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Re-Animating Live-Action Films

Night of the Living Dead

Artist Christopher Panzner is promoting a new animation technique that he has dubbed Re:Naissance, which is essentially rotoscoped key frame drawings with traditional in-betweens. He plans to use this technique to create “homages” to older live-action films. This interview with the website Eye For Film offers more details about his process. Panzner says:

“Re:Naissance can be succinctly defined as ‘the re-creation of live-action films in animation’. It’s a new spin on adaptation and the remake. For the first time ever in the 100-year history of animation, Re:Naissance is going to invert the adaptation process by taking existing live-action films and faithfully reproducing them in animation, in a totally original graphic style unique to each film. We use a process known as ‘rotomation,’ which is a combination of rotoscopy and traditional animation. Our goal is not merely to rotoscope the original film – we are creating an entirely new film while remaining faithful to the original; an homage to the source film. The end result is an original animated feature film, meaning the stars in the live-action film will be caricaturized in some form but the movements and expressions (and original dialogue) will remain true to the original actors, although the animated characters will be completely new original graphic representation.”

The first live-action feature that Panzner is adapting via his Re:Naissance method is George Romero’s cult classic Night of the Living Dead. Below is a line-test based on the French film La Traversée de Paris that gives some sense of what the finished product will look like. The animation was created by Hong Ying studio in Shanghai. Panzner has a blog that offers progress updates on the production of his first feature.

  • joe g

    How is this different from any Ralph Bakshi films?

  • Mark K.

    I wonder if he’ll do a shot by shot remake of Psycho? Oh, that’s already been done.

    Interesting technique, but I prefer animation.

  • Steve

    Rotoscoping by itself is as enthralling as watching grass grow. In “American Pop” (for one example), Bakshi mixed it up with collage, stock live action, rear projection, unusual camera mechanics and dynamic background painting styles. If Panzer doesn’t use variety, he will have built it and they will not come. Nonetheless, it is good to see even slavish 2D again. At least some of it involves real drawing.

  • Mark is right on. I saw the stills and i had some hope but the end product is stilted and completely unimaginative.

    I like this:

    “faithfully reproducing them in animation, in a totally original style”


    uhmmm ok. there has to be some way this is profitable, u take good stories, and basically put the effort into copying them. that clip shows no imagination.

    i don’t give a f*** if you worked on that film, the roto animation of waking life was a gazilion times better for the simple fact that the animator, the artist infused this mundane task with life.

    he should just state the obvious, i paint over films and pass them off as my own. this reminds me of the Obama incident where someone took a picture and he painted over it then sued for the AP using his image. BS.

    i only feel bad for the investors. :-)

  • Nick

    Looks like a demo reel for those Charles Schwab commercials.

  • Mr. Panzer is a talented guy, but this is a worse gimmick than 3D Monsters and Aliens.

    It’s also a showcase for how animation falls short of even the hammiest amateur actor. A complete misuse of the technique.

    As for the snide Bakshi remarks, there’s more substance and artistry to his work than if one were to “re:imagined” all the films in the Criterion Collection.

  • steve kopian

    It looks less alive then the original. Honestly I don’t see the point of doing old films other than to waste money chasing money that will never follow.

  • Dock Miles

    Shouldn’t they call it “Night of Deadening the Living”?

  • Mark K.

    Steve–I totally agree. I love American Pop, and think it’s Bakshi’s most ambitious film–if not always the most successful. Quentin Tarintino is attempting to remake it.

  • Mark K.

    I’d love to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs done through this process!!

  • erg…should have put in a solid fill in those characters for that “line test”.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at this, I guess both. Seriously, this is the best representation of somebody failing at such gigantic levels even he doesn’t realize what he’s doing. This is no different to what we’ve seen before, and I don’t see how one could ‘improve’ on something that appears so limited in the end result.

    Rather see these guys animate my home movies instead (and I know mine deserve to be more ‘animated’)!

