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After making a splash with Netflix’s adult-themed animated comedy series BoJack Horseman, creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg had nearly unlimited options for what he could do next. Five years after it began, BoJack, which is up for its first Emmy this year, is still in high demand, regularly featuring A-list stars in its voice cast and leading the boom of adult animation. So when it came time for his follow-up, Bob-Waksberg admits that “maybe the instinct would be, ‘OK, now we’re going to do our huge mainstream show.'”
Instead, he went in the opposite direction. “What if we went even weirder? What if we went even more esoteric and strange now that we have this opportunity?” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “And these suckers have allowed us to laugh our way all the way to the bank.” Those suckers would be Amazon, with whom he’s partnered on his new series Undone — alongside co-creator and fellow BoJack Horseman writer Kate Purdy — for the streamer’s first half-hour animated show.
Undone follows Alma (Rosa Salazar) who, after almost dying in a car crash, finds herself able to time travel and speak to her dead father (Bob Odenkirk), searching for the truth about his mysterious death. The series is also the first of its kind in that it is produced entirely using rotoscope technology — a technique with which animators draw over live-action footage to create realistic motion, resulting in intricately drawn replicas of the actors.
Purdy tells THR that when she and Bob-Waksberg were originally writing the show, the duo thought it might actually be live-action, but when playing with dipping in and out of reality, they decided that animation was the best fit. Director Hisko Hulsing suggested using rotoscoping because “you really want to get all of the micro-expression and emotionality of the performance of the characters, and sometimes in traditional animation that’s not as precise or concise as it could be if you were shooting live-action,” Purdy recalls. With the technique, “you get the best of both worlds: you get the live-action performances with real actors and all of the interplay between their characters, and then you get to be in this painted world.”
To create the look, the team filmed the actors black box theater-style, in a plain room with no props or wardrobe; just tape on the floor noting walls and boundaries. That recording was then painted over, with Bob-Waksberg explaining that they once considered using one actor’s face and another actor’s voice for the ideal look, but ultimately scrapped that plan. Because the show centers on a Latinx family with influences from Mexican culture, the shooting process also included consulting advisers for indigenous cultures and working with a shaman from Central Mexico.
Like BoJack Horseman, Undone deals with issues of mental health and trauma, partly stemming from Purdy’s own experiences, which she says “has a freedom in expressing it or delving into it and bringing it to the surface.” The two shows are bound to draw more comparisons as well, but the creators say they aimed to make their new project more grounded in reality.
“BoJack is a spectrum — we can go as wacky as animal jokes and as deep as a history of family trauma, and I think [Undone] skews toward the deeper end and maybe off that scale a bit, because you don’t have the counter balance of a giraffe whose neck rolls up so that he can get in his car,” Purdy says.
Bob-Waksberg adds that BoJack taught him about pacing and how deep he could dive into darker and more off-beat stories, which he has put to the test with the new series.
“The weirder we’ve made [BoJack], the audience has followed us every step of the way,” he says. “That’s definitely encouraged me in the development of this show, like, ‘Let’s go there, let’s get emotional, let’s get weird,’ and we don’t have to have three jokes on every page. We can let these characters speak truthfully and honestly and be ugly in moments, and our audience isn’t just going to follow that but that’s what’s going to connect for them, and that’s been really encouraging.”
Although it does have its comedic moments, Undone is a deeper, darker story than those typically told through animation. With the adult animation boom in recent years, including BoJack, Big Mouth, the late and great Tuca & Bertie, Disenchantment and Rick and Morty, Bob-Waksberg was intrigued by using the medium in a new, less comedic way.
“It feels like we haven’t seen this 100,000 times because most half-hour animation, particularly in the U.S. and particularly adult animation, is joke-based and is very male-centric, but there’s no reason it has to be,” he says, while also hoping he could encourage others to innovate and expand on what animation can be. “I think there’s room for exploration in all kinds of different directions and I think this is one direction — with the more serialized, serious kind of storytelling or the more emotional, internal kind of storytelling than what you’re used to seeing in animation — but there’s so much you can do and I feel like the market has been so focused in one direction for so long.”
He adds that with the rise of streamers and more platforms than ever before, he hopes the interest in animation is more than a fad, “because there’s such a variety and diversity of stories to be told, as diverse and various as the stories that can be told in live-action.”
Undone, which also stars Daveed Diggs, Angelique Cabral, Constance Marie and Siddharth Dhananjay, is streaming on Amazon now.
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