"A Scanner Darkly"...What's the effing point?

The trouble with rotoscoping is it looks like rotoscoping. Simply overlaying animation on live-action gives it a strikingly different appearance than either format alone, one which, in every instance I’ve ever seen it utilized, seems lazy, gimmicky, and ultimately terribly distracting.

Having downloaded the trailer for the new flick, I can see modern technology has done little to improve upon the basic flaws of the rotoscoping approach. It still looks and feels like total shite, wasting both the efforts of the animators and the actors. Given the advances in CGI and motion capture technology (a prime example being the visually spectacular Gollum, and his almost flawlessly seamless interactions with live footage), I can’t understand why the artists involved wouldn’t move their creative vision forward to fashion something compelling, rather than try to rehabilitate a shabby animator’s crutch that never worked, and probably never will. The newer shades of lipstick have done nothing for the pig, and another P.K. Dick concept is essentially wasted (I guess I should be happy Ben Affleck isn’t somehow involved, but this isn’t much of a consolation).

So who’s brilliant idea was this? What gave these people the notion that a full-length rotoscoping of big-name actors who, in the flesh, are generally pretty easy on the eyes, and could operate in a world with convincing CGI effects, was a Really Great Idea for a Movie[sup]TM[/sup]? Instead we’ve got proof that this kind of aesthetic sucks, always has, and probably always will. Are sci-fi creators that bored and desperate as to delude themselves that threadbare tricks can somehow be legitimized if you use the right color tones or something? No new visual ideas under the sun? Feh.

I’ll wait to see the movie to pass judgement, but yeah, it does seem to be rotoscoped for the sake of it. It sure looks unique though, and stands out in a crowd… that gets my vote.

My question is this; can you rotoscope over any film? Could you say, for example, rotoscope over the original Star Wars, giving it a fresh new vibrancy while at the same time, papering over some dodgy effects? Because THAT would be cool.

Couldn’t disagree with you more.

The clips and trailers I’ve seen look spectacular. Before you judge the technique as an out-dated artistic dead-end I strongly urge you to rent Waking Life, Richard Linklater’s previous animated movie using the same techniques. It’s not really a narrative film but a loose collection of vignettes and philosophical musings where the computer enhanced rotoscoping is used to good effect in creating a surreal, dreamlike atmosphere.

Also, Linklater’s excellent track record as an intelligent indie filmmaker gives my high hopes that this movie adaptation will be the first to really do justice to Dick’s personal vision. It’s really the only movie I’ve been looking forward to this summer.

I couldn’t agree with you more. I HATE rotoscoping. Hate it, hate it, hate it with the burning passion of a thousand firey suns. I hated Waking Life only because of the rotascoping. I hate rotascoping for making me hate a Linklater film, because I usually heart Linklater.

Rotoscoping literally makes me feel jittery and nauseous. Its affect on me is like that of a jiggly hand held camera running through the woods on a rollercoaster, only worse. And I find it scary and ominious, thanks to the awful Return of the King hack job I saw as a kid.

I really, really want to see Scanner, because it has all my favorite actors, and it actually looks like maybe for the first time ever they didn’t mutilate Dick. But the damn rotoscoping…I dunno. Maybe I can take some dramamine and drink ginger ale or something.

I like the graphic-novelish appearance.

I think you may find that the technique makes more sense in the context of the film than it does for the trailer. It’s way beyond Ralph Bakshi fudgy rotoscopy – huge elements of the finished frame are pure animation, and the quality of the animation is quite good.

A Scanner Darkly is probably my favourite Philip K. Dick novel, and I have been following the development of this project for nine years now. I was a little skeptical when it was handed off to Linklater, but I think that it looks to be the first Hollywood treatment of Dick’s work that is subtantially (almost completely) faithful to the source material. I’m very excited about it.

Rotoscopy gets a bad name because usually you notice it when it’s done poorly. Say “rotoscope” and people think of a crap beard painted on lousy footage of Gandalf on horseback. You don’t think of the Fleischer Brothers or Snow White, because the technique is used to good effect there.

I think the rotoscoped look will lend itself very well to the story. Remember, this is a novel about drug abuse which damages the percept system to the point where it’s impossible to tell what’s real and what’s not real.

There are so many scenes in the novel that I can’t wait to see on the big screen. From the opening line of “Once a guy stood all day shaking bugs from his hair,” all the way up to the bitter end, there are many vividly hallucinatory scenes, and this slick animated look is perfect for depicting them.

