Honess Roe in her book suggests, “that an audiovisual work (produced digitally, filmed, or scratched on celluloid) ii could be considered an animated documentary if it: has been recorded or created frame-by-frame; is about the world rather than a world wholly imagined by its creator; and, finally, has been presented as a documentary by its producers and/or received as a documentary by audiences, festivals, or critics.”
Her bog also contains a few interesting posts regarding animated documentaries: http://bellahonessroe.wordpress.com
Animated documentary first appeared commercially in 1918, The Sinking of the Lusitania by Windsor McCay. The film is stylised as a documentary as it is the first recording of the sinking, informing viewers on details based on true facts, the animation gave audiences the chance to witness the event for which there was no live action footage available – here animation is being used as a substitute, animation has the ability to show reality.
“Compared to other animation done around this time, the film is both stark and serious, lending it the air of a documentary. The piece, which isn’t much shorter than the actual time it took for the Lusitania to sink, gives a blow-by-blow account of the attack. Though the incident is depicted largely from afar, as if from a camera on another ship, McCay doesn’t shy away from showing some really gut-wrenching moments of the tragedy up close.” http://www.openculture.com/2014/05/winsor-mccays-animates-the-sinking-of-the-lusitania.html
Animation has a history of being used as a means of illustration and clarification fr non fictional film:
eg: Einstein’s theory of relativity, 1923, produced by Fleischer Studios:
The use of animation in aiding live action is much more obvious in Disney’s 1951film, ‘How to Catch a Cold’:
Disney’s series: Why we Fight (1942-1945) showed that propaganda films can convey more facts through the use of animation, in this series a political perspective was delivered more easily than if live action was used, animation allows for emphasis and exaggeration which might not have the desired effect when used with love action footage. James Elkins art historian and critic points out that:
“the real subjects of maps usually […] serve territorial, religious, or nationalist agendas, the animated maps in the Why 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.
and more recently ‘Wonders of the Solar System’ BBC (2010)
Animation in documentaries allows for information to be easier understood by the audience, it can clarify, explain and illustrate in ways that live action cannot. This is evident in ‘How spiders Fly’ (1909):
“This charming short film is surprisingly technically advanced for its time, using a mechanical spider to demonstrate how the creatures spin the threads to create their webs..” The animation helps to reveal to the audience areas of the natural world that are unseen by the human eye, technology has offered a new way of seeing, expanding the realm of human vision.
In recent years a new trend in animation has appeared, animation is being added to live action footage creating moment sod interjection/intersection, this mode of the use of animation helps to enhance the meaning of the live action filming , helping the audience visualise the topic of the documentary much more easily. In the examples below the interjections of animation are used in a humorous style creating a contrast with the seriousness of the documentary, in some ways helping to make the film more watchable by the audience.
Bowling for Columbine, MIchael Moore (2002):
(38’28” and 49’00”) A serious documentary with interjections of animation to provide humour for the audience , keeping them interested. At 49 minutes animation is used to explain the American history in a humorous way.
She’s a boy I knew, Gwen Haworth (2007): Haworth included animation to lighten the mood of the documentary, humour prevented it becoming too intense – this will help the audience to empathise with the people involved, it is a topic alien to much of the audience so the animation acts as a means of understanding.
The examples below show the possibility of merging animation and documentary into a coherent form:
Moonbird, John Hubley (1959): A conversation (unscripted) between two young boys was recorded and the animation created to match the soundtrack, visualising to the audience what these two boys may have been imagining, the animation provides the audience with entertainment rather than juts listening to the recording of the children.
Windy day, John Hubley (1968): A similar concept to Moonbird, the animation created to the soundtrack, this time it it two young girls talking.
Conversation pieces (Aardman animation, 1983) also uses a similar technique of creating animation based on real life voice recordings:
The beginning of the 1990’s saw a boom in the production of animated documentaries, including A is for Autism (Tim Webb 1992) “Animation appeared to offer a useful technique to combine work from a number of autistic contributors, and to engage an ordinary viewer with the experiences being recounted and portrayed within a film.” http://documentarystorm.com/a-is-for-autism/
Snack and drink, Bob Sabiston (1999): a 4 minute animation which documents a teenager with autism on his way to a local store.
