In this episode of Love, Death, and Robots, a woman witnesses a murder and then is chased by the killer through a surreal city. The city appears rarefied in pastel colors with a dreamlike level of geometric perfection.
While parallels can be drawn to Spider-Verse with the short’s incorporation of cell-shading, pop-art, and sound effects, The Witness has an art direction all its own. The animation is so meticulous that parts appear to be rotoscoped or copied from live action. In actuality, everything was rendered with computer graphics. The realistic fluidity of the clothing was captured with a clothing simulator used by fashion designers.
CG animation has always toyed with what material should be used to represent human skin. In mainstream Pixar-esque films, skin is rendered like a stretchy form of dough. However, in The Witness, the woman’s body appears painted. There are real world details such as tan-lines and the curvature of her ears. Then there is an overlay of sketchy linework to define her nipples, navel, and pubic hair. Atop everything is her lipstick, makeup, and glittery tattoos.
It’s as if you had to draw S&M using the materials of a Kindergarten art class. It’s a bold and bizarre design choice that had me hypnotized for the duration of the short. The people in the fetish suits were also fascinating in that their exposed flesh still looked rubbery, like a blow-up doll.
There are also subtle details like the film grain that ebbs in and out at intervals and the characters’ breath fogging up the camera lens. Remember that this is all computer-generated so every imperfection is done so purposefully. The cartoony sketchbook quality overlaid atop gritty realism gives The Witness a dreamlike quality where the viewer is forced to question what’s real just as much as the characters.
Love, Death, and Robots is currently streaming on Netflix.