3: Animation and Non-Fiction (January 2021)

“I am interested in how the materiality of an image can support its
meaning, the tearing or disintegration of paper and marks alluding to
the criminal and emotional disruption of public space. The police
violence in America is happening almost too fast to comprehend and
almost certainly too fast to document. In a series that started with the
death of Trayvon Martin in 2012, I have been documenting the last
image in the victims of police shootings lives. In this film the drawn
footage is worked and reworked until the figures merge with the
landscape and the paper is destroyed. There is a sense of burning,
referencing lynching and also foreshadowing the subsequent riots.”

Catherine Anyango Grünewald, Live, Moments Ago (The Death of Mike Brown) (n.d)

This section looks at work which attempts to follow the footsteps of the Lumière Brothers in using animation to observe and respond to the world through both the showing of actuality within animation and the presentation of the underlying process of becoming animation.

It looks at artists and experimental animators who have focused on the quality of animation existing in time and place. Artists concerned with making animation that is self-aware, exploring ways in which an audience’s perception of time can be manipulated and ways in which animation can relate and respond directly to the context in which it is made. In most cases, the purpose of these animation artists has been to establish an ethical dimension to the making of animation beyond entertainment and spectacle.

Project 1:
Process Document

“When we look at something and see the particular shape of it we are
only looking at it’s after-life. It’s real life is in the movement by which it
got to be that shape.”

Len Lye, Figures of Motion: Selected Writings (1985) OUP Australia and New Zealand

All moving image involves different types of time:

  • ‘narrative time’ – the amount of time that is spanned within the story or piece
  • ‘discourse’ or ‘viewing time’ – the amount of time it takes to experience a story through reading or watching it unfold
  • ‘production time’ – the time it took to produce the piece.

The latter, ‘production time’ is hidden from the audience in most animations. This project focuses on animation artists who “use the process of animation not as a means of exposition, but as a means of discovery. Qualities of time, material, light and place can be explored through the making of the animation. The resulting animation thereby becomes a document of the process and the viewer is presented with a revelatory record of its own becoming.”

There is an extensive range of inventive techniques that artist animators have devised in order to draw an audience’s attention to production time and production time can become a core element of the animation itself e.g. changes in light, wear and tear, energy, accumulation or even the animator herself being visible.

Natural Light

When included in the frame of an animation, natural light highlights the
difference between production time and viewing time. This is most often seen
through the flicker in time-lapse video. Unlike time-lapse video, animation is not
constrained by strictly set intervals of time between shots. The duration between
each shot can be manipulated so that time can be seen to slow down or speed
up. Using basic principles of animation, shadows can be made to hesitate or
race, reflections made to boil or linger.

E3.1: Animation Light Study

Gestures and process of movement

E3.2: Gestures

Material Accumulation, Erosion and Trace

When the audience notices the presence of the animator through, for example,
the tactile fact of a drawing on paper, this is a distancing effect, much like
noticing the strings of a puppet. It highlights the craft of the animator, not unlike
the use of ‘gesture’ in painting. Furthermore, the viewer is made aware of the
animator through production time; the build-up of layers of a substance or
through the life and durability of the material itself.

E3.3 Accumulation, destruction or trace


‘Rotoscoping’. This is the process of frame-by-frame tracing of recorded movements of actual humans or events. There are several ways in which filmed or live media can be used as a reference point for the creation of digital animated movement: motion capture, interpolated rotoscoping, mattes and frame by frame rotoscoping. However, this is not an easy option. It limits possibilities of imagining new narratives and worlds that do not have accessible reference material. ‘Real world’ actors and objects do not have an outline so the result is often of a piece of animation that is clearly traced in a way that detracts from the original footage, rather than adding to it, with the use of lines that are either too flaccid or too stiff.

Research Task 3.1: Evaluating Rotoscoping

E3.4: Rotoscoping

E3.5: Garbage Mattes and Basic Compositing

Project 2:
Animated places


It is a source of fierce academic debate whether terms such as ‘animated’ and
‘documentary’ can be joined together in any meaningful way. The word
animation refers to ‘highly mediated and manipulated imagery’ and the word
documentary suggests a ‘story based on facts’. In the unit Fact and Fiction the
proposition was made that the boundaries between narrative film and
documentary film are somewhat blurred. In that unit we explored questions
including ‘what, or whose, reality is being referred to, or constructed in a
documentary?’. It seems misguided, therefore to believe that documentary
somehow ‘captures’ reality. Perhaps, if documentaries are understood as
offering analyses of reality, ones that are often highly personalized and
constructed, then the seeming contradiction between ‘animated’ and
‘documentary’ is not as obvious as it first appears.


In making any kind of moving image, place is important in how locations and
chosen and depicted, and through this, ideas of places can be constructed. This
concern has been taken up by so called ‘landscape animators’, a growing trend of
large-scale animation that is set in the landscape, cityscape or within the built
environment, inspired by landscape artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, Christo
and Robert Smithson. These artists normally work with found objects to create
site-specific animations, influenced by the location and the natural materials
found on the site. The large-scale nature of this work entails the inclusion of the
duality of animation and environmental time.

Research: Landscape animators


The word indexical refers to the existential bond between copy and reality. It is the phenomenon of a sign pointing to (or indexing) some object in the context in which it occurs. It has been defined in terms of the camera producing a “footprint” of the ‘profilmic event’ (reality). Whatever is placed before the camera is recorded and through a chemical process of registering light produces the resulting image. The question that plagues the animated documentary debate is: how far can this indexicality be pushed? In order for a film to be powerful, it seems to gain more power as it plays with our knowing disbelief in what is happening and our belief in the reality of a convincing visually rendered scene (eg using 3D animation software, lighting and editing).

E3.6: Document a process

E3.7: Keyframing Exercise

Assignment 3:
Animating in Situ