Animated documentary

The animated documentary is a genre of film which combines animation and documentary. This genre should not be confused with documentaries about movie and TV animation history that feature excerpts.


Winsor McCay's 1918 film The Sinking of the Lusitania was the first animated documentary.

The first recognized example of this genre is Winsor McCay's 1918 12-minute-long film The Sinking of the Lusitania[1], which uses animation to portray the 1915 sinking of RMS Lusitania after it was struck by two torpedoes launched by a German U-boat; an event of which no recorded film footage is known to exist.[2] Since the 1920s, animation has been used in educational and social guidance films, and has often been used to illustrate abstract concepts in mainly live-action examples of these genres. Early examples of fully animated educational films are The Einstein Theory of Relativity (1923) and Evolution (1925) by Max and Dave Fleischer.[2] Walt Disney used it in films such as Victory Through Air Power (1943), How to Catch a Cold (1951) and Our Friend the Atom (1957).[2]

In 1953, Norman McLaren's Neighbours won the Academy Awards for Best Documentary (Short Subject). The award is somewhat considered a mistake, but the fact that it was not only indicated into that category, but also won, shows that, somehow, the animated images spoke to the judges almost like a documentary.

Of Stars and Men, a 1964 animated feature by John Hubley which tells of humankind's quest to find its place in the universe, won an award in the documentary category at the San Francisco Film Festival.[2]

Mosaic Films promoted the use of animated documentaries in the United Kingdom in 2003 with the award-winning series Animated Minds. Commissioned by Channel 4 and directed by Andy Glynne, it uses real testimony from survivors of mental illness, combined with engaging visuals, to climb inside the minds of the mentally distressed. The first series won the award for Best Animation at the Banff World Media Festival (2004).[3]

The 2007 International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam featured a programme of "documentaries that partly or completely consist of animation".[4] In the article written to accompany the event, Kees Driessen talked about the "least controversial" form of the genre; the "illustrated radio documentary", citing Aardman Animation's 1987 film Lip Synch: Going Equipped (directed by Peter Lord) as an example.[5] One of the most consistent creators of this form of animated documentary today is Paul Fierlinger.[6] His films from the late 1980s-onward typically feature recordings of people talking about certain topics in their lives (such as alcohol abuse or loneliness), accompanied by Fierlinger's animation which mainly illustrates the stories in a realistic way. This is a contrast from films and series such as Aardman's Creature Comforts, which recontextualise such audio recordings by combining them with more fanciful, non-realistic animated interpretations.

Fierlinger's 1995 animated feature-length autobiography Drawn from Memory, in which he is the main subject as well as the director, voice actor and only animator [7], was also called a documentary by Driessen.[5] This technique of animating interviews has also been used by other filmmakers, such as Chris Landreth in his Oscar-winning 2004 short film Ryan (mainly based on an interview done with animator Ryan Larkin) and Jonas Odell in the 2006 Swedish film Aldrig som första gången! (Never Like the First Time!, consisting of animated segments of people's descriptions of their first time engaging in sex). The film Chicago 10, about the Chicago Seven incident, received some acclaim for recreating courtroom scenes using animation. Another documentary with animated elements is the German film Neukölln Unlimited, which uses animation to depict past traumas of its protagonists.

The Oscar-nominated 2008 Israeli film Waltz with Bashir [8] was advertised as being the first feature-length animated documentary.[9]

Some animated documentaries that were nominated or won for Oscars are So Much for So Little (1949) [10], Sunrise Over Tiananmen Square (1998) [11], The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation (2005), I Met the Walrus (2007) and Last Day of Freedom (2015). [12]


  1. ^ 10 Great Animated Documetaries-Blog-Independent Lens-PBS
  2. ^ a b c d DelGaudio, Sybil. If Truth Be Told, Can Toons Tell It? Documentary and Animation. Film History 9:2 (1997) p. 189-199
  3. ^ "Brits dominate Banff Rockies". Broadcast. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
  4. ^ IDFA Animation Programme, 2007.
  5. ^ a b Driessen, Kees. More than just talking mice Archived July 24, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. IDFA Magazine. 2007.
  6. ^ Robinson, Chris. Waking Life: The Truth is in the Animation Archived June 21, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Montage Magazine. 2004.
  7. ^ Drawn From Memory DVD-Animation Show of Shows
  8. ^ The 10 Best Animated Documentaries from The Past 10 Years « Taste of Cinema
  9. ^ Ide, Wendy. Waltz With Bashir. Times Online. May 14, 2008.
  10. ^ The First Exact Academy Awards Tie: 1950 Oscars
  11. ^ "The 71st Academy Awards (1999) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved November 19, 2011.
  12. ^ "A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness" winning Best Documentary Short-Oscars on YouTube

Further reading

  • Honess Roe, Annabelle (2013). Animated Documentary. Palgrave Macmillan UK. ISBN 978-1-349-43709-2.

