On July 20, 1969, the lunar module of Apollo 11 became the first manned craft to land on the moon. Many films have explored the space program, some from a narrative perspective, like The Right Stuff, and others as documentaries, such as Apollo 11. None, however, has taken the approach used by the unceasingly creative imagination of Richard Linklater in his new animated film Apollo 10 1/2: A Space Age Childhood.
The film, which Linklater wrote and directed, premiered at the SXSW Conference, which took place in Austin, March 11-20. Besides film, the conference, which returned to an in-person event after two years of virtual, also celebrated music, comedy, and the interaction of culture and technology.
Linklater 10 ½
Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, Boyhood, Everybody Wants Some!!, Where’d You Go, Bernadette), like almost all of us who were there in 1969 have strong memories of that moment. Linklater, a five-time Academy Award nominee, chose to tell the story through the eyes of a 10-year old version of himself.
The film weaves together two perspectives: the fantasies inside the head of that 10-year-old boy and the scientists and engineers at the Houston Space Center. In between it provides a snapshot of life in the 1960s.
The story begins as the boy fantasizes about being recruited by the CIA for a special secret space flight. He attends a school just blocks from the space center. They have been watching him. NASA got the specs wrong, and the Apollo space craft was too small for a full-grown astronaut. That’s why they needed a 10-year-old.
The film then goes into a long interlude which examines the culture of the 1960s. The boy has problems with his siblings and parents, they watch TV together, they visit Astroworld. The recreation of this world was amazing. Having grown up in the 1960s, I kept thinking, “Yeah, I did that.”
Rotoscope the World
After the screening, Linklater, his head of animation Tommy Pallotta, and producer Mike Blizzard talked about the film.
Years of research went into the project. Linklater said he had thought about doing it live, but realized that wouldn’t work. Going to animation gave them more freedom. Linklater said, “It was a fun process all the way and we did what we wanted.”
Pallotta explained that once animation got underway, they had teams of animators in Austin and Amsterdam. They used rotoscope animation in which the animated sequences are drawn over live-action footage frame by frame. This process creates lifelike movement of characters on the screen. Linklater had used this technique previously in A Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly.
Blizzard said that the realism was important to them. “We really nailed down the non-fiction aspects of the visuals,” he explained. “When someone changes the channel on the television, that’s exactly what was playing on the television at the time. Also, NASA was incredibly helpful.”
The realism went deeper than just Linklater’s memories. He pointed out that Blizzard had actually gone to the elementary school next to NASA depicted in the film.
A Special Preview
Linklater shared that the film was previewed before a special audience: astronauts on the International Space Station. “We talked with two of the astronauts up there,” he said. “They are so incredibly impressive. They are planning to go to the moon – not with people – next month. They are amazing.”
Linklater said that he wanted the film to have “kind of a scrapbook look.”
An audience member asked Linklater whether the film contained his memories and he answered that it was almost all his memories. He said, “It’s embarrassingly personal.”
You can watch Apollo 10 1/2 on Netflix and in select theaters beginning April 1.