Waking Life

Don't be an ant!

USA, 2001. Rated R. 99 minutes. Written and directed by Richard Linklater.

This analysis is divided into an introduction and four parts that may be read independently or sequentially.

  I. The Making of Waking Life
 II. The Play-by-Play
III. What It All Means
IV. Yeah, But Is It Any Good?

Parts II, III, and IV contain spoilers and are intended for people who have already seen the film.


Grade: C Analysis and commentary by Carlo Cavagna

Back to Introduction

I.  The Making of Waking Life

Waking Life was created with a technique called rotoscoping. This involves coloring over footage of real actors such as Wiley Wiggins, Adam Goldberg, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, and Nicky Katt. Linklater first shot Waking Life in digital video as a live action movie in New York City, Austin, and San Antonio. The edited finished product was transferred onto computers by animator Bob Sabiston. Linklater invited some thirty artists to paint over the images, and then software designed by Sabiston filled in the missing frames and lines between the individual paintings to create animation.

Instead of forging a single, cohesive look, however, each of the thirty artists was assigned individual characters and given free rein. The result is that some of the characters are finely realized while others are quite crude, which makes you feel like you're watching the juxtaposed works of a cross-section of impressionist, modern, and primitive painters. Sometimes the artists allowed their imagination to take hold, drawing in images of things the characters discuss. As one guy talks about the body being a machine, his head becomes a gear.

Rotoscoping is not new, having been used as early as Walt Disney's Snow White (1937), and more recently by Ralph Bakshi in The Lord of the Rings (1978) and American Pop. But with today's computer technology and by employing such unorthodox artistry, Linklater and Sabiston achieve an undulating, impressionistic look never seen before. Waking Life is an unstable, shimmering swirl of images, with furniture and walls and streets in constant motion, almost as if the whole movie is taking place on a boat, or underwater. The effect is intentional, of course, because Waking Life is a journey through a dream world. There's a scene after the opening titles with a roomful of musicians, whose conductor wants them to play with some vibrato, as if the music were a "little wavy, like it's slightly out of tune." The music they play on their violins, cello, piano, and accordion serves as a fitting soundtrack to the film.

Continue to Part II
Jump to Part III
Jump to Part IV

Analysis and commentary © January 2002 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2001 Fox and its related entities. All Rights Reserved.

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