  • maxeythecat

    When I see this, I’m reminded of Bakshi’s “creative” rotoscoping of Lord of the Rings……sshhhhhuddddderrr!! Even as I write this, I have the horrific vision of hobbits hopping up and down n’ clapping hands like they were traceovers from The Klumps…EEEKKK! If any piece of animation were enough to make me gouge out the visual orbs, that would be it.

  • Oscar Grillo

    Looks awful.

  • AlphaTom

    I lost all interest as soon as I saw the gimmicky name.

  • is he nuts? who is so stupid to finance this shit?

  • captain murphy

    There is some weirdness happening around 1:04 during the screaming.

    Amazing how Bakshi immediately came to mind for almost everyone.

    It isn’t quiet the Waking Life/Charles Schwab thing, which I think can look more interesting.

    One should not be a slave to every little waver from the scoped source. If someone is standing still for dramatic purposes in a scene, have them stand more still than they actually were. One should also take the opportunity to restage the scene in ways that were not as possible in the live action

  • Jacob

    I’m sorry, but this just seems like a waste of time, talent, effort, and money.

  • I guess we don’t reserve judgment till after we’ve see things anymore. The concept is interesting and captain murphy brings up some good points. We’ll have to wait and see if he takes advantage of the medium or not that is what will make it or break it for me.

  • Frederic Bezian

    The most stupid idea for the ugliest result! How could a normal brain conceive the best way to waste energy and money?!!! Please, don’t hurt our eyes!

  • There’s a bg flash at :37

  • Who the hell would even want to see an animated version of Night of the Living Dead?

  • I liked this process better when MGM went CinemaScope.

  • Pierre D

    That line-test looks gorgeous….
    But all these actors there really have comic-booky faces even in reality…

    That’s really nice, to have taken La traversée de Paris as a reference, really neat…

  • Walmart quality and originality.

  • FP

    It could be good. Weird rotoscoped animation grabs my attention instantly, even if it’s pointless.

    Of course, this old technique has been used a million times with slight differences in method – but it has a brand-new trendy name: Re:Naissance!

    Ro: Toe Scope.

  • PJ

    “this reminds me of the Obama incident where someone took a picture and he painted over it then sued for the AP using his image. BS.”

    I’m guessing that you’re referring to Shephard Fairey and his HOPE posters? If so, your recap of what happened leaves out so many key events and points that its horrendously misleading (heck, you even make it sound like Obama’s the one that made the poster).

    I’m not saying Fairey hasn’t pulled some real BS in the past–for instance, he’s known for taking existing artwork and adapting it, yet he has actually turned around and sued other artists for doing the same thing with *his* work. But in the case of this AP lawsuit thing, I feel like Fairey was right.

  • Reading the promo copy I got the idea that in motion we’d see some expressive breakdown and inbetween drawings- cool stuff like exaggerated S&S, drag & overlap, maybe an occasional smear drawing or two to punch up a moment (taking advantage of animation’s strong points), all while using the roto’d poses as the framework. I thought “Hmm. Might not be my cup-o-tea, but it could be interesting.”

    What the line test showed was significantly less adventurous than the idea promised. It’s just wooden ‘tweening that occasionally flashes into and out of a reasonably well traced roto pose. Kind of a lost opportunity. I mean if you’re going to go to the bother of dealing with the inevitable backlash that comes from giving an unpopular old technique a new name and then promoting it (attendant with the necessary self aware chutzpa to go with it), seems to me you’d try to push things a bit more. But that’s just me.

  • Mark H.

    If this is the future of animation, call me a luddite.

  • TJR

    Mike Schneider says:

    Who the hell would even want to see an animated version of Night of the Living Dead

    Actually, it might be a really cool idea….if it was a completely original animated remake and not just a rotoscoping of the original black and white film.

    I’m not one of those who likes gruesome films, but after watching “Tales of the Black Freighter” last night, I could see just how cool a dark, brooding, and gruesome (R rated) animated zombie film could be.

    This Re:Naissance thing sounds like a whaste of time though.

