Monday, 4 April 2011


Animation is ‘the omnipresent pictorial form of the modern era’ Wells (2002, p.1). Animation has been subject to the postmodern condition of hybridity, taking two different genres and making them in to one, merging the boundaries. Jencks has said (1984 cited in Poyner, 2003, p.19) ‘Postmodern style is ‘hybrid’, double coded, based on fundamental dualities’

I am interested in the hybridization of animation and documentary. This essay will be looking at how animation is used for producing documentaries, the postmodern theories behind them and whether this form can accurately portray reality. Some of the questions I want to ask are, what makes a documentary? and can an animation be classed as one? I will look at several writers in these fields, two being Paul Wells and Paul Ward.

In this critical research essay I will be looking at two examples of animated documentary, Ari Folmans (2008) “Waltz with Bashir” and The Channel 4 series “Animated Minds

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What is Documentary

Documentary is a non-fiction genre. The footage that has been shot should represent actuality and should present some facts about a subject. As stated by Paul Wells (1996, p. 169) John Grierson came up with the aforementioned term to produce a visual ‘document’ of a particular event. Vaughan (1999, p.58) has stated:

A crucial fact about the definition of documentary as a mode of response is that it places the attribution of documentary significance squarely within the province of the viewer

According to Bill Nichols (1991) in the book Representing reality, there are four modes of representation these are, expository, observational, interactive and reflexive.

The expository is a documentary where the narrator tells us about what we are viewing. Observational are fly on the wall style programs which include the very popular reality TV shows. Interactive are documentaries that require the need for discussion with people either as individuals or within a group bringing about debate. The last is reflexive, this is an experimental form of film where the crew may become participants within the documentary there is no attempt to hide how the program is made.

Documentary film is a form that there has been much debate about and also has raised many contradictions. Many arguments have been about whether the form can represent actuality accurately or becomes a biased view of the maker. As Vaughan has said, the acknowledgment of the documentary genre lies directly with the viewer.

Paul Ward (2005, p.7) says that ‘All documentary films are nonfictional, but not all nonfictional films are documentaries’.

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Case Study one - Waltz with Bashir

The documentary film Waltz with Bashir (Folman,A. 2008). was written, directed and produced by Ari Folman. It tells the story of Ari Folman finding out what happened during the first Lebanon war after he finds that he no longer has any recollection of the events that happened and is on the journey to fill in the gaps. The documentary is based around interviews from Ari’s Friends and comrades that were filmed in a sound studio. The film is animated with software such as Flash and After Effects as well as utilizing classic animation techniques mixed with 3D elements. In an interview Folman has said that Waltz with Bashir (Folman,A. 2008)was always ‘meant to be an animated documentary’ going onto say that ‘War is so surreal, and memory is tricky that I thought id better go all along the memory journey with the help of very fine illustrators’ (Artificial Eye, n.d)

This film is a prime example of animated documentary, it has been classed in this sub category as it is based around real events and has testimonies from real people. Is this enough to enable this to be a documentary?

Waltz with Bashir (Folman,A. 2008). falls under the interactive mode, this ‘stresses images of testimony or verbal exchange and images of demonstration (images that demonstrate the validity, or possibly, the doubtfulness, of what witnesses state)’ Nichols (1991,p.44). Not being live footage, the interviews and the narrative are equally subjective. Although the interviews are real Folman will have chosen the order and placement of dialogue with in the script using his own creativity.

According to Brian Winston (2008, p14) in the second edition of claiming the real he said that:

I had in the first edition of this book averred that the ‘supposition that any “actuality” is left after “creative treatment” can now be seen at best na├»ve and at worst a mark of duplicity’; but not, I must now admit, by everybody.

This causes me to doubt whether the dialogue is actually true or in some instances fabrication and therefore in my opinion reduces the documentary quality.

Animation is used in Waltz with Bashir (Folman,A. 2008). and many other documentaries because the live action footage is not available or the scene required would be impossible to film.

Having looked at the documentary theory behind Waltz with Bashir (Folman,A. 2008). I will now take a look at the aesthetics of it and seeing if this is a positive contribution to the documentary or a negative one.

Within the first few moments of the opening sequence you instantly perceive what you are watching not to be real because of the fact it is animated. Animation is a form of film that is created not captured and it does not exist in reality. This is compensated by the sound. The voices and sounds are realistic they are not synthetic or computer generated you recognize them as real. ‘Realism builds upon a presentation of things as they appear to the eye and the ear in everyday life’ Nichols (1991, p.165). When the imagery doesn’t prove real other senses take over. The recorded audio indexically links this film with reality.

The form the animation takes is heavily stylized. All though the characters are stylized they can be seen as hyper real in that they conform to the conventions of the real world.

