Animated Documentaryhas won the 2015 McLaren-Lambart Award for Best Book on Animation Published 2013-14 by the Society for Animation Studies. It’s such an honour to be recognised by this association, which has been a great source of support and inspiration for this book from its very earliest days as my PhD research.
Here’s what the award committee said about the book:
Animated Documentary is a vital addition to both animation scholarship and film studies scholarship more broadly, expertly achieving the tricky challenge of synthesising these two scholarly traditions to provide a compelling and brilliantly coherent account of the animated documentary form. At the heart of Honess Roe’s book is the conviction that animated documentary “has the capacity to represent temporally, geographically, and psychologically distal aspects of life beyond the reach of live action” (p. 22). As a representational strategy, Honess Roe details how animated documentary can be seen to adopt techniques of “mimetic substitution, non-mimetic substitution and evocation” in response to the limitations of live action material (p. 26). Animated Documentary will without doubt become an essential resource for many years to come for anyone interested in the intersection of animation and documentary.
It’s just been confirmed that the paperback version (aka a much more affordable one) of my book Animated Documentary is in production and should be released in February or March. I’ll post info here when I have more details.
The blog has been quiet of late, as my time is taken up with new research projects that move away (but not entirely!) from animated documentary. I have been keeping a note of new publications though and have updated the animated docs info page. If you’ve published something on animated docs, or know of something that’s not on the list, please let me know.
Finally, I wanted to belatedly congratulate the teams involved in the Silent Signal project in winning a large project grant from the Wellcome Trust. The project brings together animators and scientists, including two of my favourite animated documentary makers: Samantha Moore and Ellie Land. This work is of real relevance to one of my new areas of research and I can’t wait to see the finished films.
Those of you who check in with my blog will have noticed it’s been a bit quiet recently. The main reason is pretty adorable (and she turns one in a few weeks), but it’s also because now that my book is out there and doing its thing, I’m beginning to move on to new research and writing projects (well, as much as that nearly-1-year-old will allow). However, animated documentaries are never too far from my thoughts – I’ll be talking about them, in part, in a keynote I’m giving at the St. Andrews postgraduate Film Studies symposium next week: Approaching Animation and they’ll feature in a presentation I’m giving on animated dance at the Society for Animation studies conference in Toronto in June. I’ll also be updating the Animated docs info on this blog soon with information on recent publications in the field.
Meanwhile, I did manage to escape the nappies briefly during my maternity leave when I snuck out to watch the animated documentary screenings that were part of the London International Animation Festival. One film really caught my attention – Carla MacKinnon’s Devil in the Room, made as part of her MA at the Royal College of Art. The film is about sleep paralysis and I think it makes the most of the specificity of different textures, techniques and materialities of animation to evoke this sleep disorder. We’re increasingly being reminded how animation is now everywhere – from the devices we carry in our pockets to the ‘invisible’ special effects in mainstream Hollywood movies. In the face of that ubiquity, films like MacKinnon’s remind us of the importance of considering what is unique about specific styles of animation. MacKinnon used a combination of live action, compositing, stop-motion and CGI to create her film. I found the puppet animation particularly, creepily, evocative. You can watch the film below and read more about the project of which it forms part here
My book, Animated Documentary, has now been published by Palgrave.
You can order from Palgrave’s UK website, with 50% discount (enter WANIMATED2013a) or from Palgrave’s US website with 20% discount (enter XP356ED). I also have a discount order form for those in Australia – just get in touch via the ‘contact me’ form on the About page and I can email you the form.
The final touches are being completed on my book, including the cover – which I’m really pleased with.
The image is from Jonathan Hodgson‘s Feeling My Way– the first animated documentary I ever saw, as an MA student in Michael Renov’s documentary seminar at the University of Southern California. The film, which lays animation over live action POV footage of Hodgson’s walk through London to a morning meeting, had a real effect on me – homesick as I was in Los Angeles for London. The animation gives insight into Hodgson’s train of thought on that morning walk and it’s like being inside someone else’s head as he makes his way through parts of London I know well. That first got me thinking about how animation can function in documentary, as I put it in the book, to evoke the ‘world in here’ of subjective experience.
More info on the book on Palgrave Macmillan’s website
Last week I attended the 3D Creative Summit at the BFI on London’s Southbank. It’s an event that’s mostly geared at practitioners and industry professionals, but they had a kind of mini-conference strand of a few papers that I participated in – talking about the use of 3D in art house documentary. One of the highlights was spying David Attenborough across the other side of the green room (actually, I heard him before I saw him – as a colleague said ‘the voice!’), the downside was that Attenborough and my panel were scheduled in the same slot – tough competition.
I enjoyed attending a couple of presentations that were geared more towards documentary. While such things at these events are often of the ‘show and tell’ variety, it’s still interesting to hear how things get made and get some insight into the production process. One presentation was on the Sky 3D (drama-)documentaryInside the Mind of Leonardo. (Watch the trailer here) I think like the majority of the country, we don’t have Sky (let alone Sky 3D), on our TV, so I missed its broadcast. But the clips they showed in the presentation were pretty impressive (and I’m someone who, ironically considering my academic interest in the use of 3D in documentary and animation, remains somewhat nonplussed by a lot of the 3D stuff out there). The premise was to use 3D to bring da Vinci’s notebooks ‘to life’, with the actor Peter Capaldi acting as a kind of vessel. This also involves, of course, the use of animation and one scene we viewed that I thought worked really well animated da Vinci’s drawings of war machines, with various missiles flying ‘out of the screen’.
3D is, let’s face it, often used as a gimmick (filmmakers in this and other presentations admitted as much), but I left the Inside the Mind of Leonardo talk thinking ‘why not?’ It’s fun and visually engaging and might even help the audience (those who are actually able to see it in 3D) engage with history and the work of Da Vinci. Is it the way forward? I think that depends on whether the availability and affordability of in-home 3D technology catches up quickly enough before the enthusiasm of commissioning editors and studio execs for 3D wanes. I did think it significant, however, that the filmmakers (director Julian Jones and producer Helen Conlan) pointed out that for some international territories and broadcasters they had to make a more ‘traditional’ version of the programme (using a narrator, something they eschewed in the Sky version). It seems that visual and narrative ‘innovation’ in documentary is still a tough sell in some parts of the world.