I think one of the side effects of the approach is that a lot of people are going to look at the trailers and decide that it’s going to be a great movie to get completely fucked up and check out. I’m sure the visuals will be satisfactory, but the actual story may be a bit of a bum trip. :smiley:

Well, this is one of those insoluble aesthetic differences. I disliked watching that movie because of the rotoscoping, which I felt ruined some otherwise good ideas. I only realised after downloading the trailer that the same “creative minds” were are work on Scanner Darkly .

…I like rotoscoping.

Maybe it’s because I’m an animator and I’ve done some experiments with rotoscoping, and I have an idea for a short film I want to make using the technique. I think it looks cool, and I don’t see how it’s a “lazy” way to do things…after all, you have to direct the original source footage anyway, so how is rotoscoping a scene any less effort than filming it live-action? It’s great for surrealistic stuff like Waking Life, and there are no rules that say you have to copy the original image entirely, you’re free to put whatever hand-drawn elements you want into the scene, even if they weren’t in the original footage. For every technique somebody calls a cheap gimmick, somebody will eventually come along and use it to make a great movie.

I don’t know anything about “A Scanner Darkly” but the rotoscoping is enough to make me want to see the film, personally.

Me and my friends have had this argument before (we’re Digital Media majors,) so I thought I’d give my input. I disagree with some of the OP’s points, namely that rotoscoping always looks bad. I’m actually a big fan of the rotoscoped look in general. The combination of a graphical appearance with real motion is something that intrigues me. It’s an odd look that you can’t achieve with just footage or just animation (unless it’s some astoundingly good animation.)

In addition, since we’re talking about Linklater’s rotoscoped films, I’m also interested by both films mentioned from a technical standpoint. On the Waking Life DVD they talk about the proprietary program (Rotoshop, I believe) they created for the film. Long story short, the program uses interpolated spline shapes so the animator can rotoscope keyframes and the computer tweens the rest (cutting down on the enormous amount of work usually required by rotoscoping). In Waking Life in particular, many of the segments basically flaunted the new technique by using loose keyframing on many objects so that the animation doesn’t stick perfectly to the footage but seems to float around, giving it a dream-like appearance. From the Scanner Darkly trailer though, it seems like they’re going for a more realistic rotoscope and keeping tighter to the footage.

That said, I understand many peoples’ criticism that a Scanner Darkly in particular appears to be rotoscoped purely for the sake of being rotoscoped. in Waking Life it can be defended that because the entire movie is a dream, the dream-like animation is appropriate, but in a Scanner Darkly it seems like just a gimmick. Personally, I don’t mind it. I don’t think there necessarily needs to be a special reason for something to be animated, rotoscoped, made with puppets, black and white, or whatever; I think wanting your movie to have a distinct visual look is reason enough.

In my ideal world, animation would be evaluated on par with film, but we’re still at the point where many people see something animated and they automatically assume it’s for kids or is otherwise less important than a film. For that reason, I’m all for a movie that is animated or rotoscoped “for no reason” because I hope it will help people see animation or rotoscoping as just another vehicle for storytelling, just like film.

Calling live action “lazy” is like calling photography inferior to painting because…well, the image isn’t painted. They’re two completely different media, with different goals, different aesthetics, different skills brought to bear. Just a total apples-vs.-oranges comparison.

I call rotoscoping “lazy” because it’s seems like a ham-fisted attempt to wrench a kind of verisimilitude from animation that can only be had on the cheap by painting-by-numbers over actual images. You get none of the impossible angles or freedom of hand-drawn animation, all of its limitations, and slap it awkwardly over a movie, IMO. This is basically slapping something like that ersatz watercolor Photoshop filter over every frame because it’s there. You can see it a mile away, it’s gimmicky, cheap, and again, so distracting as to make viewing unenjoyable. To me, at least.

Just watched the trailer. While I would normally agree with you about rotoscoping (see also: The Hobbit), in the context of this movie, it looks absolutely fucking brilliant. Plus, it’s Linklater, and he always, always gets a little creative latitude from me.

I disagree that the movie is rotoscopy for the sake of rotoscopy. I think it’s a brilliant way to portray the scramble suit from the novel.

I think you nailed it when you said this is an insoluble aesthetic difference, which is fine by me. However, I don’t agree that rotoscoping doesn’t allow for the flexibility and freedom of animation. In Waking Life for example, characters often morph into strange shapes, extra elements float into frame to illustrate a character’s point, and background and foreground elements are constantly floating around even when the camera is static, all of which is impossible with unaltered footage. I can’t really think of any examples of rotoscoping being employed without leveraging some of the advantages of animation. The exception of course, could be a Scanner Darkly, but I haven’t seen it so I don’t know.

I wouldn’t say that.

Hell, even the bit in the trailer that shows the girl Arctor picked up morphing into Donna – when “Fred” is viewing that sequence on the scanner tapes, he imagines that it’s “film technique – a director using special visual effects.”

The central plot point of the film is “perceptual contamination.” As the film progresses, there will be more and more things that don’t quite fit. Reality should appear to get thinner and thinner.

Quasi-realistic animation is perfect for this. When things are coming apart, you might notice a three-foot-tall contract man that follows you around everywhere, but there are going to be scores of tiny little misperceptions that pass without comment.

Also, folks are mistaken if they think that the animation process for A Scanner Darkly consists of simply “colouring in the lines” over live-action shots. Many elements of props, set, costume, and makeup are entirely animated, with only place-holders in the live-action shot. There are also false perspective shots.

One particular scene that I’m thinking of shows Fred walking in his scramble suit through the police department. The look it totally comic book, with exaggerated perspective and impossible angles – and of course the scramble suit means that nothing of the actor is copied at all – apart from the general position of his limbs. I don’t think the effect would be nearly so satisfying if done with straight-forward CGI composited in.

I’m with you, I don’t think it’s a gimmick. That’s just what I’ve heard people say about it.

I didn’t know it was called rotascoping. Whatever, I hate it. You keep wanting to see through it – it’s like looking at the world through frosted glass…oh wait…as through a glass (scanner) darkly. Maybe that’s the point.

Any chance the DVD will have an un-rotoscoped version of the film?

You mean like that unaltered version of Sin City on the second disk of the special edition? Probably not, and I’ll get to why in a moment.

I’ve seen the movie. And I’ve read Dick.

It’s almost inarguably the purest Dick adaptation yet. It’s crazy and funny, but awkward and uncomfortable, paranoid, delusional, a tonal drone with pops and snaps of jagged punctuation.

And, I have to say, it doesn’t really work as a movie.

Like Dick, it’s largely a thematic exploration, almost a tone poem, variations on a central notion. The movie version of Scanner Darkly takes its basic inspiration from the idea that Arctor is losing his grasp on self-identity. Is he a detective assuming the mantle of an addict in order to investigate the drug culture? Or is he an addict assuming the mantle of a detective because of the safety it offers? Who is he, really? Of the two worlds, law enforcement and the drug culture, which is his home, and which is he just visiting?

With this in mind, the rotoscoping absolutely fits the theme. As Mr. Mudd observes, the ambiguities of perception are at the heart of the piece, so an animation technique that gets you close to the actual actors without actually showing them to you is extremely appropriate. You’re distanced from them as physical beings; you look at them, and you know you’re looking at them, but on another level you’re not actually seeing them. And, yes, this makes it possible to present the scramble suit in a much more satisfying way than any visual effect in standard live action would have offered.

But because film is a very different storytelling medium from prose, there’s another distancing effect that’s not as positive. In film, we’re looking at characters doing things, carrying out actions, and it’s impossible to know for certain what they’re thinking or how they’re perceiving the world. The animation gives us a vague sense of it, but if anything it illuminates the central character at the expense of the others. In prose, on the other hand, you can dive into psychology at will, and hear people’s thoughts in between the activity. The result in Scanner Darkly is that we get to see the Woody Harrelson and Robert Downey Jr characters going off on weirdly tangential drug-fueled rants, but we’re outside their heads, and in effect the first half of the movie amounts to observing the mildly entertaining but ultimately repetitive babbling of a bunch of junkies, without a lot of insight.

If nothing else, Linklater’s Scanner Darkly provides an excellent lesson on why all the previous Dick adaptations have been changed so much: because pure Dick is virtually impossible to represent successfully on screen.

Oh, and one other comment on the animation: It allows Linklater to give Winona Ryder a nude scene, which she hasn’t done in any movies up to now. It’s almost certainly done with a body double, but the animation makes it seamless, popping her head on somebody else’s body. For this reason I’d be surprised if an unaltered original-film version were offered on the eventual DVD: either we’ll see Ryder in a green suit, or whatever, which would be sort of embarrassing for her; or she actually agreed to shoot nude with the understanding that the actual footage would not be seen. I think the former is more probable, but either way, we’re unlikely to ever see it.

Did either of these movies use rotoscoping? Both are Rankin-Bass productions, and I though they used straight animation. Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings was the one that heavily relied on rotoscoping (and is a perfect example of the technique’s shortcomings).

It very well could be that one of which I speak. I haven’t seen any of them in years because I hated them so.

Yeah, I got nothing.