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In The Mix
August 21, 2019

Altered States

With a mix of mind-bending mediums, an animated series gets personal and universal.

Ramin Zahed
  •  In Amazon’s Undone, Alma (Rosa Salazar) asks her father (Bob Odenkirk): “Am I losing my mind, Dad?” He replies, “No, no.... Uh, yes and no.”

  • Amazon

Wrapping up the first season of Netflix’s BoJack Horseman four years ago, creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg and coproducer Kate Purdy (The McCarthys, Cougar Town) decided to develop a new project that explored such complex issues as mental health and the nature of reality.

“I fell in love with Raphael and what he had to say about this world,” Purdy recalls. “Then, we started talking about our own lives and families. I told him about my grandmother Geraldine, who had schizophrenia, and my fears about mental health. I was going through a divorce and a hard time in my life, and as a result, I was discovering alternative healing modalities and meeting shamans around the world.”

They created Undone, a beautifully crafted and highly original series  set to premiere on Amazon later this year. In eight half-hour episodes, the rotoscope-animated series follows a young woman named Alma (played by Rosa Salazar), who survives a near-fatal car accident and begins to see  visions of her late father (Bob Odenkirk). Then she discovers she can travel  through space and time.

Executive-produced by Bob-Waksberg, Purdy, Noel Bright, Steven A. Cohen and Tommy Pallotta, the show features a multicultural cast that includes Angelique Cabral, Constance Marie, Siddarth Dhananjay, Daveed Diggs, John Corbett, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Tyler Posey.

One of the show’s secret weapons is director Hisko Hulsing, a Dutch indie animator best known for his award-winning shorts Junkyard and Seventeen.

“Our producers Noel and Steve found Hisko, who is absolutely amazing,” Bob-Waksberg says. “It was his idea to use rotoscopy for the animation, since he wanted to capture the micro expressions of the characters’ faces.”

Purdy adds, “We wanted a style that felt real and grounded, but was animated enough so that when crazy things started to happen, you wouldn’t feel like we were suddenly breaking the show. We needed this seamless transition between what was real and unreal.”

Thanks to the complex production process, “It’s almost as if we make the show three times,” she says. “First, we shoot everything in live action in Hollywood. Then, that footage is sent to Minnow Mountain Studio in Austin, where they rotoscope it and choose which lines to animate to get all the expressions and emotionality.

"Finally, it goes to Submarine in Amsterdam, where Hisko oversees the animation. They oil-paint the backgrounds, and all the different elements are added in the compositing process.”

Bob-Waksberg and Purdy are already making plans for the second season, but for now he has only great things to say about their wild animated ride. “One of the joys of this seemingly endless process is how many artistic collaborators we have along the way who find ways to elevate the piece,” Bob- Waksberg says.

Purdy puts it a bit differently. “It’s like labor pains,” she says. “Every step of the process is incredibly painful, but when it’s all done, you just think about how blissful and beautiful it all has been.”

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, issue No. 8, 2019

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