When an “Undone” viewer stops to consider the challenges that go into creating Prime Video’s acclaimed family drama — which uses rotoscope animation as part of an expansive artistic palette — plenty of awe-inspiring examples spring to mind. Perhaps they think of the rapid time shifts, when Alma (Rosa Salazar) moves backward and forward in the blink of an eye, searching the past and present for clues about her father’s death. Or maybe it’s when rooms, buildings, and people evaporate as Jacob (Bob Odenkirk) teaches her how to alter reality — and maybe bring him back from the dead — through time travel. In Season 2, many may point to the moving, semi-traversable M.C. Escher painting that appears in later episodes, as a key character’s entire life is embodied within gravity-defying stairways, rooms, and venues, while the family works to mend old wounds by (literally) navigating their ancestor’s history.
What they likely don’t think of as being all that difficult to depict is a shirt collar.
“So Sid [Dhananjay], our actor who plays Sam, was in India, and there was an international travel ban, so he couldn’t come to America [to shoot Season 2],” co-creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg said in an exclusive interview with IndieWire. Luckily, many of Dhananjay’s scenes were solo, where Sam is talking on the phone, so the producers came up with a plan to let the actor record himself — “a one-man crew” — while Bob-Waksberg, co-creator Kate Purdy, and director Hisko Hulsing did what they could via Zoom. Dhananjav took direction and technical advice, but the rest was very much up to him… including costumes.
“[Sam always wears] a V-neck shirt, and all the shirts [Sid] had were crew necks, so he got some scissors and cut a V into his shirt so that it would match,” Bob-Waksberg said. But later, after shooting had wrapped and the crew was holding a virtual celebration, he shared the brief story, championing Dhananjay’s quick-thinking alteration. “I’m like, ‘I can’t believe it actually worked in the episode! It looks good!’ And one of the rotoscope artists raised their hand and was like, ‘Actually, that was the hardest thing to do; to make that shirt look like an actual V-neck. I spent a lot of time fixing it and correcting for it.’”
As Bob-Waksberg noted, the story is a prime example of the “invisible work” that goes into every frame of “Undone.” That’s part of the reason the two creators, along with the series’ production studio, The Tornante Company, made the below video, which takes fans behind the scenes of the latest season. In the eight-minute glimpse backstage, producers and actors — including stars Rosa Salazar and Bob Odenkirk — recount the extraordinary efforts to get Season 2 made after getting derailed by the pandemic.
Getting Back To Work: “We just didn’t want people to forget about the show.”
Producing “Undone” was no simple feat before COVID restrictions and safety precautions became a factor. The series shot its first season in a black box studio in West Hollywood. That means there were no sets, minimal props, and little for the actors to work with other than each other.
Season 2 was set to begin production with a similar setup when the March 2020 start date was upended along with the rest of the world.
“There was a feeling of, ‘Well, it takes a year-and-a-half to produce this show with all the best conditions. Hopefully we can get it out before a two-year mark,’” Purdy said. “We just didn’t want people to forget about the show.”
“It was kind of like, ‘Well, we want to make the show, so how do we make it?’” Bob-Waksberg said. “Also, I think there were a lot of networks going back and canceling shows that they had already picked up, because they couldn’t make it work. They were looking at their budgets, they were looking at their priorities. We definitely didn’t want to be sitting ducks.”
So they got to work. For all the difficulties facing a continent-spanning production like “Undone,” a few core elements worked in its favor. Animated series were finding ways to keep the lights on, and while “Undone” isn’t a typical animated program, it still relies on plenty of artists who could perform remotely. The black box studio could also be streamlined. Certain tests took things a little too far — enjoy the clip in the video where Salazar is shown standing in a parking garage with an iPhone strapped to her head — but soon they found a functioning system.
Production Embraces the New Normal: “We were figuring it out by the seat of our pants.”
Production was underway by June, only three months after their initial start date. Like so many of us, Purdy and Bob-Waksberg were sitting at home, in front of their computers, relying on new tools that would become familiar to so many remote workers during the preliminary months of the pandemic.
“We were [monitoring everything] over Zoom and YouTube and using WhatsApp and FaceTime,” Purdy said, noting they used different services to communicate with crew members in different places. Hulsing was in Amsterdam, which meant also dealing with the time difference. Technology could be frustrating, even as it helped to keep things moving forward.
