Amazon Prime’s Undone is a visually stunning show that deals with complex themes of spirituality, religion and quantum entanglement. It also explores a woman’s trauma, mental health and experiences, and dealing with death. The world of Undone is quite different from anything that has ever been seen before. The show uses an animation technique called rotoscoping, where the actors are filmed on set and animators trace over the live footage.
The show revolves around Alma (Rosa Salazar) who lives a mundane life, fighting with her sister, Becca (Angelique Cabral) and mother, Camila (Constance Marie). Her life is pretty much the same, as she wakes up, eats breakfast, drives to work, goes back home to her boyfriend, and the day repeats itself over and over again. She does not seem happy with the way things are going until she gets into a massive car crash and starts seeing her dead father, Jacob (Bob Odenkirk) at the hospital. From here on, Jacob explains to her that her consciousness can travel through time and it is an affliction of the trauma that was never resolved due to his death. With this newfound power, Alma is tasked to reverse her father’s death, but some underlying problems touch on whether Alma’s new powers are real or not. Jacob’s mother was schizophrenic and he explains that she has the same power as her grandmother. Throughout the series, Alma and her close relatives are worried about her and believe that she is having a mental breakdown.
With the fantastic vision of the director and animator Hisko Hulsing, Undone goes beyond the creative and produces psychedelic effects. It blends sceneries of dreamlike sequences and magical forests, jumps from hospitals and weddings to Alma’s home, as they are quickly replaced with more surroundings. Alma is lost between time and space, skipping backwards and forwards, jumping from different events and exploring her past and her family’s backstory, especially her father’s death. This kind of surreal visual storytelling is present in Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Kate Purdy’s BoJack Horseman, which deals with a similar willingness to discuss mental health issues and drug issues. Both BoJack and Alma deal with family issues and use comedy to cope with the tragedies around them. Since her father’s death, she has not been able to grieve about it emotionally. Her relationship with Becca is rocky at first because Alma is irresponsible and reckless about people’s feelings but later, they learn how to understand each other.
To bring Undone to life, Hulsing believed that it was important to capture the emotional performances and to give the feeling of reality as Alma being shifted from one space to another. The continuation of surreal reality and trippy effects allowed Hulsing to explore the themes and Alma’s mental health in a way that questioned whether they were her powers or the manifestations of her mental illness. Speaking to Deadline about how the show’s creative style was made, Purdy and Bob-Waksberg mention that there are only eight painters that create the oil backgrounds in Hulsing’s style, and in terms of the animation process there are so many aspects involved. After the live-action shoot, a team of animators will hand draw the frames, one by one, capturing all the expressions, from Alma laughing to her getting upset. Then they are handed over to the oil and department team, where they physically oil paint the backgrounds. In an interview, Hulsing mentions that Alma’s mind and her experiences are a reflection of her world. Hulsing and his team made over 800 oil backgrounds which were drawn and painted by artists. Then these images are sent over to composite the painted footage, oil backgrounds and performances together to create an atmosphere with a consistent feel and look.
The performance is a huge part of Undone’s world because of how it looks visually. It layers well with filming human emotion and the reality of Alma’s world. The show’s rotoscoped style allows capturing the performances and delving deep into the character’s microexpressions. This mixed medium is visually gorgeous to behold, instilled with the powerful messages of mental health and a woman’s trauma, which is a fresh approach to adult animation. Undone takes an ambitious and creative path to reconnect and correct Alma’s mistakes as she reflects on letting some of the trauma go. Alma’s journey of dealing with fear and the anxiety of losing the people that she loves is presented in chaotic sequences of her world being shattered around her. She is unable to decide on what is real what is not real, whether she, like her grandmother, is dealing with schizophrenia. In Alma’s world, it is not sure whether the answer is right or wrong. Yet, the show startles the audience by creating and shifting realities that are unbelievable and amazing.