External links

A Lecture on Camouflage

A Lecture on Camouflage is a 1944 American animated film directed by Chuck Jones. A Private Snafu cartoon short made for the troops during World War II.

Bacon and God's Wrath

Bacon and God's Wrath is a Canadian short documentary film, which premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. Directed by Sol Friedman and mixing animation with live action interview footage, the film centres on Razie Brownstone, a 90-year-old Jewish woman who, after undergoing a crisis of faith which has led her to reject many of the tenets of her religion, is preparing to cook and eat bacon for the first time in her life.At TIFF, the film received an Honourable Mention from the jury for the Best Canadian Short Film award. The film was later named to TIFF's year-end Canada's Top Ten list of the best Canadian short films of the year.In 2016 the film won the Short Film Jury Award for Non-fiction at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, and the Canadian Screen Award for Best Short Documentary at the 4th Canadian Screen Awards.

Chicago 10 (film)

Chicago 10: Speak Your Peace is a 2007 American animated documentary written and directed by Brett Morgen that tells the story of the Chicago Eight. The film features the voices of Hank Azaria, Dylan Baker, Nick Nolte, Mark Ruffalo, Roy Scheider, Liev Schreiber, James Urbaniak, and Jeffrey Wright in an animated reenactment of the trial based on transcripts and rediscovered audio recordings. It also contains archival footage of Abbie Hoffman, David Dellinger, William Kunstler, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale, Tom Hayden, and Leonard Weinglass, and of the protest and riot itself. The title is drawn from a quote by Rubin, who said, "Anyone who calls us the Chicago Seven is a racist. Because you're discrediting Bobby Seale. You can call us the Chicago Eight, but really we're the Chicago Ten, because our two lawyers went down with us."

City of Gold (1957 film)

City of Gold is a 1957 Canadian documentary film by Colin Low and Wolf Koenig, chronicling Dawson City during the Klondike Gold Rush. The film is narrated by Pierre Berton and produced by the National Film Board of Canada.

Cosmic Zoom

Cosmic Zoom is a 1968 short film directed by Eva Szasz and produced by the National Film Board of Canada. It depicts the relative size of everything in the universe in an 8-minute sequence using animation and animation camera shots.

I Met the Walrus

I Met the Walrus is an animated film directed by Josh Raskin (known for his musical project Kids & Explosions) and produced by Jerry Levitan. It stars Levitan and John Lennon. The film's pen illustration is by James Braithwaite and computer illustration is by Alex Kurina.The film is based on an interview of John Lennon by Jerry Levitan in 1969. Levitan, then 14 years old, tracked Lennon to his hotel room at Toronto's King Edward Hotel after hearing a rumour that Lennon had been sighted at the Toronto Airport. Jerry made his way into John Lennon's suite and persuaded John to agree to an interview. The animation is based on Levitan's 30-minute recording of the interview, which was edited down to 5 minutes.

The film was created in 2006-2007, produced by Jerry Levitan and supported by a grant from Bravo!FACT. It premiered March 22, 2007 at This is London, a Toronto nightclub. Since then, I Met the Walrus has appeared at film festivals around the world. It has won many awards including a 2009 Daytime Emmy in the New Approaches, Daytime Entertainment category, Best Animated Short awards for the American Film Institute and the Middle East International Film Festival. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It was also included in the Animation Show of Shows. It was selected to be one of 25 YouTube videos to be part of the first Guggenheim Museum/YouTube Play "A Biennial of Creative Video".

I Met The Walrus has since been adapted as a book, authored by Jerry Levitan and published by Harper Collins.

Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?

Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? is a 2013 French animated documentary film by Michel Gondry about the linguist, philosopher, and political activist Noam Chomsky.

It's Your 20th Television Anniversary, Charlie Brown

It's Your 20th Television Anniversary, Charlie Brown is an animated documentary television special based on characters from the Peanuts comic strip.

Hosted by Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz, the television special originally aired on the CBS network in 1985.

Jutra (film)

Jutra is a Canadian short documentary film, directed by Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre and released in 2014. Blending live action with animation, the film is a portrait of influential Quebec filmmaker Claude Jutra, structured as an interview in which Jutra is both the questioner and the interview guest.The film premiered at the Saguenay International Short Film Festival in March 2014. It was subsequently screened at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival in the Director's Fortnight stream.The film won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Short Documentary Film at the 3rd Canadian Screen Awards, and the Prix Jutra for Best Animated Short Film at the 17th Jutra Awards.

Lipsett Diaries

Lipsett Diaries (French: Les journaux de Lipsett) is a 2010 short animated documentary about the life and art of collage filmmaker Arthur Lipsett, animated and directed by Theodore Ushev and written by Chris Robinson. The 14-minute film was produced by the National Film Board of Canada in Montreal, where Lipsett had worked from 1958 to 1972, before committing suicide in 1986. The film is narrated by Xavier Dolan.

