Amazon’s Undone might just be the most ambitious animated series ever attempted, in terms of both its story (trippy, vivid, and challenging) and its style (the same).Described by co-creator Kate Purdy as “a dramedy that explores the nature of reality,” the series defies easy description, blending elements of sci-fi, philosophy, and surrealism with a deep emotional throughline that, at its core, is about our connection to ourselves, our loved ones, and the world around us – all wrapped up in a twisting, time-traveling murder mystery plot.
It’s a heady concept, but luckily, the show’s biggest themes are anchored by its prickly protagonist, Alma (Alita: Battle Angel’s Rosa Salazar) a cynical but charming commitment-phobe who has walled herself off following her father’s mysterious death several years earlier. But when a car accident seems to rip a hole in the fabric of Alma’s reality, allowing her to communicate with her father (Bob Odenkirk) from beyond the grave, Alma is forced to reckon with her past and the secrets buried in her family’s history.
Watch an exclusive IGN First scene from Undone below:
The seeds for Undone were planted when Purdy was working on Season 1 of Netflix’s similarly creative BoJack Horseman, writing one of the animated show’s standout episodes, “Downer Ending,” which sees its self-loathing protagonist experiencing a different reality while on a drug trip – one that presents the life he could’ve led if he’d made less selfish, self-destructive choices.
Purdy’s work on the episode prompted showrunner Raphael Bob-Waksberg to approach her about collaborating on a show that would explore similar themes. “I started talking to him about my personal experiences with alternative healing through Ayurveda and indigenous cultures and meditation and shamanism, and how I had widened my sense of what reality could be through these experiences,” Purdy tells IGN, revealing that she was inspired by her own struggles with depression and anxiety. “We started talking about, ‘Well, what would that look like as a show if you took these characters, these fears, these concepts, these ideas, these awakenings, and wove them into a fabric of a series?’”
One of the most striking aspects of Undone – beyond its adventurous plot – is the way it looks; the series utilizes rotoscope animation, and while many films and TV shows have used the technique over the years (in which an animator traces over live-action footage to create a more realistic look – perhaps most widely known thanks to Richard Linklater’s Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly), no creator has embraced the format so creatively for a serialized episodic story until now. (Although Adult Swim’s similarly surreal Dream Corp, LLC is certainly… experimenting with the aesthetic too.)
Rotoscoping requires a very different production process from live-action or regular animation, beginning as most animation does with storyboards, then an animatic to help inform the actors, who perform their roles in an empty studio with tape outlines on the walls and floors to signify a sidewalk or a door. “The actors were incredibly challenged, because we were working just in an open studio space, with very limited props and no sets or background… they had to really use their imagination to pretend to be in these spaces,” Purdy says. “And I think for a lot of them, it was liberating because it’s almost like doing improv, or black box theater, where it’s just about the craft and about being present in the moment.”
After the actors’ performances are captured, that footage is sent to a studio for the animators to draw the actors and their performances – “which looks almost like a coloring book, just this white page with an outline of your actors,” Purdy explains – and then sent to another studio with “oil painters, 2D animators, an ink and paint department that’s painting the characters, 3D animators, [and] compositors.” Then these various formats and animation styles are put together and sent back to Waksberg’s studio, Tornante, to be edited and tweaked and given studio notes to create the final product.
“It is undone … never been done before at this level,” Purdy admits, revealing that the show’s director, Hisko Hulsing, is responsible for the show’s distinctive visuals, blending photo-realistic animation for its main characters with more abstract, artistic backgrounds.
“What we loved about his animation style is that it’s so real and grounded, yet because it’s painted, it invites you to imagine in ways that you might not with photo-real. And it opens up the idea of reality being flexible immediately,” Purdy says. “With animation, traditionally, it’s hard to capture all those micro-nuances of emotionality. And he had worked on a project where he’d done rotoscoping, and he said when you do it this way, you can really capture those feelings and that evocative emotion. I think it’s the right path, because you do feel so invested with the characters and the relationships. And you’re able to then, when the world starts to bend and stretch, go along with it, without it feeling like it’s destructive. It feels all of one piece.”
It’s certainly not like anything else currently on TV, and that’s entirely by design. You can take the trip for yourself when Undone Season 1 premieres September 13 on Amazon Prime worldwide.