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Annecy 2020: Undone - The Hospital

Selected for Annecy TV Films in Competition is The Hospital episode from Hisko Hulsing's ground-breaking 8 x 23-minute Amazon series Undone. The Dutch animation master talks to See NL.

While recovering in hospital from a car accident, Alma talks with her dead father, who makes a confusing yet compelling request. The film, part of a complex story of PTSD and borderline schizophrenia, is shocking, dramatic, jarring and funny in equal measure as we are taken on a surreal journey through Alma's memories and subconscious.

As importantly, the series, produced by The Tornante Company (US) and co-produced by Submarine (Netherlands) with support provided by the Netherlands Production Incentive, is visually stunning, a heady mix of rotoscope on oil-painted backgrounds with 3D and projection mapping. The series is written/showrun by Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg.

Hulsing's involvement in the project came at a crossroads in his career. The work he put in on Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck was emotionally and physically exhausting, and he was seriously contemplating whether the business of animation was at all worth it.

But he happened to be in Berkeley giving a lecture, and he received a call from producers Noel Bright and Steven Cohen of The Tornante Company (owned by Michael Eisner who headed up Disney for over 20 years) who were very impressed by his work both on Montage of Heck and his previous Junkyard, and wanted to meet up pronto.

"So they took a plane from LA to Berkeley to pitch Undone over breakfast, so it was already very serious, and when I heard the pitch and read the script afterwards I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do," says Hulsing.

But he was fearful nevertheless. "At first I told them it was impossible. I said I don't know how we can make Undone in my style with all those oil paintings, and how it nearly killed me during Montage. But they told me ‘we'll make sure to build everything around you so you can focus on the creative part'.

"And that's what they did. It was hard work, flying back and forth, twelve hours on the set per day and then reviewing all the work that was being done in Texas (rotoscope) and Amsterdam (paintings, the shading, colouring, 3D/2D animation, storyboards, lay-outs etc) in the evening, but it was very well organised and it was true that I was able to concentrate solely on the creative part."

Hulsing adds: "I am officially the director and production designer, but the writers are the showrunners, so I am responsible for the visualisation of their script. There is a lot of dialogue but there is also a lot of visual storytelling. The effects and the transitions are described in a very minimal way. For instance, the script would say, the room folds into itself, and then I would have to figure out exactly what that means."

For the series to work it is essential that we feel empathy with Alma, who may be sassy and tough with a dynamic flair for invective but she is also emotionally scarred (and brilliantly played by Rosa Salazar). Hulsing had to deploy techniques therefore to maximise audience engagement. "I wanted some scenes where the characters would look straight into the camera, break the fourth wall," he says. "The producers and the writers were opposed to it, but I got my way and it really worked very well in some parts where you are really dragged into their perception of what is going on.".

"When I read the script for the first time, I realised it was in a way very similar to some of my favourite films of Roman Polanski, like The Tenant and Rosemary's Baby," Hulsing adds. "Where the audience is with the main character and we are living her experiences through her eyes. My goal was to tell the story in a way that we are with Alma all the time, so that the audience doesn't know if she is schizophrenic or what we are seeing is really happening."

Source: SEE NL