Money as Debt

Money as Debt is a 2006 animated documentary film by Canadian artist and filmmaker Paul Grignon about the monetary systems practised through modern banking. The film presents Grignon's view of the process of money creation by banks and its historical background, and warns of his belief in its subsequent unsustainability. Subsequent Money as Debt videos include Money as Debt II Promises Unleashed (2009) and Money as Debt III: Evolution Beyond Money (2011).

Rendezvous in Space

Rendezvous in Space is a 1964 documentary film about the future of space exploration, directed by Frank Capra. It is notable for being the final film that Frank Capra directed. The film was funded by Martin Marietta and was shown at the Hall of Science Pavilion of the 1964-1965 New York World's Fair. Animated sections illustrate the invention of gunpowder, a space shuttle resupplying a space station, and the problems to be overcome living for long periods in space.

So Much for So Little

So Much for So Little is a 1949 American short documentary film directed by Chuck Jones. In 1950, it won an Oscar at the 22nd Academy Awards for Documentary Short Subject, tying with A Chance to Live. As a work of the United States Government, the film is in the public domain. The Academy Film Archive preserved So Much for So Little in 2005. Produced during the Harry S. Truman administration, it attained renewed relevance during the Donald Trump administration nearly seven decades later.

Sunrise Over Tiananmen Square

Sunrise Over Tiananmen Square (French: Le jour se lève sur la place Tienanmen) is a 1998 National Film Board of Canada short animated documentary directed by Shui-Bo Wang. It is an autobiography about the director's life, career and ultimate disillusionment with The People's Republic of China. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short, losing to The Personals.Other honours for the film included the Gemini Award for Best History/Biography Documentary program and the award for Best Short Documentary at Hot Docs.

The Sinking of the Lusitania

The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918) is a silent animated short film by American cartoonist Winsor McCay. It is a work of propaganda re-creating the never-photographed 1915 sinking of the British liner RMS Lusitania. At twelve minutes it has been called the longest work of animation at the time of its release. The film is the earliest surviving animated documentary and serious, dramatic work of animation. The National Film Registry selected it for preservation in 2017.

In 1915 a German submarine torpedoed and sank the RMS Lusitania; 128 Americans were among the 1,198 dead. The event outraged McCay, but the newspapers of his employer William Randolph Hearst downplayed the event, as Hearst was opposed to the US joining World War I. McCay was required to illustrate anti-war and anti-British editorial cartoons for Hearst's papers. In 1916, McCay rebelled against his employer's stance and began work on the patriotic Sinking of the Lusitania on his own time with his own money.

The film followed McCay's earlier successes in animation: Little Nemo (1911), How a Mosquito Operates (1912), and Gertie the Dinosaur (1914). McCay drew these earlier films on rice paper, onto which backgrounds had to be laboriously traced; The Sinking of the Lusitania was the first film McCay made using the new, more efficient cel technology. McCay and his assistants spent twenty-two months making the film. His subsequent animation output suffered setbacks, as the film was not as commercially successful as his earlier efforts, and Hearst put increased pressure on McCay to devote his time to editorial drawings.

Tower (2016 film)

Tower is a 2016 animated documentary about the 1966 shootings at the University of Texas at Austin directed and produced by Keith Maitland.The film follows the shooting from the perspectives of several survivors, recreating their recounts via actors filmed and later animated in rotoscoping. The film premiered on March 13, 2016, at South by Southwest, before receiving a limited release by Kino Lorber in the United States on September 28, 2016.

Universe (1960 film)

Universe is a black-and-white short animated documentary made in 1960 by the National Film Board of Canada. It "creates on the screen a vast, awe-inspiring picture of the universe as it would appear to a voyager through space. Realistic animation takes you into far regions of space, beyond the reach of the strongest telescope, past Moon, Sun, and Milky Way into galaxies yet unfathomed."

This visualization is grounded in the nightly work of Dr. Donald MacRae, an astronomer at the David Dunlap Observatory in Richmond Hill, Ontario, a facility formerly owned and operated by the University of Toronto, Canada, and now operated by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada. Using the technology of his era, MacRae prepares his largely manually operated equipment and then photographs, by long exposure, one star. He actually strikes an arc between iron electrodes and makes a simultaneous exposure, which he can compare to the star's spectrum to determine its movement relative to Earth.

The film was a nominee at the 33rd Academy Awards in the category of Best Documentary Short Subject in 1961.

Douglas Rain did the narration for the English version; the French version was titled Notre univers with narration by Gilles Pelletier. Eldon Rathburn composed the musical score.

Victory Through Air Power (film)

Victory Through Air Power is a 1943 American Technicolor animated documentary feature film produced by Walt Disney Productions and released by United Artists on July 17, 1943. It is based on the 1942 book Victory Through Air Power by Alexander P. de Seversky. De Seversky appeared in the film, an unusual departure from the Disney animated feature films of the time.Edward H. Plumb, Paul J. Smith and Oliver Wallace were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.

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