Vector art has hit the big screen. A 2006 film based on a Phillip K. Dick novel used 50 animators working for 18 months to create vector effects. A Scanner Darkly, a 2006 film about a futuristic world, was done entirely in vector. Each minute of film took 500 hours to complete, using a licensed software program not available to consumers. Adobe Illustrator is also a vector program (if not the vector software), and we can create similar images using it.

We caught up with Starling Allen, the lead animator for A Scanner Darkly, and asked him about vector technology, his inspirations, and the methods used for this vector animation film.

[ Check out this Adobe Illustrator tutorial on creating the A Scanner Darkly vector effect. ]

Q: Did vector art inspire you to create the film’s effect? What’s your experience with and outlook on vector art?

Using vectors is beneficial because each frame has hundreds of marks on it and files stay small. Also, as you know vectors can be blown up infinitely, making a transfer to the big screen possible. I come from a fine art background, with very little experience with vectors and no previous animation experience. This film and this software have definitely opened my eyes to the possibilities of future projects using vectors.

Q: How do you feel this vector-looking animation adds to the emotion/effect of the film?

The film is enhanced by the look of the animation. The characters in the story are living in the near future, in a paranoid world. The animation, while clinging to reality due to its detail and proximity to real footage, allows the viewers to enter the head space of the characters and feel their paranoia and experience their mind-altered environment. Vector art also allowed this movie to be made for the budget it was allowed. The animation is able to get these elements across by creating a convincing environment that they could live in.

Q: Lines as well as smooth, solid colors are used in this animation technique. Why did you decide to go with this look?

The combination of lines with the solid colors was chosen because from the beginning [Director] Rick [Linklater] wanted this to feel like a graphic novel come to life. He liked the realism of the drawings in some graphic novels, but also the stylized look they capture. It was also important that the audience recognize the stars throughout the film. Using black lines was a good way to start a scene and really define the actors, backgrounds, objects, etc.

Q: Lastly, any plans to use more vector-looking art in other projects?

A number of us have been affected by this film and this process. I had never before had any real desire to make animation, though I enjoyed it. Now I feel as though it is something that can be achieved in a style I value and look forward to what comes next. I have definitely become a vector fan and would only use vectors in upcoming animation projects.

A Scanner Darkly is a Warner Independent Pictures release. Images © Warner Bros. Entertainment.