Totally Total Providence

Animator Paul Beck presents A Scanner Darkly at Alamo Drafthouse Mueller

In the decade-and-change since its release, A Scanner Darkly has shifted in the critical consciousness from an admirable peculiarity to an acknowledged masterpiece of hybridity and illusion. The time is certainly ripe, then, for a conversation with one of its heads of animation, Paul Beck, which the Austin School of Film is offering at the Alamo Drafthouse Mueller on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 6:30pm.

Adapted and directed by Richard Linklater from the futuristic Philip K. Dick novel of the same name, Scanner fused digital photography with interpolated rotoscoping to imitate the psychotropic experience of Substance D drug users in Dick's nightmarish dystopia. With this idiosyncratic technique, animators trace over the original footage frame by frame, requiring thousands of labor hours.

This ambitious approach, spearheaded by Bob Sabiston and a team of several dozen animators, and managed by Beck and Jason Archer, gave life to one of the most visually distinctive worlds in cinema. The Alamo Drafthouse calls the film "strikingly beautiful and dizzyingly immersive"; and Beck, who also worked on Linklater's Waking Life, refers to the project as "quite the learning experience."

Originally trained "in painting and sculpture," Beck moved into animation with Waking Life and has been intentionally collapsing the boundaries around the medium in the years since. Yet still, after animating multiple features and directing his own films – several of which he is bringing to the Drafthouse event – "I still don't know the language" of animation, he claims.

For Beck, the "main goal" is to break personal, artistic ground: "When I approach a project, that is my time to learn and to surprise myself." That has meant taking on eclectic assignments of varying scale and scope, like directing the Latin Grammy Award-winning music video for Molotov's "Frijolero"; animating award-winning documentaries The Eyes of Me and Tower for director Keith Maitland; or crafting a short film for Al Gore.

Beck highlights Scanner as a "super unique, weird hybrid" in his oeuvre, the likes of which "won't ever be done again." He recalls, "When it first came out, people didn't know how to absorb it. It didn't really fit into live-action or animation; it had to prove itself." That seems to have happened: since the film's release in 2006, Beck has had "complete strangers" from the Austin community "walk up and tell you how much they appreciate your work."

Now developing a new mixed-media film about America's abhorrent lynching history, the ASoF-sponsored Event of the Season (now accepting donations), Beck exudes earnest gratitude for his collaborations with Linklater and Maitland.

"The way [those projects] were accepted in the adult community has been totally enriching," he says. "When you work on something that long, and it goes out into the public and gets that response, it gives you the courage to try more things, to push the limit."

A Scanner Darkly With Animator Paul Beck” screens Wed., Aug. 30, 6:30pm at the Alamo Drafthouse Mueller. Tickets and more info available at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More A Scanner Darkly
Richard Linklater's Memories of the Moon in <i>Apollo 10½</i>
Richard Linklater's Memories of the Moon in Apollo 10½
The filmmaker's childhood in space race-era Houston recalled through Austin-made animation

Richard Whittaker, March 25, 2022

How to Climb a Minnow Mountain
How to Climb a Minnow Mountain
The Austin animation studio resurrecting Rotoscoping with Richard Linklater

Richard Whittaker, Sept. 4, 2020

More Paul Beck
Arts Review
'True Story'
Three very different takes on portraiture provide three reasons to see this exhibit

Wayne Alan Brenner, Jan. 20, 2012

Two 'Hot' for Your Eyes
Red Hot • Red Dot
A double shot of steaming art at W&TW and Camp Fig

Rachel Koper, Sept. 17, 2004

More by Sean L. Malin
Louis Black Takes Richard Linklater Doc to PBS
Louis Black Takes Richard Linklater Doc to PBS
dream is destiny airs on American Masters

Sept. 1, 2017

David Lowery on His Haunting New Film <i>A Ghost Story</i>
David Lowery on His Haunting New Film A Ghost Story
Casey Affleck plays a spirit unstuck in time

July 14, 2017


A Scanner Darkly, Paul Beck, Richard Linklater, Philip K. Dick

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle