Animating Realities

Animation and Documentary
•Animation—fantasy, caricature, stylisation, abstraction, exaggeration, transformation…
•Documentary—truth, seriousness, evidence, objectivity…
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Animation and Documentary
•Does “animated documentary” exist?
What should a documentary look like?
What sorts of images should a documentary contain?
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John Grierson defines documentary is “the creative treatment of actuality”.
(Grierson, 1993
:8) Bill Nichols suggests, documentaries “address the world in which we live rather than a
world imagined by the filmmaker”. (Nichols, 2001 :xi)
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Nicholas and Grierson help us think of animation as a viable means of documentary expression.
animation as a way of creatively treating actuality
animation as non-fictional based on make-believe Annabelle Honess Roe suggests that an audiovisual work (produced digitally, filmed, or scratched directly on celluloid) could be considered an animated documentary if it
(i) has been recorded or created frame by frame;
(ii) is about the world rather than a world wholly imagined by its creator
(iii) has been presented as a documentary by its producers and/or received as a documentary by audiences, festivals or critics.
(Honess Ron, 2013: 3-4)
n 1918, American animator Winsor McCay made
The Sinking of the Lusitania (Winsor McCay, 1918),
which was the first commercially released animated documentary. MaCay makes no distinction between live action and animation in terms of their ability to show us reality, and the film offered audience a chance to “witness the whole tragedy, from the moment of the
first attack to the heartrending ending”.
(Bioscope, 1919:74)
The Sinking of the Lusitania demonstrates the early use of animation as a substitute for missing live-action material. (Honess Ron, 2013:8)
• Animation has historically been used as a tool of illustration and clarification non-fictional film. For example, the Fleischer Brother’s Einstein Theory of Relativity (1923); Walt Disney’s film How to Catch a Cold (1951) and Why We Fight series (1942-5); BBC recent Wonders of Solar System (2010).
For many propaganda films can convey more than fact
s through
animation by using emphasis and visual association.
For example,
We Fight films
(1942). (4’30’’)
• James Elkins points out “the real subjects of maps usually […] serve territorial, religious, or nationalist agendas, the animated maps in theWhy We Fight films serve a purpose beyond merely marking out geographical boundaries, they are also helping deliver the nationalist, propagandistic message of the series.”
• (Elkins, 1999:223)
• History of Animated Documentary
• For more films, animation is widely used to clarify, explain, illustrate and emphasis. The use of animation makes information easier to understand and retain.
• In How Spiders Fly (1909) , animation is a way to reveal aspects of the natural world that are unseen by the human eye, and animation is another technique to access the “new way of seeing” offered by the technologies developed from the Eighteen Century onwards that
expands the realm of human vision. (Beattie, 2008:129-50)
• Recently, there is a new trend of using animation in live-action documentaries to create moment of interjection or intersection. A segment of animation is inserted in a primarily live-action film to in some way enhance its meaning. Here, animation is often rendered in
a humorous and cartoon-like style as a way of contrasting with the
seriousness of the documentaries’ subject matter.
• For example, Blue Vinyl (Judith Hefland and Daniel B. Gold, 2002),
Bowling for Columbine (Micheal Moore, 2002, 38’28’’, 49’00”),
She’s a Boy I Knew (Gwen Haworth, 2007)
•Haworth has commented that she included animation to “lighten the mood” and add humor to her film, as she was concerned it might otherwise become too intense.
(Honess Ron, 2013:12)
• The animated documentary is archaeologically linked to the earlier examples of the use of animation in non-fiction scenarios, just as it is related to contemporary examples of non-fiction media utilising animation for specific purposes and animated interjections into live-
action documentary.
•The possibilities for convergence of animation and documentary into a coherent form.
(John Hubley, 1959),
Windy Day
(John Hubley, 1967),
(John Hubley, 1973),
Conversations Pieces (David Sproxton, Peter Lord, 1983)…
Since the 1990s there has been a boom of animated documentaries.
A Is for Autism (Time Webb, 1992),
His Mother’s Voice (Dennis Tupicoff, 1997),
Survivors (Sheila Sofian, 1997),
Snack and Drink (Bob Sabiston, 1999).
•By the end of the Twentieth Century, animated documentary was firmly established. Animated documentaries are now an increasingly commonplace sub-form of documentary, now included in animation and documentary festivals as a matter of course.
Representational Strategies
• What is the animation doing that the live-action alternative could not?
• Honess Ron suggests that animation functions in three key ways :mimetic substitution, non-mimetic substitution and evocation.
(Honess Ron, 2013:26)
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Mimetic Substitution
Animation illustrates something that would be very hard, or impossible, to show with the conventional live-action alternative and often it is directly standing in for live-action footage.
Non-mimetic substitution
For some animated documentary, there is no sense to make visual link with reality or to create an illusion of a filmed i mage. Instead, they work towards embracing and acknowledging animation as a medium in its own right, a medium that has the potential to express meaning through its aesthetic realisation.
Animation can respond to a different kind of representation limitation, such as certain concepts, emotions, feelings and states of mind, and can be used as a tool to evoke the experiential in the form of ideas, feelings and sensibilities.
Digital Realities
•Animated documentaries use computer-generated, digital animation to reconstruct historic and contemporary events in a way that mimics the look of both reality and photoreality.
• Photorealism, Verisimilitude, and Authenticity
• Walking with Dinosaurs (BBC, 1999)
The intention of this documentary was to go beyond fictional fantasy and to “create the most accurate portrayal of prehistoric animals ever seen on the screen.” (BBC, n.d.)
•Planet Dinosaur (BBC, 2011)
Using “the latest CGI and cutting-edge research”
Describing itself as “ground-breaking”
Digital Realities
Tracing the sights and sounds of reality by rotosco
Chicago 10 (Brett Morgen, 2007), details the run-up to the 1968
Democratic Convention in Chicago and the subsequent trial of members of the anti-war movement.
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Chicago 10
uses animation to reconstruct unfilmed historical events.
•These reconstructions of the trail in Chicago 10 were “adapted from” the 23,000-
page court transcript. The film also reconstructs from aura l evidence, such as the
the speeches given by the defendants at various public speaking engagements
undertaken at the time of the trial and the aired phone calls.
• Rotoscoping is an animation technique in which animators trace over footage, frame by frame, in order to create lifelike movement of animated characters.
• Almost all of the animation in Chicago 10 was created using the motion capture technique, a technological descendent of the rotoscope. Motion capture is
similarly about verisimilitude in movement and character design. Multiple sensors are placed on a performer’s body to capture key points of movement and these data are mapped onto a 3-D character in order to translate a live performance into a digital one.
(Menache, 2000:1)
Animated Interviews
•Documentary and testimony are always intertwined. Talking-head interviews have become the primary way to facilitate documentary subjects’ testimony, as a legitimate source of truth, proof and authenticity in a documentary.
• The body of the interviewee has been theorised as significant in the way we gain knowledge from documentary interview. Bill Nichols claims that we learn as much form what we see as from what we hear in interview documentaries—“it is not simply the knowledge possessed by witnesses and experts that needs to be conveyed through their
speech, but also the unspoken knowledge that needs to be conveyed by the body itself.
(Nichols, 1993:175)
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• Animated Interviews
• What happens when the body is no longer present?
• Creature Comforts (David Sproxton, Peter Lord, 1989)
• The use of animation to present documentary interviewees has been more frequent after Creature Comforts. There are frequently situations in which the identity of interviewees must be protected. Animation is a more creative way of achieving such anonymity.
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Rotoscoping, or the production of animation by tracing over live-action images, has a causal link with reality. It relies on the presence of the body in the original film or video footage on which the animated representation is directly based. The devise enables a process of tracing live-action footage frame by frame and these traced illustrations are then filmed to create the final animation.
