Anime and Animation at the New York’s New Comic-Con
Joe Strike attends the first New York Comic-Con, reporting back on an event that hopes to become a sci-fi, comics and fantasy Mecca with an east coast flavor.
by Joe Strike
“Hello Comic-Con New York!”
The speaker is Keanu Reeves, or at least a video projected image of him. Not quite a real-life image either — more like a surreal, dreamlike Waking Life image. Keanu is greeting a roomful of fans who have gathered to learn more about his starring role in Richard Linklater’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly.
Keanu and the filmmakers whipped up their surprise for New York City’s first Comic-Con literally days before the event, working 35 hours non-stop to create the star’s 27-second greeting in the same style as the upcoming film itself.
(snipped for A Scanner Darkly)
Saturday night rolled around, and with it the A Scanner Darkly’s session. Producer Tommy Pallotta and lead animator Sterling Allen were on hand to discuss director Richard Linklater’s second foray into animation following 2001’s Waking Life. After Reeves’s introduction, the opening 25 minutes of the film were screened, leaving one eager to see the completed movie, current awaiting a July release. The film is the latest of late sci-fi author Philip K. Dick’s work to be translated to film. “We approached his estate and offered them less money than is usual,” Pallotta said. “They gave us rights to adapt it because we promised to be as faithful as possible to the book.”
Like Waking Life, Scanner was shot on digital video then turned into animation via “interpolated rotoscoping software,” a combination of Flash and Illustrator. Reeves stars as an undercover narcotics cop pursuing users of “Substance D.” The cover he’s under is a “scramble suit” that keeps changing his appearance to the outside world in a never-ending piecemeal fashion, with portions of three different peoples’ features sweeping across his face at any given moment. According to Allen, 18 animators worked on the scramble suit and kept sneaking familiar faces into its scenes, from SpongeBob SquarePants (who was caught and removed), to all the Incredibles, fellow animators and Philip K. Dick himself.
Considering the film’s amazing, hallucinatory visuals, its $8.5 million total price tag is nothing short of amazing in its own right. Even more amazing is the fact its 50-person Austin, Texas-based crew came aboard with no experience and learned their craft at the same time they were making the film. (While Pallotta had an art degree and was painting in his spare time, he was working at an Eckerd photo-developing counter just prior to joining the production.) Allen said that a 900-frame shot would require between seven and eight days to animate, while a 60-frame talking head shot might take a day and a half. It might have been possible (with the aid of an enormous budget) to create an equivalent live-action film, but for Pallotta’s money animation was a more effective approach to portray the altered, druggy world the characters inhabit. Allen added that trying to create the scramble suit in photo-realistic CGI might have come off looking “goofy” rather than convincing.
While Allen acknowledged that any film as complex as A Scanner Darkly had to cope with more than its share of unexpected challenges, he slammed a recent Wired Magazine article on supposed chaos in its post-production as “absolutely untrue” and little more than internet hearsay.