All quiet…

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.


Still from Loop (Samantha Moore)

Back in the saddle (sort of)…

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

Cover Story

The final touches are being completed on my book, including the cover – which I’m really pleased with.

Book cover














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

Animated Memories

A link to my post for the Animation Studies 2.0 blog on animated documentary and memory. This is something that I talk about in my book, which is edging closer to a ‘release date’. Final copy editing touches are being completed now, and I’m anticipating it coming out by the summer.

Writing, editing and re-visiting

The process of writing my book (nearly done now!) has been, as most writing experiences are, both pleasurable and painful. Finding better, clearer and more articulate ways to talk about films I first wrote about in my PhD nearly four years ago is at times a struggle. But, one of the fun things has been having an excuse to re-watch films and to remind myself why I first found this topic fascinating. After all, it’s the richness, creativity and diversity in the films that will (hopefully) make the book interesting and relevant.

Re-viewing Samantha’s Moore‘s wonderful An Eyeful of Sound for my chapter on animated docs that evoke subjective, conscious experiences, and attempting to articulate how and why this film does such a good job of evoking audiovisual synaesthesia has made me realise all over again how truly brilliant Sam’s film is. She avoids many of the cliches of this type of animated doc and doesn’t resort to directly visualising the experiences described by interviewees on the soundtrack or to easy visual metaphors. Instead, the film really manages to give a sense of what audiovisual perception is like for those who have this unique neurological condition. And it’s a great advert for why animation is so much more suitable than live-action for making documentaries about subjective experience, especially subjective experiences that are unusual to the majority of viewers. Have a look below

Award nomination!

I just found out that my article, ‘Absence, Excess and Epistemological Expansion: Towards a framework for the study of animated documentary‘ (published in Animation: an interdisciplinary journal‘s Nov 2011 edition) has been shortlisted for the essay award from the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies (BAFTSS). How exciting! The competition is pretty fierce, though… Results announced 20th September.

Animating the Inside

While I was at SCMS in Boston in March I picked up a new collection edited by Jayne Pilling – Animating the Unconscious: Desire, Sexuality and Animation.  It’s an interesting combination of scholarly essays, interviews with animators as well as pieces that visually explore the creative process.  It’s great timing, as I’m including a discussion of Ruth Lingford‘s 2010 film Little Deaths in my book (which I’m currently working away at to my September deadline).  The film, which is about orgasms, was finished after I completed my PhD.  While I included a chapter on animating emotions and deeply subjective experiences, such as mental health issues, in my dissertation, I didn’t get to explore the issue of desire.

In her chapter on memory, desire and animating the sexual event in Pilling’s book (see info section for full details), Karen Beckman asks how animated films document real experiences of sex and desire and, also, what understanding of sex and desire we are left with as viewers (see p. 188).  Lingford’s film is mostly monochrome (white on black background) and at times abstract.  Over these evocative images we hear the comments of anonymous interviewees, describing their experience of orgasm.  Lingford herself has described the film as quite sad.  I agree, and I don’t think this comes just from the words we hear the interviewees describe (themes of connection and loneliness run through what they say).  I’m still thinking through where this impression of melancholy comes from, visually.  But I think it’s partly to do with the way the animated images seem to float against the inky-black background, seemingly unanchored in space in a way that accentuates the individuation of the experiences being described.

Animating architecture

Last night I saw Unfinished Spaces (Alysa Nahmias & Benjamin Murray), a documentary about the Schools of Arts in Cuba that makes parallels between the chequered history of those buildings and the evolution of the Cuban revolution.  The screening was organised by the wonderful DocHouse, a fantastic London-based organisation.  The film, which is pretty conventional in its formal presentation (archive footage and photos, talking-heads interviews, a very literal soundtrack, etc) got me thinking about the representation of architecture and architects in documentary film.  Nathanial Kahn’s My Architect, an elegy for his emotionally and physically elusive father, immediately comes to mind, and I’m a fan of that film.  But, perhaps more interesting, and definitely more charming, is American Homes, an animated documentary that charts the history of residential architecture in the US.  The film is beautiful in its simplicity, I think.  But it also demonstrates the potential for the non-fictional use of animation.  The black-and-white line drawings enable a clarity in detail and the frame-by-frame nature of animation means that buildings can be constructed, and deconstructed, layer by layer and houses are built and dismantled before our eyes.  I particularly like the use of the little map in the bottom right hand corner, to help orientate us geographically as well as historically.  You learn a lot about American architecture through this film (or at least, I did) and I wonder if it would have been as effective in live action.  (I think not, but then I would say that…).