The intention to create ‘documentary’ in animation is inhibited by the fact that the medium cannot be objective. Having said that, the medium does enable the filmmaker to more persuasively show subjective reality. Wells (1998, p.27)

At the beginning of the film we are confronted with the scene of angry dogs running through a town creating fear and intimidation. See Fig.1. At this point we have no idea what the dogs represent. You immediately notice the contrasting colours which are very unrealistic, the sky is a toxic looking sulphuric yellow and the rest of the landscape is coloured in a grey/green muted palette. Colour in some places changes to go with the mood of the scene, this toxic yellow occurs frequently 'Shades of yellow are visually unappealing because they loose cheerfulness and become dingy. Dull (dingy) yellow represents caution, decay, sickness, and jealousy'.(QSX Software Group, 2010) although this isn’t accurate it brings a sense of atmosphere and emotion that live footage cant do, it is portraying reality in a different way possibly making it more truthful than live footage, showing things that we wouldn’t necessarily pick up on otherwise. Small nuances like these are what can make animation more effective than live action. We later find that the dogs represent the 26 dogs that Ari's friend Boaz killed during a mission into a Lebanese village to find wanted Palestinians. The scene I have just described is a dream that is haunting Boaz, therefore how can this be classed as documentary when it is not a fact but fantasy.

Another scene I want to converse is the flash back of Ari's that appears repeatedly throughout the film, see Fig. 2. This scene sets the main stage for the rest of the narrative. It begins with a vision of run down buildings; we see flares in the sky which become apparent later in the film. There are bodies bobbing in the sea struggling to keep a float. These bodies are those of Ari and two other comrades. They slowly get up from the water and walk naked to the shore. They get into their clothes and walk up the street. The colour then changes from the toxic yellow to almost black and white replicating the look of film noir. As Ari and his comrades walk away from the shore they walk through what looks like a desolate town in Lebanon on the walls of buildings were plastered posters of Bashir. The camera then follows Ari panning round to see lots of screaming women and children, you cannot here their cries as the dramatic music takes over making the scene more about Ari than the women’s plight. This is a good example of Griersons “Creative Treatment” The documentary format is giving into narrative conventions making it more about the story of the events.

Ward (2008) Talking about animation as documentary:

It can comment on and argue about real issues and relations, but do so in a mode where ‘transparency’, ‘correspondence’ and ‘mimesis’ do not obscure the real issues, as so often seems to be the case with live action documentaries.

There are many scenes within this film that prove that it can not be credible as a documentary, non more so than Carmi's dream/ fantasy on board the ‘love boat’, see Fig, 3. Ari goes to see Carmi in Holland after seeing him in his flash back. Carmi recites the events which followed including a hallucination on board the boat taking them to war. He dubbed this the ‘love boat’ as this is what he imagined it was but in reality it was just a commando boat. Here we see that memories can be subjective and cannot always show the truth. Carmi states that he sleeps when he is scared and he escapes into a hallucination. This hallucination takes the form of a giant naked woman who is his saviour; she rescues him from the boat by picking him up in motherly manner. The woman then jumps off the boat and starts to swimming away with him barely conscious, lying on her stomach. Carmi lies back watching the boat he was just on get bombed by a plane. The colour changes again and the whole scene turns orange. This is an example in the film where it is clear to see the transition between fact and fiction.

Animation is especially persuasive in depicting such states of consciousness- memory, fantasy, dream and so on – because it can easily resist the conventions of the material world and the ‘realist’ representation that characterises live-action cinema. Wells (2002, p.49)

When watching the film I noticed several advertisements that did not conform to the animation style and they appeared as they would in reality. See Fig. 4. These screenshots are from the scene where Ari is walking around a derelict Airport. In my opinion this is a contradiction to the film being animated, they are in juxtaposition to the virtual world created by the animation. It is hard to look at the characters as real when you have an example of real life depicted in side by side.

The world does not exist as objective truth, but as image and likeness. Our metaphysical ambivalences today thus teeter not between reality and illusion, but between real and hyper real, original and copy, reality and simulation. Ng (2007, p.173)

The last scene I will talk about is that of the closing scene of the film. Where we revisit the latter part of Ari's flash back. See Fig. 5. This shows Ari standing at a cross roads watching all of the women and children coming towards him, he is breathing heavily, giving us the impression that he was very distressed at the sight before him. This time you can hear the cries of the women, signifying that Ari has come to a resolve, he has come to a realization of where he was at the time of the massacres. The animation then stops at this point and live archive footage of real women fleeing the horrors of the massacre takes over. This live footage is more graphic than the animation and evokes more emotion; this makes the point of saying that these events did happen and puts the film into perspective. ‘Even at its most mimetic animation just does not correspond to the real in the same way as live action…. This does not mean that it cannot represent the real, or offer illuminating comment on it’ Ward (2008)

By having this live footage I feel that it is undermining the fact that this is an animated documentary. It is as if the documentary needs the live footage for it to work and be plausible.

In my opinion the film Waltz with Bashir (Folman,A. 2008). is a non-fiction text but cannot be classed as a documentary, this is partly due to it being animated. It has created a softer form and is not as explicit as real life; in this case I think this takes away the horror of the situation, almost sanitizing the look of war. It almost takes the identities of the people shown away. You can’t perceive something as real if the form it is produced in doesn’t exist in reality. Being animated doesn’t make it trustworthy as it has fictional tendencies and we place animation under the stereotype of children’s entertainment.

