Yesterday, I saw Waking Life. It was a very remarkable and ingenious presentation of philosophical questions and answers related to many things like evolution, existentialism, and in particular, dreams.

And given this philosophical nature of the story(?), the medium of the movie just had to have the right touch of both the reality as well as the abstract. Actual shooting? Too real. Animation? Too fake.

So, the movie was made using a technique called “rotoscopy”, which is right in the middle of real life and animation. First, the actors act out scene after scene, like for any other movie,  and just as perfectly.

Next, a team of artists comes along and sketches/paints over each frame! Today, of course, computer aid greatly helps the artists complete the job faster and better.

The result: mindblowing. No animation could have been the same. For one, animated movies look fake because the “acting” isn’t real; eg. when two people are talking, they don’t just stare at each other; they often look away. Similarly, when you are doing one task, you always inadvertantly do so many other actions every now and then; eg. scratching your face, adjusting your glasses etc. These are small things that hardly any animated movie has consciously shown.

However, since rotoscopy is based on actual acting, all these little things are, in fact, shown; and that is somehow mentally pleasing. And, to add to that, are the artistic strokes. The artists consciously use different kinds of media to draw, and different painting techniques, varying stroke strength and thickness etc, to fully bring out the mood and individality of each frame. All this takes the experience to a different level altogether.

Rotoscopy is powerful, but it is also a subtle and delicate medium of expression. Although I wish to see many more movies to be made using rotoscopy, at the same time, I don’t think that our dime-a-dozen pacy action movies will do justice to the medium. Rotoscopy needs a slow, deep pensive atmosphere to really have its effect; and Dhobhi Ghat is certainly a movie that I’d like to see rotoscoped. Producers, are you listening?

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