How Tower Uses Rotoscope to Make the Past Feel Present

By: Justin Cummings


Last night I was scrolling through one of my favorite film news websites, and saw that some movie called Tower was free for a limited time on PBS’s independent lens program. I decided to go ahead and give it a shot, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time. Tower is a documentary about the mass shooting at the University of Texas in 1966, using interviews with survivors, recreations of events, and historical footage from that day. So why am I talking about it on an animation website? The vast majority of the interviews, and all of the recreations, are done with rotoscope, a process of tracing over motion picture footage (think Polar Express or A Scanner Darkly).

Why Rotoscope

Somehow, the use of animation in the film makes it all seem more real. It’s dramatic, it’s fast paced, and it’s highly emotional. I haven’t cried this much at a movie in a very long time, and never this much at a documentary. That’s the thing though: it doesn’t feel like a documentary. The recreations truly give the film a sense of being about the present, rather than the past. We see the survivors and victims as they were that day, and in the interviews they look how they did in 1966. So towards the end, when they start cutting between the rotoscope versions and the real, present day people, the effect is stunning and incredible.

Why You Should Watch It

The film manages to use color exceptionally well. All the scenes taking place during the shooting are for the most part black and white. When a character has not yet become aware of the shooting, their world is in color. We see color used in a couple of other instances, but I don’t want to spoil it. The movie is definitely a hard watch, but very much worth it. For all the tragedy and pain, there is light. We see some true heroes emerge throughout the film, and it truly gives you hope for humanity. It’s a beautiful film, with a beautiful message, and definitely worth your time. Although I don’t believe it has an MPAA rating, it would probably be PG-13, as the swearing and such is censored (that being said, it could just be the version PBS is airing). It is still a very emotional, very mature film, so be advised if that kind of thing upsets you. The movie is free on PBS’s independent lens program until March 1, so go watch this wonderful film right now.

I'm currently studying Communication at Lynchburg College with an emphasis in Electronic Media and a double minor in business and gender studies. I've been a huge fan of animation since I was little and thus have very eclectic tastes. Outside of animation I love Survivor, comic books, and a whole treasure trove of other things.


One Comment

  1. Alex says:

    I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the relationship between the 1966 Texas Tower Shooting and Steven Universe:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *