by Judy Kriger
Animated documentaries are an emerging trend in animation, as more filmmakers are turning to the craft to share real stories about actual events. The term “animated documentary” may seem contradictory, but there are advantages to choosing to animate over shooting film. For example, subjects who are nervous around cameras may look uncomfortable on film, or even worse, begin “performing,” distracting the viewer from the story being told. With no in-your-face equipment to interfere with the relationship between subject, director, and viewer, a stronger story emerges.
Here are 5 top examples of stories that have been enhanced by animated realism:
1. Waltz with Bashir: This Oscar-nominated example of animated realism uses an edgy, unique, 2D Flash-animated technique to convey a soldier’s struggle to understand his emotional battle scars and come to terms with what happened during his tour of duty. The intentional, natural imperfection of the hand-drawn animated line coupled with the voiceover pulls the audience into the filmmaker’s story in an intimate and powerful way.
2. Still Life with Animated Dogs:The Peabody award-winning animated documentary by husband and wife team Paul and Sandra Fierlinger uses hand-drawn animation and narration to describe their memories of different dogs they’ve owned and the life-lessons they’ve learned as a result. This piece is a thoughtful and personal look at the importance of being keen observers of nature. The honest beauty of their drawings, created using TVPaint software, gives this moving and vulnerable set of stories depth and grace while remaining accessible.
3. The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation: John Canemaker’s Oscar-winning animated film about his relationship with his late father is poignant and painfully humorous. Combining sequences of hand-drawn animation with photos and actual newspaper headlines about his father, The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation tells the story of an imaginary, though intensely desired, conversation Canemaker has with his father, who died in 1995.
4. The Man Who Planted Trees: Technically, this piece is not a documentary, though the tone and subject matter of the narrative feels as if it is. Animated with pastel and pencil on frosted cels, Frederic Back created this beautiful Oscar-winning film in 1987. An animated Impressionist painting of sorts, the film contains thousands of lushly illustrated landscapes and studies of human motion which describe how to make the world a better place.
5. Persepolis: Based on Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel, this Oscar-nominated animated feature is an intense yet humorous take on her experiences growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Created entirely in black and white, its style perfectly mimics the extreme, stark political world Satrapi grew up in.
Animation is the only art form that combines all forms of creative expression. The most successful animators have the timing of a dancer, the eye of a cinematographer, and the storytelling abilities of a gifted raconteur. Whether utilizing CG and visual effects or a more traditional hand drawn style, animation is all about mixing compelling stories with inventive visual techniques. Animated documentaries are the latest in a rich history of entertaining outcomes.
Judy Kriger is a Los Angeles, CA-based independent filmmaker and animator. She has worked professionally in the entertainment industry for over eighteen years on various projects for film, broadcast, video games, and the web. Ms. Kriger’s credits include Cats and Dogs”, Antz, A Simple Wish, and many others. She is an alumna of the Rhode Island School of Design and the California Institute of the Arts and is an Assistant Professor of Film and Television at the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman University. Ms. Kriger teaches introductory and advanced courses in 3D animation production and is supervising the creation of the Digital Arts Senior films.