Rosa Salazar describes the rotoscoping process used in bringing Amazon Studios’ gorgeous new series Undone to life as similar to the old Disney films. “They were filmed live-action and then they were traced because they didn’t know how to animate yet. It is that same style that Disney used in the very beginning only now we do have the technology,” explained Salazar. “It’s more crisp. It’s more life-like. It’s more rich.”
Undone was created by BoJack Horseman’s Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Kate Purdy and centers around Alma (Rosa Salazar), a young woman who develops a different relationship with space and time than most people do as the result of a car accident.
The eight-episode first season of Undone premiered on Amazon Prime on Friday, September 13, 2019. Immediately following its debut, the show’s rating on Rotten Tomatoes was a stunning 100% fresh, with critics calling it riveting, beautiful, thought-provoking, and a must-see.
During roundtable interviews at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, Rosa Salazar described how the process worked on set. “The things that were different about it were that we were only interacting with certain things. Sometimes there were things that were taped down to the floor. Like, ‘Oh, by the way you just walked through a couch.’ They painted it later so remember there’s a couch here and don’t walk through it,” said Salazar.
“But if you and I were doing a dinner scene, they would wheel out a table and two chairs and props that we would absolutely have to interact with,” added Salazar. “All of those things would be rotolined, which means traced, and then hand-painted in later. All of the backdrops are actually hand-painted – classically painted – oil paintings. So even something as banal as a tiled wall in a bathroom is a classically painted oil painting. There’s something like 200 oil paintings per episode.”
Rosa Salazar remembers how she felt the first time she watched herself in a fully rotoscoped episode of Undone. “Well, it’s interesting because I’ve done this before where I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s me!’ But that was a more mutated version of me. This is just simply me. Everything is in the right portion. I loved it. I love doing things like that. I like to disengage with myself, my body, my skeleton. I like to experience it the way you experience, and I can because I have this sort of barrier, although it’s undeniably me.
I loved it. When I saw it, I was extremely proud of it. They let me watch the first two episodes – they gave me a link which never give anyone a link – but I watched it religiously over and over. I’m hypercritical. I can find something wrong in Heaven. I can always find something. I’m so critical of my work and extremely hard on myself, but I could find nothing wrong with it. I’m so proud of it. I’m probably the proudest of this than I’ve ever been of anything in my life because it touches on a few key things that I dealt with in my own life – mental illness, the death of a father, charged relationship with a mother, sibling relationship, love relationship, and questioning my own reality…my own spirituality.”
Summing the experience up, Salazar said, “What did I feel when I watched it the first time? Everything. I cried a lot.”
So, who is Alma and where do we meet her in the story? “Alma is 28 years old and she’s having sort of a quarter-life crisis,” explained Salazar. “Like, ‘I’m at this age where I’m seeing the monotony, seeing the patterns here. Is this it? Is there nothing more to it than this? I wake up, I get dressed, eat breakfast, go to work, I come home.’”
Salazar describes Alma as unraveling following the death of her father. “No one really wants to talk about it. Her sister is very much like, ‘You grow up. You get married. You have kids. You grow old and then you have grandkids. The whole plan is there.’ She’s the opposite side of the spectrum which, quite frankly, it seems like an anecdote. She’s not aware that Alma’s like on a treadmill.”
The story advances into surreal territory after a car accident. “She gets into a fight with her sister and suffers a near-fatal car accident. She slips into a coma and when she wakes up, she starts to see her deceased father – communicate with him,” explained Salazar. “She asks him, ‘Am I going crazy?’ And his answer’s quite vague. He’s like, ‘No…no. Well, kind of.’
I think that’s really the question we’re all sort of asking the whole series. Is she just crazy? Is none of this real? Is it all in her mind? Or, is she a shaman? Does she have magical abilities or is she just schizophrenic? She hit her front lobe and now she’s crazy?
She’s sort of going on this journey through her spirituality trying to figure out where she is in this world and what is her own reality. While also going on a journey with her dead father back to the night when he was killed to see if she can change the course of events, if she can have him back.”
Asked how she thinks Undone is able to give a unique twist to a manipulation of time story, Rosa Salazar credited the fact it’s rotoscoped. “When you have that ability to seamlessly morph in and out of scenes, seamlessly morph from floating through sky to falling into a bed, it becomes more fluid. We don’t know where one thing begins and one thing ends. Through animation we really start to mess with where we are, when it is,” said Salazar. “It also makes you lost, in a way. You’re like, ‘Where am I?’ and I think that’s on purpose. You’re with her on this journey. When you’re confused, she’s confused.”
(Additional reporting by Kevin Finnerty.)