While channel surfing today, I stumbled upon this movie called A Scanner Darkly (Yahoo! Movies page), which is a movie adaptation of the novel of the same name by Philip K Dick. I haven’t read the novel, but I do know the story. Directed by Richard Linklater, and starring Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr, and Winona Ryder – so it isn’t really some movie with nondescript actors. Small budget movie though, but stands out because of its visual style.
I couldn’t watch the whole movie, because when I tuned into HBO, it was into the last hour of the movie. Still whatever I saw was so stunning that I’m totally awed by it. Although it was the latter end of the movie, still, the visual style of the movie was so engrossing that out of 10, I’d give it a 10 for visual style.
The technique used for making this movie is called ‘rotoscoping’. Basically, live action (‘normal’) scenes are shot (digitally, in this case to make it easier for editing later), and then it is animation is done on top of that live action sequence footage. This, obviously, used to be a very tedious process earlier as EACH and EVERY frame had to be animated by hand; thus, it was used sparingly. For example, the lightsabers in the earliest (according to release date) three Star Wars movies were animated using this technique. You can see what I mean by rotoscoping by looking at the movie poster – that’s Keanu Reeves’ face with animation done over it.
A Scanner Darkly could take this a step further because they used to software to ease the burden. Instead of animating EVERY frame, human animators simply animated a few ‘keyframes’ – the rest was filled in by computers. It makes a better overall effect too, because the software is able to make a smoother transition than the human hand ever could. Have a look at the trailer of A Scanner Darkly to get an idea of how ossum this REALLY looks!
The story is about the ‘near-future’, where the problem of drug abuse has grown exponentially. A drug called ‘Substance D’ is one of the major drugs of that time, and the police hires the Keanu Reeves guy as a spy to go into a drug network and bring them down. Keanu’s character however, gets addicted to the stuff – and under its influence becomes schizophrenic. No more spoilers – you rather watch the movie. It doesn’t have any significant plot twists, which could be spoiled by revealing here – quite a guessable plot actually, but no point revealing it. Winona Ryder looks quite sexy too in her psuedo-animated avatar, something which she never achieved in live action; or rather, she looks really unique in this avatar.
One more thing that I really need to figure out is why Keanu Reeves always seems to end up in sci-fi flicks, always plays the One Savior type character, and always ends up in a tragic situation. Even Adam Sandler has more versatility than Reeves when it comes to the kind of characters played.
One more thing that this animation technique might remind you of some animation sequences in Grand Theft Auto 4. Maybe they used rotoscoping, maybe they didn’t – but the visual style feels the same as that of A Scanner Darkly. I said ‘similar’, because the visual *feel* of the movie is way far ahead.