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Macs in Movies – Year of the Fish

David Kaplan is a Mac using movie-maker with a twist.
Primarily developing short films around fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood (starring Christina Ricci) and Little Suck A Thumb, he has once again chosen an age old kids favourite for his first feature project.

Year of the Fish isn’t simply a re-telling of the rags to riches Cinderalla story, however, and is derived from the oldest known version of the tale, dating back to the Chinese Tang Dynasty.
Working on G5 Mac’s, Kaplan, who has won numerous awards for his shorts as well as his first feature, used rotoscoping to give the movie a dream-like effect. iCreate caught up with him to discuss this interesting project and to find out a little more about what makes him tick.

This is your first feature. What inspired you to do this project?

I was looking to do a very low-budget film locally, in New York City, because I knew we wouldn’t have a lot of funding. Since I had already made 3 acclaimed short films from fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood with Christina Ricci, The Frog King and Little Suck a Thumb, it seemed to make sense to try a fairy tale feature. I chose Cinderella and I discovered that the oldest known version is a Chinese one, so I decided to set the film in modern-day Chinatown.

What part did Mac’s play in the production of the movie? What software were you using?

The whole film was done on G5s.  We shot on mini-DV, edited on Macs with Final Cut Pro, rotoscoped it to HD with Mac OS X software called Synthetik Studio Artist, and did a few particle effects with Apple’s Motion.

In layman’s terms, how do you describe rotoscoping?

Rotoscoping is simply the process of taking live-action footage, be it film or video, and using that as a frame-by-frame guide for drawing or painting in order to create an animated movie. It’s pretty much the same as a traditional artist in their studio, painting from a live model. You have the source image – the live model – and the canvas (the painted image). The only difference with rotoscoping is that you take a whole series of painted images and put them in sequential order to create movement.

What was the effect you were looking for with rotoscoping in Year of the Fish?

I wanted to situate the film in a place somewhere between reality and dream, because that’s the kind of story it is.

Why did you feel it was required?

Aesthetically, it was a way of taking a very harsh, hyper-realistic, standard-def video image and turning it into a lush, lyrical HD one. It was an experiment, instead of going for more and more detail and photo-realism, we decided to strip detail away to create a more impressionist feel.

How did the script come about?

I wrote it – it’s a loose adaptation of an old Chinese fairy tale from the Tang Dynasty. It was also developed at the Sundance Directors and Screenwriters labs.

What sets this film apart from other rotoscoped films such as those by
Richard Linklater?

Well, those Linklater films were certainly inspirational. I wouldn’t call them impressionist though. Their style was more “graphic novel”, with clean sharp edges and even areas of flat color. In ours, the colors spill across boundaries and melt into each other and there is a kind of chaotic flickering around the edges of things. In fact, I wish we had gone even more impressionist with it, I was a bit timid about it because I didn’t want to get in the way of the story.

How did the shooting process differ to making short films?

It’s a longer shooting schedule so it’s more exhausting. Also, my short films were shot on film, not video. On this one we were able to shoot with a very small crew and use almost no lights, like a documentary. But it’s still very hard, physically and mentally.

Anything you would have done differently?

As I mentioned, I would have gone farther with the rotoscoping and made everything even more impressionist and painterly. But I also like it the way it is.

Sell Year of the Fish to a moviegoer in six words.

Cinderella in a Chinatown massage parlor.
For more information and to view the trailer visit