written by Lilian Fu 2013
** this version is slightly amended for internet publication.
Various reasons and methodologies in animation documentary
Animation is an art, a stance, a record of psychological and emotional memory, a technique, a concept. ~ Paul Well (1)
Animation, like paintings and drawings, was once conceived as a pale representation of reality when compared to precise photographic images. What animation is representing is not directly referring to the referent, but ‘a mirror of memory’ 8(L.William). Therefore animation is a more actively capturing action while photography is passive since it cannot alter anything in front of the camera. This characteristic of animation also directly mirrors the artist’s self-reflexive insight on the documented happenings which embodies personal interpretations of animators and artists. Therefore what is unique in exploiting animation in documentary is that it opens up possibilities for archiving and recording the facts, especially in the personal level of history and his/her subconscious mind. Animators use different techniques to achieve their interpretation of the history, all these creative forms of inputs can be contributed as materials of past events. Like live-action, documentary directors make decisions on the editing table, there are also reasons for animators to make decisions not only from an aesthetic point of view, but the emotional efficiency of choosing the styles and techniques. Therefore, animation documentaries always contain several layers in creating meaning which allows multiple communications through the perspectives of director, animator and the subjects. In this chapter I am going to analyse in detail why artists choose a specific technique to portray the event, and how these methodologies strengthen the content. I will analyse three documentary shorts: Abductees (1995/Paul Vester), Six Weeks in June (1996/ Stuart Hilton) and Silence (1998/Sylvie Bringas and Orly Yadin). And the discussion will be based on a documentary discourse rather than just technically discussing animation skills and aesthetic.
Abductees (1995/Paul Vester)
At first, Abductees is a problematic work to labelled as a documentary for me since there is no proof as to whether there are other life forms in the universe. The statements of the victims being kidnapped by aliens sound like a sci-fi movie and was very unrealistic to me. There is an absence of footage about these series of incidents and the film only relies on victim’s memories which are questionable. But even though we could never find out if the evidence that the abductees had experienced is true or not, the conceptual states of mind of these people are incredibly impressive. As Clare Kitson says that ‘the film did have a strong documentary aspect, but its subject was not the abductions themselves but these people’s psyches.’(2)
– Different styles and techniques response to different ‘accents’ of the abductees.
Vester is aware that it is just ‘a’ truth, not ‘the’ truth about alien abduction, the focus is not on the content of the stories told by the abductees, but the way they delineated the incidents from vague memories under hypnosis. With this understanding, I started to see the film differently. Throughout the film I am conscious that the images were not reference to reality but the imitation / visualization of what the abductees described. There is a blurred distinction between fantasy, dreams, memories and reality, even one of the interviewees herself doubted about her experience by saying ‘were they dreams? Or was it real?’ The idea of ‘a memory is not a solid thing but something that changes over time'(Linda William,1993) that reveals the nature of a human’s mind, iconography and sensation of the subject matter.
The film is constructed in a very fragmented way which refracts the nature of memories, that is ‘not unitary representable truths but…a palimpsest’ (L. William, 1993). The pieces of the past are rewritten through time and it is never a fully represented truth. This concept can be invoked through a wide range of animation styles and techniques in this film; it is a mixture of different personal inputs and media like live-action footage, thus adding a multifaceted aspect to the fragmented structure. The outlook of aliens and stories were collected and repeated with various illustrative styles which invite a very powerful acknowledgement of the wide interpretation from different people.
Even when the images are portraying the same subject matter, the visual style creates a totally different sensation and emotion; the sentimental feeling depends on visual graphics, a loose pencil outline is very different from a hard-edged ink drawing. The film inter-cuts various interviewees and the description of each interviewee is visualized through various styles. The director was conscious of the visual impact on each session, each time it is drawn in a different technique and style, even though they all portrayed the same subject: an alien. However, this jump of different styles doesn’t create any sense of absurdity to me as they are obviously representing each unique abductee’s memories and visions. No doubt Paul’s intention is to match the style with the abductees’ accounts, but these changing styles generate a greater sense of the documentary and lso turn it into a fluid status. It created the ambiguity of the spoken ‘reality’ and the fantasy world. Besides, some of the drawings are from the unprofessional and self-taught people with limited resources and abilities to portray the facts.
Next time we will focus on another two animation shorts example, Silence and Six weeks in June.
1.Williams, Linda. “Mirrors without Memories: Truth, History and the New Documentary.” Film Quarterly. Vol. 46, No. 3, Spring 1993: 14.
2.Clare Kitson, ‘British animation: The Channel 4 factor’, Parliament Hill Publishing. 2008, p.153.