The end of the twentieth century saw animated documentaries become firmly established as a sub form of documentary and is now included in animation and documentary festivals.
What is animation doing that the live action alternative can not?
Honess Roe in her book ‘Animated Documentary’ suggest that animation functions in three ways: mimetic substitution, non-mimetic substitution and evocation, “The suggestion is that by thinking about animated documentary in this way we can see how animation has broadened and deepened documentary’s epistemological project by opening it up to subject matters that previously eluded live-action film.”-http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/211763/3/Honess%20Roe%202011%20Absence%20excess.pdf (page 1)
Mimetic substitution meaning that the animation illustrates an element that would be hard, near impossible, to show using a live action alternative, animation replaces the live action footage. Some animated documentary has no need to visually link with reality or even try to create an illusion of a filmed image but instead embraces animation as a medium of it’s own capable of creating expression through aesthetic realisation, this is non-mimetic substitution. Animation can respond to a different kind of representation, through evocation animation can visualise the invisible aspects of life, emotions, feelings, state of mind.
Digital Realities – animated documentaries can create photorealistic elements to be used to reconstruct historic and contemporary events, mimicking reality through computer generated images.
Walking with Dinosaurs, BBC (1999): This documentary intended to go beyond the usual fictional/ fantasy images and attempted to create the most accurate portrayal of prehistoric animals that has ever been shown on screen.
However the BBC then created, what is described as ground breaking, Planet Dinosaur created using the latest CGI and cutting edge research (2011) This time, along with the dinosaurs, the environment has been created using computer generated images. It is much more dramatic and fast paced due to the addition of more shots, even a tracking shot, and more angles, the hand held camera type shot adds to the documentary feel of the whole animation and the inclusion of an index allows the audience to visualise aspects that the narrator describes.
Both of the animated documentaries above contain voice overs giving the illusion of a nature documentary allowing the audience to keep up and understand what is happening on screen. Male voice overs are more common as they are more authoritative and give the illusion of the voice of God.
Tracing the sights and sounds of reality by rotoscoping:
Chicago 10 (Brett Morgen, 2007) uses animation to reconstruct un-filmed historical events. Chicago 10 details the run up to the 1968 democratic convention in Chicago and the subsequent trial of members of the anti-war movement.
“Mixing animation with archival footage, CHICAGO 10 explores the build-up to and unraveling of the Chicago Conspiracy Trial of 8 activists set up as scapegoats by The Government of the 1968 Democratic Convention demonstration against the Vietnam War..”
Cameras were not allowed in the court rooms so reconstructions of the trial were adapted from the court transcript and some aural evidence, such as: speeches given by the defendants at public speaking engagements and aired phone calls. Most of the animation was created using motion capture, a technique where sensors are placed on an actors body to capture movement, this data is then mapped onto a 3D character, translating a live performance into a digital one, motion capture is a technological descendant of rotoscoping – the process where animators trace over footage frame by frame in order to create realistic movements of the animated characters. The characters used in Chicago 10 very closely resemble their human counterparts meaning that throughout the portrayal of this historical and political event the audience can define who is who and what they are talking about – this is done out of respect.
Animated interviews: The use of animation to present documentary interviewees has become much more frequent after the production of Creature Comforts, Aardman animation (1989). In some circumstances it is important that the identity of the interviewee is protected, so animation allows a for creative way of their identity to remain hidden.
The body of the interviewee is significant, body language and facial expression can convey a lot of extra information to the audience, We learn as much from what we see and from what we hear.. “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…” (Bill Nichols) Animation provides a way for the audience to still gain information from body language and facial expressions if the interviewee does not want to appear in front of the camera.
Bob Sabiston’s animated documentaries (Roadhead, Snack and drink, Grasshopper) contain rotoscoping which allows for a link with reality to be present as rotoscoping relies on the presence of the body in the original footage, keeping the feel of a commentary alive.
