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DV Dreams on 'Waking Life'

Shooting a $5 million feature on HD 24P is still considered "shooting digital." By Matt Ross
In light of some recent, not-so-low-budget digital productions, the phrase "shooting digital" has begun to lose some of its status as the weapon of choice for the indie revolution. Shooting a $5 million feature on HD 24P is still considered "shooting digital."

For most people, the allure of low-end digital formats for narrative filmmaking is simple: it's the cheap alternative. More often than not, film would be the medium of choice if better funding were available but on occasion, digital lives up to its billing as a truly innovative medium that in the right hands, can have a profound effect on filmmaking. Such is the case with Waking Life, the new feature-length animated movie from Austin, Texas -based filmmakers Richard Linklater (writer/director), Tommy Pallotta (producer), Bob Sabiston (animation director) and their team of animators.

The key element in Waking Life is Sabiston's "interpolated rotoscoping" software, a QuickTime-based application that runs on the Mac platform. Rotoscoping, which involves the frame-by-frame tracing over live-action material, has been around for the better part of a century, but never quite like this. Imagine each frame of a feature-length movie filtered through Photoshop by 31 different animators and then strung back together, and you'll start to get the scope of the project.

Since rotoscoping cannot exist without source material, Pallotta and Linklater's first order of business was to shoot and edit a live-action action movie, which they completed in the summer of 1999. The story, a loose narrative in the vein of Slacker, Linklater's debut feature, follows an unnamed character played by Wiley Wiggins (Dazed and Confused) as he encounters a variety of off-beat personalities.The crew was small (usually fewer than five people), with Linklater and Pallotta each doing double duty behind the camera. The team shot over 40 hours of footage on mini-DV with two Sony TRV900s and one Sony PC-1.

On set, all of the source material was captured with its eventual metamorphosis in mind. "The shooting style definitely had everything to do with the animation," said Pallotta. "It was conceived in order to be used in conjunction with Bob's software. We also wanted each scene to have a distinctly different style so that we could give the animators a variety of material to work with. The animation was actually very integrated into the entire process and thoroughly planned out."

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Related Keywords:filmmaking, 24P, rotoscoping, indie, feature, animation

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