Animation Discourse – Blog Post 1: Animated Documentaries

Animated Documentaries


I am interested in this subject, mainly when it comes to showing the emotions of a person through animated means.

Understanding the Different Types of Documentaries

I worked with a couple of guys from the class to discuss how gesture helps accentuate and evoke emotions from the viewer. However, I want to focus on this aspect. Emotion. How animation lends a hand to explore complex feelings, and gives us a visual aid to base these off of.

In the article we read, Sophie Mobb’s talks about the different mediums of animation, specifically rotoscoping  and motion capture. Although this is a great indicator as to how can animation mediums affect the story. I will be mainly focusing on a few things that Ryan brought up in the presentation with my own research. 

Throughout the presentation Ryan Hollinger talked about the different types of documentaries. I would like to go out and find actual animated shorts on this aspect. To understand the implementation of them, they are all subject to be chopped and change in light of new information.

Persuasive Documentaries

Persuasive documentaries consist of one sided narratives and if the audience is not aware of the message or issues it can be morally wrong as there will be manipulation at play. That is to say if there is none already.

In an essay about this very topic Awi Rabelista Nijhof states,

“It involves change and it requires more (subconscious) cognitive processing from a viewer than none-persuasive documentary films. It operates as a process and involves aspects of narrativity, media- and neuropsychology.” (Nijhof 2017) 

Blackfish (2013)

Expository Documentaries 

Usually exchanges a dialogue that addresses the audience using different means, be it off screen exposition or monologue or narration.

The aim of this style of documentary is to educate the audience and there is a lot of research backing the information talked about within these documentaries so that there is no misrepresentation or miss-quoting.

This Is Our World ()

Observational Documentaries

According to Nelson Walker,

“Capturing the spontaneity and uninhibited flow of life and events as they happen. Often adopts the visual language of fictional film intended to articulate continuous time and space (e.g. diverse camera angles, shot/reverse shot, close-ups, pans and tilts)”

This can simply mean that this style of documentary is explorative and observes everyday life.

Reflexive Documentaries

In an article titled “Six Primary Styles of Documentary Production.”, Peter Biesterfeld describes this form as,

“Documentaries made in reflexive mode provoke audiences to “question the authenticity of documentary in general,” writes Bill Nichols. Reflexive docs challenge assumptions and expectations about the form itself.” (Biesterfeld, 2015)

Although this type of documentary is hard to pin when people are talking about it.

On one hand we have this explanation from Peter Biesterfeld and another from a few sources including Ryan Hollinger that say that, film makers put themselves in front of the camera and begins the narrative and verbal content.

This way of documenting seems to be a little more personal at times, but that is down to the film maker. Take cheffernan’s (online name) research for example, they look into this type of documentary and found and film maker named Nick Broomfield.

Snippet from Kurt and Courtney (1998)

Although a controversial topic, we see the reflexive style take fold, where in we see the film maker ask questions, there is limited to no crew, making it feel much personal like we are the only ones who know about this. The way it is shot is from a sitting persons point of view too like we are there.

The controversy and subject matter within this documentary, especially this clip, is hearsay. Following the whole question the what you see model reflexive seems to incorporate.

Participatory Documentaries

Participatory documentaries is what you would call the encounters between the documentarian and subject. There is an exchange of questions and a chance to tell a story or other narratives.

It often presents the film makers point of view on  particular subject.

A perfect example of this is found within the animated documentary, Ryan (2004). Although there is a mix of styles within this, I believe it reads more participatory.

Animated Vs Real Life Documentaries

Okay so, how do animated documentaries differ from one another?

Well lets look at two similar interviews. The animated documentary Ryan and the small documentary about the documentary.

A brief background to this documentary Chris Landreth the director and animator on this animated documentary, initially set out to create a interview that was all about Ryan Larkin, however, this was not the case as e states in an interview with Greg Singer,

“But the thing that happened was there was this snippet of conversation that you hear and see in the film where the subject of alcoholism comes up. And its a big subject. Its obviously a big subject in Ryans world, because he acts so impassioned and angrily toward it. But it is also a big subject in my world, too, and because of that, it brought the interviewer (me) way more into the story than I would have planned beforehand.” (Chris Landreth, 2004)

I believe that what Chris said about this part of the documentary to be true, he become involved. However, he was involved from the start.

That is what makes the documentary hard to finger, stylistic wise. I believe it pulls a lot from the styles I researched above. I can see some reflexive, participatory, expository and observational.

I believe these where all considered as this is not shot like a standard documentary, it is shot, and composed like a film. It is very dark and theatrical.

However, if you look at the real life documentary of Ryan we do not get this sense. Yes, we see his struggles, but there is nothing about the way that it was shot to be dramatic. It is just a simple record and edit.

I think the animation aids in the accentuation of the thoughts, raw emotions and feelings and turns them into abstract animation that impacts the audience much harder than watching Ryan sit on a bench and talk. We know his struggle, but we do not feel it or see it, so there is no relation there. That is one thing that the animated documentary got right.

It presented to audience that this is a man who is going through hardship in the way that he was modelled and animated. His model shows him torn, ripped with pieces and chunks of flesh missing and this only gets worse. As the animated documentary progresses, we see Ryan deteriorate emotionally and physically unravelling as Chris brings him through his past.

His alcoholism has a personality too, as he drinks from a flask that has arms to come out and hug him, signalling his relationship with alcohol a loving one.

Throughout the short, we see the objects interact with Ryan, highlighting his need and love for alcohol, cigarettes, his mental stability and life. His anger to certain questions are all visually appealing, which sounds awful, put is true.

The same cannot be said, however for the real life interview of Ryan. Although, we do pick up on his personality and we are immediately aware of his mannerisms. But with the real life interview there is no vibrancy, there is no interesting visual, its just a simple interview.

That’s what I think animated documentaries do. They emphasise the way a character can feel in an easy to digest way to the audience.

Take the scene in which we see Chris ask Ryan if he can stop drinking alcohol because he wants Ryan to “thrive”. Ryan takes a moment and bursts into anger, which again is presented through the use of animation.

Animation seems to add padding to the darker side of documentaries and having these thoughts and feelings animated makes it easier to digest, well I think anyway.

A similar animated documentary comes into form a young boy. His family was brutally murdered and talks about his experience with war and loss. The style is paint on glass and it is interesting to see that the visuals work with the boy speaking. It is wiped away and reconstructs new sentences with more paintings.

It takes what the boy says and allows the viewer to join him in his memories of this dark time. This documentary shows the power animated documentaries have as we follow him through the interview we get a glimpse of how he feels, what he saw and from his perspective how he sees the world.


I believe that these examples that I have talked about and analysed should showcase how animation can be used within documentaries to show issues, topics, emotions and feelings through animation or even paintings.



  1. Persuasive doc quote –
  2. Nelson Walker –
  3. Today documentary –
  4. kurt and courtney –
  5. Gabriela Cowperthwaite – Blackfish 2013 –
  6. Chris Landreth quote –
  7. types of animation quote –

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