Animation can become a means of accentuating aspects of an interviewee’s personality and or story: “It’s Like That” is made by the Southern Ladies Animation Group (S.L.A.G.) who are an animation collective based in Melbourne. It uses the voices of 3 refugee children held in mandatory detention. They were interviewed over the phone by ABC journalist Jacqueline Arias in 2002.” There is a juxtaposition between the birds representing the children, the birds can fly away and leave but the children cannot, this reinforces the fact the children don’t have any freedom – “further emphasised by the dramatic contrast between the freewheeling sea birds in the opening sequence and ensuing scenes of the bird puppets enclosed in a room with a small solitary window…” –http://aso.gov.au/titles/shorts/its-like-that/notes/
Hidden (Aronowitsch, Heilborn and Johansson, 2002) an interview about an illegal child immigrant, the style in which the animation is portrayed reinforces the fact that they are illegal – filmed in a surveillance style, overexposed, grainy and the green/blue tint to the colours. “By making the film as a cartoon, the directors emphasise the childish pathos of the story rather than its political context. Giancarlo’s avatar has huge watery eyes that demand sympathy rather than understanding…” http://www.culturewars.org.uk/2002-12/hidden.htm
Backseat Bingo (Liz Blazer, 2003): The interviewees are represented by characters of their younger self, this helps the audience relate the topic of sex with the interviewees who are in fact senior citizens and not usually seen as sexual beings…
“We live in a highly sexualised society, which also places huge emphasis on youth. I have great respect for Liz Blazer for challenging age prejudice by highlighting the importance of sex throughout adulthood. The liberal attitude amongst some of the female interviewees also challenges conservative gender stereotypes…” http://animateddocs.wordpress.com/2013/06/29/backseat-bingo-by-liz-blazer/
Animation can offer a way of visualising a feeling or experience that is described by an interviewee on a soundtrack or it can also be seen working in a metaphorical sense, showing experiences that may be unfamiliar to the viewer: Animation has become a popular way to express the internal world of a documentary subject visually. Animated documentaries enable the film maker to, “more persuasively show subjective reality… 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) Relating to John Halas’ key characteristics of animation: Penetration – evoke the internal space and portray the invisible.
Through the use of devices such as metaphors and metamorphosis and exploring the expressive potential of materials and animation techniques we as the audience can be encouraged to imagine what it is like to experience the world from someone else’s perspective and usually this perspective will be very different to what many of us would experience during everyday life, conveying subjective and conscious experience via animation, this type of documentary lends itself more to the topics of mental health, feelings, state of mind etc..
Ryan (Chris Landreth, 2004): shows the relationship between the physical and psychological, the photorealistic and the expressionistic. The visual graphic style allows for us to see their state of emotion and how it changes throughout the animation, the characters are physically damaged and at times we are able to visualise what the characters have been through/ are going through… “Ryan is simply lacking. In a literal sense. Ryan is represented more or less normally, but huge chunks of his face and head are simply missing. The metaphor is clear—The ravages of his lifestyle clearly have damaged him, but more sinisterly, it can be read that his art has in fact consumed him as well. That the self-destructive impulses of creativity, have hollowed Ryan out..” –http://www.shortoftheweek.com/2009/01/05/ryan/
Feeling my way (Jonathan Hodgson, 1997) gives a first person account of mental life, combing live action and animation. Hodgson has been able to capture the processes that passively occur when engaging with your surroundings portraying this abstract cognitive experience in a believable way allowing the audience to easily relate to their own experiences of ‘drifting off’ in thoughts caused by visual elements.
Animation is also seen as a powerful tool that is able to explore one’s past: personal memory or historical, allowing for autobiographies through documentary and memory studies (told from a 1st person perspective). The way in which the animation is applied allows for an insight into the process of remembering and forgetting, both contributing to the formation of personal identity.
Memories allow us to recall earlier ideas, showing a sense of personal identity. Irinka and Sandrinka (Sandrine Stoianov, 2007) creates a personal identity not only through personal memories but collective and post memories of family history.
Jeff Scher’s series ( you won’t remember this, you won’t remember this either, you might remember this) were created to preserve memories, he has attempted to hold onto some of the memories of his son’s first few moments, showing how quickly life changes and grows, but through recording this these memories can be visualised in the years ahead.
Silence (1998, Sylvie Bringas and Orly Yadin) gives detail of childhood within NAzi concentration camps exploring the unspoken and forgotten trauma.
http://Sylvie Bringas and Orly Yadin