Waking Life


Film "Waking Life"

Waking Life is a film about a man’s dreams and his attempt to discover and discern how waking life and the dream world are distinct. In his struggle to wake up, the man runs into many people in life. The film uses both animation and avant-garde filmmaking styles which bring about an elaborate comprehension of the unfolding events. Avant-garde is one of film making styles which are contrary to the mainstream ones. In these films, the use of abstract techniques, the absence of linear narrative and use of asynchronous sound are typical. Also, animation is used to shoot one frame at a time in order to create a series of images where the animator changes the photographed subject between the exposures of each frame. The main aim of this essay is to discuss the application of animation and avant-garde and their function to convey, specific themes, ideas and emotions as well as the subject matter.

Rotoscoping - Animation

Rotoscoping is one of the types of animation used in the film Waking Life 2001. This is because the photographs of the characters are taken and the backgrounds are replaced with drawings. This technique is used in animation where the animators chosen by the film maker trace over a live-action movement, one frame after another for the purpose of using them in animated films. Both analogue and digital rotoscopy is an advanced animation compared to the other forms of animation used in other films, which include drawn animation, clay animation, model or puppet animation and pixilation. Using a team of animators helps to complement the humanizing of documentary effect of straight photography by the old fashioned art which equally brings about an exciting animation.

Digital rotoscopy makes the figures in animated Waking Life more dreaming. This is an aesthetic state of pure reflection, impassive, without the aggressive charge, found in the psychoanalytic surrealist and dreams. The use of both analogue and digital-rotoscoping raises the question about the role played by the “holy moment” play of Waking Life. The argument is that the figures in the film are more vivid, iconic and abstract in contrast to what would have been in case of using the strictly photographic images. In addition, fluidity and indeterminacy is also suggested by a wavering line arising from free hand openness to a greater part of the animation. Waking Life became the first feature-length film to utilize rotoscopy throughout it. It can take a great deal of time, for instance, 500 hours to just have a one minute screen time created. The use of digital-rotoscoping software to automate the process of drawing more realistic or lifelike figures was an improvement compared to what could be achieved with analogue rotoscopy alone (Shaviro, Pg.68-76).

“Realism” of Dreams

The filmmaker achieves various emotions based on the “realism” of dreams. This film provides an alternative in which realism of dreams is not understood either as an objective or subjective. In this rotoscopic animation, the object is denied to the time and space conditions that actually govern it, since a series of images are created in different frames. Tracing enables the image to maintain some specific linkage between the reality, and at the same time defy the artist’s subjective impositions and the digital code’s arbitrariness. Through animation, the protagonist is observed to be more or less entirely passive as either walks, floats or flies in different encounters.

The dreamer’s experience is brought out as some form of absurdist. Animation enables the film to pass without skipping a beat starting from the scene where a man declares the humankind improvement through a “new evolutionary paradigm,” and enters into the one in which a man sets himself aflame theatrically with an intention of his Bataillean thesis, which states that the “society has… a vested interest in considerable losses and catastrophes”, and finally to the scene where a couple in bed sleepily has a discussion. The way Linklater has used leads to a realization of the scramble suit inform of a quick-fire alternation of bodies and faces, female and male, child and adult. The figure that is produced is unquestionably human although it is difficult to make any coherent sense of this happening or manage to read it in any particular manner (Shaviro, pg.68-76).

Animation also brings about a great blending of analogue and digital as well as human and tech. The lead character, Wiley goes through a series of false awakenings which is portrayed by the dream states that occur in a layered manner. The film also exhibits philosophical notions in its different frames which raise the question whether they originated from collective efforts or from personal observations. However, the series of images created in this film seems to be based on both collective efforts as well as personal observations. This is because the interests of the filmmaker backed with various views such as writers and academicians and are merged with those of the actors in the film (Messier, n.p.).

As an Avant-Garde cinema, Waking Life 2001 has managed to keep the spectators in a thoughtful more active relationship with the film as well as provoke their senses. In Waking Life, the filmmaker’s focus seems to use the lack of linear narrative so that he can create a structure on which to hang a lot of his ideas which he wants to pass across to the spectators. He therefore uses more of the characters that are very verbal and self conscious (Messier, n.p).

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Waking Life presents visuals in a unique way and hence meets the standards of Avant-Garde which is basically about ground-breaking new things such as experiences and techniques. First, a low resolution DV format is used to shoot the film followed by a team of freehand artists, digital and animators which is couple with the frames. The attention of the spectators is arrested by constantly moving and changing but making sure that the emphasis point is well punctuated and not overlooked. Thus, Avant-Garde plays an important role in making the film both worth listening to and understanding. All this is made possible since the film is mainly made up of lengthy monologue scenes and talking heads by constantly moving and changing, while emphasizing the punctuation of the point being put across, making it enjoyable to listen to and understand.

The role of the music is to serve as a tool to shift from one talking head to another instead of using an emotional underscore which is closely associated with the minimalist meaning. This visual style is the most suitable tool for ensuring the attention of the audience and it is maintained throughout the film.


Waking Life film 2001 is one of the most contemporary films that have made use of the improved technological features in the filmmaking industry. The filmmaker confesses that it took him many years to conceive the ideas before making very strenuous efforts of creating the film, incorporating in it all the information that he had wanted to pass across. This was not possible without the use of a proper type of animation, characters and Avant-Garde. The use of digital- complemented with analogue rotoscopy provided more realistic animated figures which would show the movement and changes as well as required head talking. Avant-Garde was useful in matching the best intent of the subject, exaggeration and morphing so as to produce the preferred features of the image.

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