“Our YouTube streams would go down all the time, or at least once a day it seemed like,” Purdy said.
On set, they hired COVID specialists, required daily testing, wore masks, and served individually packaged meals — all before industry standards were formally set.
“We didn’t have a president to look at when we were planning,” Bob-Waksberg said. “We were figuring it out by the seat of our pants.”
That went for the actors, too. As glimpsed in the video, performers were often required to work solo and would receive direction via phone calls, text messages, or Patrick Metcalf, who served as the on-set producer, relaying messages from dozens of departments off-stage.
“He wore 30 different hats, basically, helping organize the props, and also wardrobe, and talk to our actors, and track everything that was happening,” Purdy said. “For him, there was probably a huge learning curve, too, of how to navigate all of that — and also how to talk to the actors as us. Then for the actors, it became [when speaking] to Patrick, ‘Well, who is talking right now? I know that you are speaking for 15 different people, so which one of them is saying what you’re saying?’”
“‘So I can decide if I want to ignore that note or not,’” Bob-Waksberg said.
The Cast Finds a Way: ‘I need you! Please help me!’
But beyond deciphering who was saying what, the cast was tasked with building connections to people who weren’t even there.
“This show already requires a fair amount of imagination from our actors, because they’re not on location, they’re not in sets. It’s green screen. They’re just in a big, empty room,” Bob-Waksberg said. “This season was even more so because we often limited the number of people in the room, and so a big group scene that in Season 1 would’ve had the entire group there, this time we’d do two people at a time, maybe three, and big foam heads that they had to pretend were their scene partners.”
That made the days when they were able to work together all the more crucial.
“I’ve heard Angelique [Cabral] and Rosa talk about how much they needed each other,” Purdy said. “And I remember also seeing Bob [Odenkirk], who did a lot of work alone, finally get to do work with Rosa and Angelique, and just grab their arms and say, ‘I need you! Please help me!’ Having to act alone is really very difficult. You have no one to play off.”
Fans would be hard-pressed to tell which scenes were shot with multiple actors. “Undone” Season 2 wrapped shooting in November 2020, and when the new episodes were released in April 2022, the chatter wasn’t about how Purdy and Bob-Waksberg got the show made; it was about the magnificent story, craft, and message exhibited in the latest episodes.
“I was hesitant to even make this behind-the-scenes video and talk about it because I don’t want you looking at scenes and going like, ‘Wait, so who is actually there?’” Bob-Waksberg said. “We wanted [Season 2] to still feel like the show, and not feel like a compromised version of the show. We don’t want people who discover this 10 years later to go, ‘Oh, that’s the COVID season.’ We wanted it to feel consistent and to feel of a piece. We didn’t want to do a thing that’s like, ‘Well, it was the best we could do given the circumstances!’”
“But I think you wouldn’t know if we didn’t tell you — when you’re in the show, it feels like you’re fully in that world. This show speaks for itself. I mean, I’ve talked to people who are surprised we didn’t actually go to Mexico when they watch the show. They go, ‘How did you set up a whole production in another country?’ It’s like, ‘No! We painted it! They’re in a warehouse!’”
Despite the immense challenges and extended production schedule, both creators are eager to start on Season 3.
“We would love to make a Season 3,” Bob-Waksberg said. “Please tell your friends to watch the show.”
“When we were finishing up and we were in that last sound mix in January, I really wasn’t ready to let go of the work,” Purdy said. “I kept trying to fix this one sound of a bowl ringing over and over again in Episode 7, which was the last one we mixed. I was like, ‘It’s just not quite right,’ and I tried to get everyone to agree with me that it wasn’t right so we could keep working on it, and finally they’re like, ‘You know, we could work on this forever, but at some point we have to let go of it and say it’s done.’ I think that was the feeling [throughout]: Ultimately, there’s no more joy than getting to work on a show with Raphael and all of our coworkers.”
“We want to make it look effortless,” Bob-Waksberg said. “But don’t forget how much effort went into it!”
To that end, watch the video below.
“Undone” Seasons 1 and 2 are available via Prime Video.
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