“A Scanner Darkly” Look

I am sure most of you have heard about the “A scanner darkly” cult movie by now: “A Scanner Darkly” is a powerful dystopic film set in the terrifying near future — a world controlled by high-tech surveillance and ruled by a liberty-destroying police state.

What hits the viewer first and foremost is the look of the film. They used 30 artists, working full time for months, painting over the actor’s faces in order to give it a comic-like look. It took over an hour to paint a single frame for the movie! Check the pictures on the URL above, to have a taste on how the movie looked like.



Well, we, DV rebels, don’t have the time to do that. Thankfully, there is a plugin, available for various NLEs, that is able to have a similar effect to your footage. It won’t be as “clean” looking as the movie’s frames that were done by hand, but it’s the best there is for being fully automatic. Pixelan’s “Posterwise” plugin, part of their CreativEase “color effect pack” does this job, and it only costs $39. If you are after the comic look, that’s a very fair price.



I tried doing the job using Vegas’ own plugins, but it’s not possible to achieve the same look. The best you can do is this, which as you can see, it doesn’t even compare in terms of quality. With After Effects it’s a bit more doable, but it’s not as easy to do and it’s very laborious.

Plugin settings for the look achieved above (leave everything else unchanged):

Update: A better version, that has “pre-blur” set to 5.5, crop frame edge of 2 pixels, and smart-blur/anti-alias checked. Depending on the scene, modify the settings a bit.


Kevin wrote on November 30th, 2007 at 7:33 PM PST:

Yeah… that’s a hard effect to do nicely without a lot of manual work… There have been plugins and apps trying to do in since way back in the day (anyone remember the video toaster on the amiga?) but it’s still one thing that is really best done by hand. Well, I think so anyways.

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on November 30th, 2007 at 7:36 PM PST:

Sure, if you are a professional, you want to do it by hand. But if you are a DV rebel, or an indie with no budget, this plugin is god send.

Ivan wrote on November 30th, 2007 at 9:42 PM PST:

This movie is based on a novel by my favorite scifi author, Filip K Dick.
I read somewhere that software was used to do this, so why wouldn’t they use a plug-in? Maybe they did both, using a plugin and manual (digital) painting, frame by frame?

This is the admin speaking...
Eugenia wrote on November 30th, 2007 at 9:59 PM PST:

Yes, they used Rotoshop, plus manual work.

l3v1 wrote on December 1st, 2007 at 3:46 AM PST:

““A scanner darkly” cult movie”

Cult novel would be more accurate, you see I don’t think the movie has ever been raised to “cult” status, however many people went to see it because of the looks (and no, I don’t think it was a bad adaptation though). As to the cartoonish look, you’d be surprised how many r&d is still being done on the subject of automatically achieving similar looks on videos, with sometimes pretty nice results. One day we’ll get there.

Richard wrote on December 2nd, 2007 at 3:06 AM PST:


I just gave the cartoon filter from “Frei0r” a try.

BobC wrote on December 3rd, 2007 at 4:12 PM PST:

Your blog is very helpful. Hope you remember me, you graciously sent me some templates for iphone/psp video encoding, and flash templates for website video (which you then made a great tutorial).

Anyways, you seem to read my mind. I was just wondering how those Charles Schwab commercials were done, and then I come across this entry. I did some googling, and saw that many people call it rotoscoping.

I’m going to have to check out the posterwise program you mentioned.

Comments are closed as this blog post is now archived.

Lines, paragraphs break automatically. HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

The URI to TrackBack this blog entry is this. And here is the RSS 2.0 for comments on this post.