  • Mitch K

    No weight.

    Very ambitious, though.

  • Gerard de Souza

    The action appears not analyzed well even if it is supposed to be rotoed from live action; as if the “keys” are arbitrarily traced or every x amount of frames which can’t work.
    Ya have to find the “keys” that occur in live action and they won’t be evenly placed or arbitrarily chosen.

  • I really like and echo Keith Lango’s comments. It sounds like a great experiment – roto out the key poses, but push the in-betweens, adding arcs, squetch, overlap . . . We all know that it’s the breakdowns that give the real pizazz to animation, and that’s why rotoscoping and mocap are usually so boring. But the test footage looks so flat. Looks like they’re thinking in the right direction, though.

  • Tim Hodge

    The original live action clip it’s based on is here:
    (In case you didn’t visit Panzner’s blog)

  • Oliver

    “I wonder if he’ll do a shot by shot remake of Psycho? Oh, that’s already been done.”

    And it turned out great, didn’t it?

  • I have to agree with Keith in that this could have been much more interesting if they do not just TRACE everything (like the line test seems to suggest), adding some more “animation-like” movement or pace. Perhaps the key to it would be to use some stylization, adding more depth and appeal through color, design, texture, etc, using the live action only as reference (like Disney used to do back in the day with live action footage, adapting it to the animated motion)
    I wouldn’t discard the concept completely, but I fear what everyone seems to agree with; it will be just a waste of time, effort and money. Will people want to see a re-shoot of an old movie, if it’s exactly like the original one? I don’t think so.
    All this “invention” of a technique that’s got decades of existence and the “homage to a movie already into Public Domain status” BS sounds really presumptuous too… fishy at least.

  • John E.

    I like this idea, however I don’t like the idea of calling it “new”.

    Just because they are not using every frame, frame-by-frame, doesn’t mean they have a new technique. Wasn’t Titan AE does this way? Didn’t Disney take film reference for many of its movies?

    Outright tracing of each frame is a bit hard to look at, and I like that they are doing more than that. However it’s not new.

  • Gerard de Souza

    “….this could have been much more interesting if they do not just TRACE everything”

    But they didn’t trace everything…at least it would have moved better although a replica of the live action. They traced some things and then inbetweened it….evenly and straight it appears. And they thought of caricaturing faces but not action.

    To do an approach like this the pay-off should be it is more visually entertaining than the live action. It is terrible and less entertaining compared to its source.

    I’m just nit-picking on semantics, Migue. You make overall good points.

  • indigo skychief

    Mike Schneider is jerkin your gherkins, he’s DOING an animated version of NOTLD:

  • Rance Mandarin

    I don’t know… I saw this article over on Fatally Yours interviewing all of these artists working on this thing… It looked pretty awesome.

    With all those hands, it doesn’t seem like there is any concern of just tracing when you have that many hands involved.

  • indigo skychief

    Same Mom, different milkman:

    They are two separate projects… one has different artists from around the world animating each scene in different media (Schneider) and the other one is a full-blown feature (Panzner).

  • indigo skychief

    Should get ’em together, let ’em duke it out…

  • tony johnson

    I think you all might be missing the point.
    Aim for Disney and you get Scooby Dooed.
    Chris Panzner’s not trying to kill the art.
    He seems honest and creative to me.
    But what do I know.
    I just like cartoons.
    I’ve seen some old westerns and war films with scripts that blew me a new arsehole and I’d rather see them reimagined than Planet of the Apes.

  • Rance Mandarin

    Hey, Scooby Doo has a lot of fans and sci-fi fans go ape for Charlton Heston.

    The rubber suited kaiju isn’t all that different then John Wayne… they save the day and then beat it into the sunrise/ sunset because they are too wild for civilization. Scifi and horror fans are fanatical. If they don’t string him up for destroying a classic they’ll string him up for the hell of it… it’s what they do.

    No matter what he does he can’t kill art… it’s already dead and at it’s worst this reanimation will lead to another mindless corpse… at best… it will lead to a whole field of them.

