Coming at You…

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-)documentary Inside 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’.

Leonardo's Mind

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.

Animated Mockumentary?

Parody, pastiche and fakery is surely an indication of a genre’s ‘arrival’? We have to be aware of characteristic traits of, for example, observational documentary and docusoaps, for something like The Office to chime a chord. If that’s the case, then does the upcoming release of the film version of the not-so-truthful (auto)biography of dead Monty Python member Graham Chapman, A Liar’s Autobiography (first published as a book in 1980), help place animated documentary squarely on the documentary map? Perhaps. Although, while the film’s subject matter would clearly be nigh-on impossible to represent in live-action (bar resorting to undoubtedly lame reconstructions), I’m not sure it adopts many of the representational strategies seen in autobiographical animated docs such as Waltz with Bashir.

I didn’t love the film, which is a shame as I really wanted to. It lags in too many places and the humour is hit-and-miss. Yet, it does successfully inhabit the irreverent, anarchic-surrealist tone of the Monty Python ‘ouvre’ with plenty of bizarre digressions and a refusal to give the audience a linear narrative of Chapman’s life (the film is ‘narrated’ by Chapman, using an audio recording of him reading his ‘autobiography’ shortly prior to his death, so that might partly explain the gaps and emphases in the film). I’m also undecided how I feel about the schizophrenic animation style. The filmmakers recruited 14 different independent animation companies, which is a good thing for the UK animation industry, but not so great for the film’s cohesion. Still, there’s some great stuff in there including the two parts animated by London-based Sherbert: the Cameron Diaz-voiced Freud section using stop-motionFreud_Sherbet

and the cel animation representation of Chapman’s Cambridge daysSherbet_Cambridge_1

The film is out (in 3D) in the UK at the beginning of February and you can watch the trailer here