• Roadhead
(Sabiston, 1998);
Snack and Drink
(Sabiston, 2003)
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•Animated Interviews
•Animation becomes a means of accentuating aspects of an interviewee’s personality and story and the absence of a physical body can metaphorically reflect their socio-political status.
•It’s Like That (Southern Ladies Animation Group, 2003);
Hidden (Aronowitsch, Heilborn and Johansson, 2002);
Backseat Bingo (Liz Blazer, 2003)
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The World in Here
• Animation is becoming an increasingly popular means by which to visually express the internal worlds of documentary subjects. Sometimes this happens in a relatively direct way, with animation offering a visualisation of a feeling or experience described by an
interviewee on the soundtrack. At other times, animation works in more oblique and metaphorical ways to evoke experiences that maybe unfamiliar to viewers.
• The use of animation to create documentary enables “the film-maker to more persuasively show subjective reality .” Animation “effectively shows the perception
of reality as it it is experienced” by a documentary subject and that “this is a more truthful reality and one which is only possible to document in animation.”
(Wells, 1998: 27)
ohn Halas suggested that animation’s key characteristics are
•Symbolisation of objects and human beings
•Picturing the invisible
•Penetration—evoke the internal space and portray the
•Selection, exaggeration and transformation
•Showing the past and predicting the future
•Controlling speed and time (Halas and Wells, 2006 :160)
•Animated documentaries convey subjective, conscious experience via animation
that is evocative rather than directly representational.Using devices such as metaphor and metamorphosis and through exploring the expressive potential of a variety of materials and animation techniques, there films encourage us to imagine what it is like to experience the world form someone else’s perspective. This perspective are often very different from what the majority of us experience in our daily lives and this type of animated documentary lends itself to films about mental health issues, feelings and brain states.
•Ryan (Chris Landreth, 2004)—relationship between the physical and the psychological, the photorealistic and the expressionistic
• Feeling My Way (Jonathan Hodgson,1997)—a first-person account of mental life combing live action and animation.
Animated Memories
• Animation can work as an powerful tool for exploring one’s own past. These works of personal memory and history are often told and made from a first-person perspective.
-the autobiographical in documentary
-memory studies
• The formal and aesthetic excess of animation can be used as a means of accessing the now absent past, especially pasts from which the filmmakers have been ruptured due to trauma or other events that cause a disruption in the continuity of personal and collective memory.
• Animation is a suitable means of bringing the temporally distal into closer proximity by allowing filmmakers to aesthetically weave themselves into the past. The way the animation is realised, its style and materiality, can also offer insight into the process of remembering and forgetting that are integral to the formation of personal identity.
Animated Memories
Memory allows us to recall earlier ideas and affords a
continuity of
consciousness and a coherent sense of personal identity.
Irinka and Sandrinka
(Sandrine Stoianov, 2007)—it not only personal
memories, but also collective memory and postmemory that
constitutes personal identity.
• You Won’t Remember This ( Jeff Scher, 2007)
• You Won’t Remember This Either ( Jeff Scher, 2009)
• You Might Remember This
(Jeff Scher, 2011)
• The unspoken and the forgotten trauma
•Silence (Sylvie Bringas and Orly Yadin, 1998)—childhoon in nazi concentration camp
•Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008)—memories of fighting in the 1982 Lebanon war
Animated Mockumentary
•The main trait of mockumentary is to adopt aesthetics proper of the factual production in order to confer the “look” of a documentary to a traditional narrative.
•The fictionality clues of animated mockumentary must always be present, as  mockumentary is by definition an audiovisual text created with a playful intent and not with the aim of deceiving the viewer into believing a fake story to be true.
• Surf’s Up (2007)
• The Simpsons episodes
Behind the Laughter” (2000) and
“Springfield Up ” (2007)

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