  • Manning

    Hopefully the entire sound track will be made up of those songs where they sample pieces of older, good songs and then turn them into something derivative and mediocre.

    It will give a most satisfying symmetry to the entire exercise.

  • Debbie

    This is artistic piracy of the worst possible kind. Romero’s film is in the public domain due to a clerical error and I’m willing to bet these ‘artists’ have made no payment to the original creators at all. Romero & co. are more than likely not even aware it’s happening unless they read this blog.

  • Charlie Tango

    Green Zombies were bad enough… please quit screwing with this movie.

  • Okay, I’ll dive into this mud hole. In my opinion when you push how great the process is over the end result you are doomed to fail. It happened with the CGI treatment of Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within (“look, we animated million of nose hairs!! Isn’t that cool!!) From the test footage this looks like Waking Life and Scanner Darkly, I couldn’t finish watching either of them. The end results was just plain boring. It only adds insult to injury to “re-imagine” a “classic film”. This smacks of a marketing ploy. Why not write an original story, shoot a low budget live action film, using that as your starting point, then use your “new” animation technique. At least then the project has to a chance to stand on it’s own merit. Or, is that too risky for the investors with no imagination. Otherwise, good luck with the project. You’ll need it.

  • I know in regards to NOTLD:R, we have confirmation that Romero and the living Cast and Crew are familiar with the project and we are currently working out a system in which they will receive a cut of artbook sales. Our version is being released through non-profits means (with it’s DVD at cost by the distributor: Wild Eye Releasing).

  • indigo skychief

    Can you custom order these things? You know, like, say “Little House on the Prairie” with robots? bunnies?! Must be 200 half hours…

  • sure… what’s your poison?

  • Rance Mandarin

    Sure… actually I have to admit that would be one hell of a gimmick if he’s going that route.

    Ebay auction off ‘be turned into a zombie for Panzner’s NOTLD;.
    Having people pay to be in the hoards… they are mostly cut away shots anyway during the feast sequence etc… so no real need for the zombies to match… and I’m sure if you get a fan with the right pocket cash them’d love to be animated as a zombie.

    Ha there can also be those things like they are doing work they used to do with children’s birthday songs.

    They’re coming to get you [Robotic Voice: “Billy Everyteen”].

    Judy, do you remember that time when they evacuated [Robotic Voice: “Seattle Washington”] ?

    Then maybe he can do it in 3D.

  • Macito

    It’s kind of neat, but wish it was far more stylized, because the level of stylization just makes it look bland, which just defeats the purpose of it even being animated.

    Is this an emerging trend?

  • John A

    I could see this working in small doses, just as a curiosity, maybe as something incorporated into a “real” animated film, but a full feature? That’s one vast uncanny valley.

    On the other hand, maybe indigo has the right idea. I bet those furry freaks would LOVE a “Little House on the Prairie”with bunnies.

  • michael holman

    It’s funny that people compare this process negatively to Shepard Fairey’s re-do of the Obama photo. If Panzer’s process is half as successful, it will be a hit! I’m sensing a lot of jealous animators, too quick to judge…

  • Jilin Villin

    hmmmmmm… I like it. Suddenly the old is new again. This will make a new generation take notice of a story that they most likely would never think twice about. And the possibilities are limitless. It could also breath new life into the originals.

  • My guess is that “Night of the Living Dead” has been chosen as the first project not because the world is waiting for an animated version of “Night of the Living Dead,” but because it has fallen into public domain, so no one has to pay in order to destroy it. After they’ve similarly Zemeckimated “The Terror” and those four Three Stooges shorts that have similarly, and accidentally, become PD, the trend will be over.

  • Kylie Wyotie

    What a groovy idea! I can’t wait to see what Mr. Panzner pulls out of his bag of tricks. I want to see it ALL!

  • jasper milhoven

    I can see how this first film could get butts in seats, and if it was done for a reasonable budget then it could make some profit. I don’t know about other ones that might follow tho.

