Alternative viewing

Two animated films aimed squarely at adults try to stand out in the crowd.

They're dark and brooding -- miles away in concept and scope from the plethora of animated films featuring fast-talking animals that have peppered the animation landscape this year. But Warner Independent Pictures' "A Scanner Darkly" from Richard Linklater and Miramax's "Renaissance" from Christian Volckman, both of which cater to adult audiences, could shake up the Academy Awards' animation category.

"Scanner" is a follow-up to writer-director Linklater's 2001 effort "Waking Life," a lucid dreamscape that was much noted -- though not universally loved -- for its frame-by-frame rotoscoping of live-action footage. With "Scanner," Linklater is offering up a vision that is more hallucinatory than dreamlike. Based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, the film uses the same rotoscoping technique as "Life" and follows private eye Bob Arctor as he leads a double life in law enforcement and drug dealing, becoming increasingly paranoid and hallucinatory.

"Scanner" opened to some critical acclaim and has earned $5.5 million at the boxoffice, but most animation experts believe its prospects for a nomination are dim. "Linklater films like this and 'Waking Life' are popular in film school, but maybe not among the more traditional-minded Academy (of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) members," animation director Tom Sito says. "The innovations of 'A Scanner Darkly' aren't new," editor and animation historian Jerry Beck notes. "Sometimes, a film can be lukewarm, but if it's very innovative, the Academy will recognize that."

Therein lies the hope of "Renaissance," which, despite its lackluster plot, features some truly new motion-capture innovations and a fresh look with its stark black-and-white graphic-novel style. In the film, a Paris reminiscent of 1982's "Blade Runner" is the setting for a detective's search for a kidnapped scientist and discovery of a nefarious plot to achieve immortality. The film's animators have worked out methods to mo-cap clothing and track the actors' gazes, both of which add to the movie's dramatic visual qualities. The film, says head of mo-cap Remi Brun, who also is mo-cap supervisor at Attitude Studio, was shot like a stage play (though the dialogue was later dubbed in).

It's iffy whether this twist on mo-cap -- not loved by many Academy members -- will be enough to capture a nomination. But for animation lovers of a certain age, the pleasant news is that some animation studios still have a yen for hard-boiled detective stories, offering a welcome alternative to the current onslaught of fuzzy computer-generated critters.