Animated Movies with a Strong Message
Documentary animation is hard to define, and it’s hard to say exactly what sort of hybrid it is. The name tells us that it’s a combination of animated and documentary film, but the mixture ratio depends on each individual example. What type of audience would want to watch that, and who are those films meant for? Most animated documentary movies target adults. The problem is that those people who pay to watch documentaries don’t necessarily have to be interested in animated movies as well, and they might even consider them childish and not take them seriously. Many filmmakers have decided to focus on that genre specifically in spite of that and they claim that they are given more freedom than when creating normal featured or animated films.
How do You get Someone to Finance your Idea?
There are many drawbacks when it comes to creating documentary animation. First one which you definitely have to deal with is financing. Production houses don’t usually value this form as much as others because it’s not as profitable as mainstream commercial films targeting broad audiences. If you want to make a documentary, why not just shoot one? Why do you need to spend a 100 times more money on an animated version of something you can easily film for next to nothing? Those are the types of questions you inevitably get asked while looking for funds for your film. So you basically end up pitching an idea for a too expensive documentary which is not likely ever to make any money. You have to rely on the quality of your idea. Create a perfect moodboard, synopsis, animatic etc. Make your idea irresistible. That’s probably the only way you will get someone to finance your idea for an animated documentary.
First Animated Documentary
The first of the genre was The Sinking of the Lusitania by Winsor McCay, made in 1918. It depicted events from 1915., when a great passenger ship called Lusitania got hit by a torpedo shot from German submarine and sunk. Many people drowned and it was a tragic moment in history, much like the sinking of the Titanic. The event couldn’t, of course, be photographed so a pioneer of animation, Winsor McCay was assigned to picture the event so that the world could see what had really happened. It took him two years to finish the film which was later shown as the authentic footage and used as war propaganda. So the first example of an animated documentary was made out of necessity one might say. It was a medium which enabled people to depict events which couldn’t be captured on camera.
Today many films function as hybrids. They combine authentic footage with animated scenes and thus give a completely different feel and atmosphere. One of the best examples are films on war such as Waltz with Bashir by Ari Folman from 2008, which depicts Folman in search of his lost memories of his life as a soldier in the Lebanese war. The theme is serious, dark and it’s hard to watch. Most animated documentary films target such subjects. Usually something that’s significant at the moment; human rights, racism, war, women’s rights, animal testing, sex discrimination etc.
Films such as Ryan (2004) by Chris Landreth that depicts the life of a Canadian animator whose life got destroyed by drug abuse and alcohol or Crulic (2011) by Anca Damian that tells the story of Claudiu Crulic who died in a Polish prison while on hunger strike. Usually it’s about the message the film is supposes to put out, and not about the profit or targeting large worldwide audiences.
Don’t Expect a Profit
One thing that most animated documentaries have in common, and what professional animators usually point out is “low quality animation”. As opposed to feature films, or high budget animated films, this genre won’t yield high profits or let you sell toys or other items depicting characters from the film, as some Disney or Pixar films do. You won’t see many cups, toasters, pencils or school bags with images of real wars, drug addicts or people with STD’s. It just doesn’t sell. That’s why they’re usually created by small teams of animators who don’t really expect profits, but do it for some other personal reasons they might have.
There are exceptions to the rule. One of them is Flee, a work by Final Cut For Real and Sun Creature Studio, which was awarded the Disney Channel award at this years’ Annecy International Animated Film Festival. Although being an art film with a rather heavy subject to digest (human trafficking), the technical part was done in the highest quality; as if it were a high budget film.
One of my favorite examples of animated documentaries is Creature Comforts by Nick Park with the Aardman Studio. It’s a complete opposite of most films in the genre. Fun, easy to watch, and with almost no subject at all. It’s a puppet animation mockumentary first shown in 1989. It developed into a series in 2003., and has become one of Parks’ most famous creations.
It’s not a real documentary, but was rather made to look like one. The result is completely astonishing. As if you watch animated clay cast of Seinfeld or Monty Python at their best. It matches animated zoo animals with recordings of people talking about certain topics from everyday life; doctors, food, gardening etc.