  • Darcy Lee Rhodes

    Why doesn’t anyone support the anti-establishment anymore? The underground is where it’s really happening… Hollywood is the indie, fattened up with cash for the slaughter.

    Yes, we can!

    Gotta put some weight behind the gamblers, the pioneers, the mavericks… what is this, a banking forum or an animation forum? Lighten up, open your minds… do “Freaks” with robots! “2001” with aliens! Kurosawa! It’s pathetic how little imagination there is in the imagination business… WTF, people? Get the power back! An animator can learn how to do a spreadsheet, but a banker will never be able to draw… we rule!

  • Frank E.

    There’s always the chance that some creativity can appear if the productions are managed effectively. Sometimes working within limitations forces experimentation.

  • I’m immediately turned off by flame wars — especially the people whose only reaction seems to be total and incoherent attacking of anything they disagree with.

    I’m not very familiar with NOTLD — not recently, anyway — so it’s difficult for me to compare the live action and actors with your results. Difficult to make useful judgments based on a line test, too.

    A few made a comment that makes sense to me, and that is the idea of pushing the in-betweens into more animated-cartoon type actions.

    I understand you’re taking liberties with the actors’ appearances; what about doing that with the backgrounds, also? And assuming the camera moves at times, will you be rotoscoping the BGs, too?

    I’d like to know more about the process: is it all hand-traced and tweened or is there digital tweening?

    I think it’s good that you’re trying to pioneer and innovate.

    And to anyone who had any connection to creating “Triplets”: Bravo and thanks!

  • OM

    “How is this different from any Ralph Bakshi films?”

    …My sentiments exactly. I honestly don’t see what the major innovation is, unless they’ve discovered a technique for rapidly converting live-action film images to line drawings.

    “I’m not very familiar with NOTLD — not recently, anyway — so it’s difficult for me to compare the live action and actors with your results.”

    ….NOTLD is – dare I say it? – sort of an acquired taste. If you take it for what it is, an attempt to push the boundaries of horror circa 1968 with a really l-o-w budget, and not judge it by today’s standards, then it’s an enjoyable way to spend Halloween night after you’ve listened to Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds. However, if you compare it to today’s hack/slash/rape/maim/pillage/burn/eat babies films of today, it’s about as horrifying as an episode of The Flintstones where Wilma’s mother comes to visit.

    Of course, if I were doing this, I’d take Vincent Price’s worst film, The Last Man On Earth and while leaving Vince intact I’d swap out all the vampires with Smurfs, thus making it an actual horror flick….:-)

  • Adam Sorokin

    I’ve seen some of the other projects Mr. Panzner has been involved in and I’ll say this – I can’t wait to see how “Night Of The Living Dead” will turn out! He kicks ass and takes names when It has his name on it! Keep an open mind until you see it!!! I think It’s gonna rock!!!

  • I feel like I’ve misunderstood the concept here. Rotoscoping an entire pre-existing live-action film?

    Why? Why on earth spend so much effort re-creating something thats already been created? That is not “innovation” or “creativity” or even “edginess”- its copying, in every sense. I’m not against rotoscoping or new processes. But remaking a movie frame by frame? I just don’t get it. Is this the modern answer to Duchamp’s ready-mades?

  • I only did a small bit on “The Triplets of Belleville” (the company I was working for did the post) but when I told people before it came out that it only had five lines of dialogue, they laughed in my face… comes with the territory. This raised some eyebrows, too:

  • gman

    I personally know Chris and have known about this project/concept of his for years. As someone else pointed out, there are countless possibilities for using this idea to make some very cool films – one only has to open their minds a little to see this to be true! Don’t get hung up on how this test looks… …If the proper people got involved they could turn it in to something awesome! And according to Chris this is what he is planning. I have total faith in the man!! He is thinking waaayyyy outside the box with his plans!!

  • Rob Striks

    My initial thought is that it’s distracting. You get too caught up in the technique to fully process the message. Cool for cool’s sake has never worked.

