to watch it and be intrigued by it.”

Budget Restraints and Live Action: Linklater doesn’t think A Scanner Darkly could have been made as a live-action movie. “I don’t think we could’ve got the movie made probably, like this story probably wouldn’t have warranted the $20 or $30 million budget that it probably would have been if it was live action. We did it very low budget because of the animation. Our original budget was $6 million.”

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