If this film had have been live footage I imagine that it would be mostly showing Ari's interviews mixed in with archive footage of the war. This would have had limitations and scenes like Carmi's hallucination would not have been do able making us rely on description and our own imagination. Animation has been used here, as a tool for allowing a film to be produced that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. I believe that it cannot, in this case show reality. Animation is such a subjective form that I don’t think in this particular film history has been shown accurately ‘a new depthlessness, which finds its prolongation both in contemporary ‘theory’ and in a whole new culture of the image or the simulacrum; a consequent weakening of historicity’ pg 12 Jameson (1991, P.12).

Fig. 1. 26 Dogs. Screen shots taken from: Folman, A. (2008). Waltz with Bashir .[DVD]. Razor Film Produktion. et. al

Fig.2. Ari’s Flash Back. Screen shots taken from: Folman, A. (2008). Waltz with Bashir .[DVD]. Razor Film Produktion. et. al

Fig. 3. Carmi’s Hallucination. Screen shots taken from: Folman, A. (2008). Waltz with Bashir .[DVD]. Razor Film Produktion. et. al

Fig. 4. Airport Scene. Screen shots taken from: Folman, A. (2008). Waltz with Bashir .[DVD]. Razor Film Produktion. et. al

Fig. 5. The Massacre. Screen shots taken from: Folman, A. (2008). Waltz with Bashir .[DVD]. Razor Film Produktion. et. al

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Case study two - Animated Minds

Animated Minds is a series of short animations based around mental illness. They were created to be broadcast on Channel 4 and Teachers TV in the hope to give the audience a greater understanding of what it is like to live with a mental disorder.

The project was a collaboration between many different animators; the process began by recording the interviewees and then cutting this material down until it became a short narrative that was full of potential for creating an animation.

The short I will look at is called ‘Over and Over (and Over) Again’ (Glynne, A. 2003) which is an animation of actual testimony of Danny, a young boy who lives with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The film shows how disruptive to his daily routine the disorder has become. The animation is created with a mixture of hand drawn elements and digital technology, see Fig. 6.

Although this film will have been produced with digital software it is given a very hand rendered aesthetic. ‘From this unreal perspective, scanning, manipulating and assembling at will, everything else also starts to look unreal’ Poynor (2003, p.115) This concept of taking something real and making it screen based, of manipulating it in someway that changes its state, from reality to pixels is related to Baudrillards theory of simulation. ‘it is now impossible to isolate the process of the real to prove the real’ Baudrillard' (1983, p.41). We recognise all the animation as been hand drawn and the textures to be painted but in fact none of this exists at all. In the opening sections of this animation we see Danny repeatedly writing a sentence over and over again, it looks real and we here the sound of the pen, it feels real but we know that what is produced on the screen is just a representation of the real. I keep referring to the camera in the animations when in fact this camera has been simulated in such software as After effects, motion blur effects can be applied to heighten the sense that what we are looking at is real this is pure fabrication. This animation is a metaphor for the spoken words, taking everything Danny says and putting it in a visual form that we can relate to making this animation a very effective one. It has enabled us to see what Danny goes through suffering with OCD. It would have been very hard to portray this with live footage.

In this case I would say that this animation is a documentary, there is no fantasy only truth although this has been shown to us visually in a different format where the characters don’t necessarily conform to the conventions of the natural world. This animation has succeeded in effectively showing us what it is like to have OCD.

Fig. 6. Over and Over (and Over) Again. Screen Shots taken from Glynne,A. (2003). Over and Over (and Over) Again. [online] Available from: [Accessed 4th April 2011]

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We are now living in a world where more people than ever own multiple TVs in their homes and we make more trips to the cinema. Technologies are moving on we can now create virtual worlds at the click of a mouse. People need that natural progression to keep them entertained. Documentary film has inevitably moved on too, creating new platforms for it to be viewed creating larger audiences. Animated documentary is just one way that this genre has progressed.

What I have found here is that, it is difficult to class things in genres especially with documentaries as there are so many on going debates about the subject. Animation is an aid to help filmmakers helping with topics that would be otherwise hard to film; technology has helped this happen on a large scale with Folmans ( 2008) Waltz with Bashir.

“Animation can be regarded as a genuine source of documentation, where new technologies, political stands and economical status contribute greatly to its formation. Even if certain works are subjectively made to reinforce a certain point of view they are still a product of their time where subconscious and conscious choices reveal a truth about its society “ Kininsberg (2007)

In my opinion animation can never accurately portray reality truthfully because it is a representation of the real and will never be able to exist in reality ‘Simulation threatens the difference between the ‘true’ and the ‘false’, the ‘real’ and the ‘imaginary’. Baudrillard, (1994, p.3) that is not to say that it cant tackle the subjects of the real and portray them in such away that benefits the film-maker and us as the audience. Animation is a form that can prove very educational and exciting enough to attract a new audience. In this modern age we are constantly bombarded with live images be that on the news and in the cinema, animation brings a welcome change to this. Documentary should be able to thrive on the subjectivity that animation brings.

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Artificial Eye. (n.d). Waltz with Bashir. [online] Available from: [Accessed 4th April 2011]

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Jameson, F. (1991). Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. London: Verso

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