  • sofoco

    NOTLD will be :

    what the HOOLA HOOP was for unwanted pregnancies…
    what BOTOX is to Nicole Kidman …
    what SILLICONE is to Pamela Anderson’s TITS…


    NOTLD, great concept…awesome idea!

    a new life for cinema classics, but PLEASE…don’t do it with “Dancing with Wolves” or with “Sleepless in Seattle”….PLEASE!!!!

    DEATH to M.R. an K.C.!!!!!!



  • joe

    As a comic artist I like this kind of animation very much and would like to work with this technic also. I think it don’t matters how you come to a result for a good looking artwork. Tthink of the ancient artist, using all new technics of artproducing known in their period). This technique will open up new ways to tell forgotten stories. And who seriously believes, that he’s the inventor of never told and shown stories, pictures or even movies? It’s only a question of being a child of your time. Great stuff – Re:Naissance!

  • Mike

    It’s a TEST! Unbelievable! A test of the technique! Chris is a fantastically creative person and this is likely to be an incredible looking project. This is the tip of the iceberg. A line test done to feel out the process. There are endless possibilities and directions this can go in. Just thinking about it blows my mind. How can there be a problem with bringing a new audience to old stories? Like that hasn’t been done before. Walt Disney himself was a master of it. (not to mention that he also did some pioneer rotoscope work) Does anyone actually think that there are any original stories? There are only original ways of telling them. I applaud anyone who has a vision and actually does something about it. That person should be supported. My opinion on the result is reserved for when I actually see the result which I hope is going to blow some fucking minds.

  • indigo skychief

    That said, y’all can suck my corporate teat! Wot, me? Hostile?!!

  • Peter H

    This is yet another attempt at making an animated film without the expense of animating – the producer’s eternal dream.

    (Don’t forget that the only reason that Max Fleischer went into the animation business was that he figured his rotoscope machine would give him an edge – realistic movement without having to learn how to animate!)

    But producers ever since have had to recognise that rotoscoping is never enough – it requires strengthening of extremes and elimination of irrelevant actions before it has any of the expressive power of free animation. The more animation-thinking (posing, timing, holds etc) that goes into the extremes, the better the result.

    I suspect that this has a lot to do with the brain viewing photographic images as it does “real life”, but having a separate way of ‘reading’ drawings as symbols – a drawing is laid out for the mind to understand, whereas a photograph is full of light & shade ambiguities, that have to be constantly interpreted.

    Bakshi’s LOTR illustrates this – initially I was ‘reading’ the hi-con-Xeroxed-from-live-action cel animation as animation, but suddenly my brain shifted gear and I could see the live-action as ‘real’: a lot of amateur actors shambling around in crude costumes! From ‘arty’ animation technique to B movie in the blink of the mind’s eye!

    (Wasn’t the l/a footage originally shot as guidance for the animators? I thought they only started xeroxing the l/a footage straight onto cels when the money ran out.)

    Point is that while having comics artists draw over each rotoscope extreme is a good way of getting real comic-book style into the artwork, it needs someone able to analyse action to pick out the true extreme frames for each character, and note holds and potential ‘trace-backs’, as well as the spacing for inbetweens in dynamic actions. In other words to manage the ‘animating’ of it.

    The test shows a) how much realistic action is lost in cartoons – it is interesting seeing characters turn in real space, and take real time: it suits comic strip action (Fleischer’s Superman series was very good, but kept lapsing into cartoon movement)
    And b) how aimless actions become if you just inbetween random frames – lots of drifting to and fro, while real actions get smoothed out.

  • Kaori

    Its so futuristic, and very intelligent!!

  • So… you’re my guy? My point man?… welcome aboard! Identify yourself, terrian, to the Klingon delegation…

  • … was talking to Peter H for the “point man”… but send strong kung fu your way, Kaori…

  • sofoco

    How about hair implants for corpses like Tony Curtis?

    Will granny Liz Taylor get a liver before she dies??