The North American Richard Linklater, pioneer of independent cinema, has proven throughout his career to be one of the directors who have best known how to work on certain fundamental questions of cinema: memory and the passage of time, that which has been irremediably left behind. A filmmaker who has also been able to find a suitable and unique form for each of his projects. Some of the most paradigmatic examples, in addition to the film Boyhood (2014), where he filmed the same child for twelve years, have been his animated films, in which he has used a technique that allows him to animate his stories from of real images: the Rotoshop. A software with which he has done some of his creative work, in the case of his latest film, released on Netflix, Apollo 10 and ½.
Brainstormed by Bob Sabiston in 1996, this invention was actually based on a technique almost as old as cinema itself: rotoscoping. Created by Max and Dave Fleischer during the 1910s, it was used, among others, by Walt Disney and, later, in the first installments of Star Wars. This system consisted of a device that allowed frames with real action to be traced on frosted glass. In this way, it was possible to make drawings giving naturalness to the movements of objects or characters, whether they were Snow White or a Jedi's laser. However, this tool, whose use entailed extraordinary work, was surpassed thanks to Sabiston's invention, since by simply drawing a few key frames of each scene, the program allowed to fill in the missing intermediate frames. Thanks to this, real images could be animated, but no longer by drawing by hand frame by frame.
Despite being criticized by some traditional animators, this technique has also proven to be very creative, as recently seen in the Amazon Studios series Undone (2019). In the case of Linklater, he was one of the pioneers in using the Rotoshop as early as 2001 with his work Waking Life, a philosophical film that deals with existential questions about a young man who lives, or rather suffers, a series of dreams lucid. In his dreamlike wanderings he has dialogues with different characters about the great questions of life, while he struggles to try to discern what is sleep and what is wakefulness. An animated essay in which he took full advantage of the possibilities of the Rotoshop by filming dreams without losing a real substrate, which makes the images more disturbing.
Later, in A Scanner Darkly (2006), Linklater will make a fiction starring Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr. and Winona Ryder. Based on Philip K. Dick's homonymous work, rotoscoping here serves to animate a future world where confusion and hallucinations reign due to the collective abuse of a drug called Substance D. Again, the idea that it is not possible to understand our own reality, always treacherous. For this reason, the characters live in constant self-destructive paranoia. One of the most relevant visual resources of this work is precisely the costume used by the agents looking for the drug. It is a suit that reproduces hundreds of faces at the same time, making any type of identification impossible. Therefore, there is no longer a single I, but dozens, which annuls the individual.
From the dream and the hallucination, Linklater returns in Apollo 10 and ½ to the question of memory, another purely subjective and elusive field. In this wonderful work, he almost autobiographically recounts the childhood of a boy in 1969 who lives in the suburbs of Houston, where almost every family works for NASA. We are faced with an eminently nostalgic film that, however, flees from sentimentality. To do this, he avoids linear and dramatic narration, and gets lost in a succession of gestures, details, anecdotes and reminiscences united by the fantasy of a boy who imagines he is traveling to the moon. More than half of the footage is made up of these time capsules, memories full of life that show the daily life of the large family, whose children are subjugated by the visual culture of the moment: cinema, television, magazines, comics, music, trading cards, etc. , and that marked a generation like Linklater's. What is interesting here about the use of rotoscoping is that the animated images manage to reflect an intermediate state between the fantastic and the real. Thus, there is a trace, a trace that is perceived in the fluidity of the movement and in the gestures of the characters, which allows the past to be experienced as something very close, almost tangible. A definitive film about memory that, like all memories, are nothing more than snapshots charged with light, unconnected vignettes of a past that we all cling to. Therein lies the beauty of this film.