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Animation has become a versatile medium of entertainment and education. A lot of major film studios have started using this genre to bring their visions to the big screen.
Most of us are familiar with feature-length animated films, web series, and cartoons, but animated documentaries are still uncommon and untrendy among the masses to some extent.
Looking back at the history of animation usage in documentaries, it all started in 1918 with animation pioneer Windsor McCay, who spent two years of his life hand-drawing and animating a 12-minute interpretation of The Sinking of Lusitania.
In this post, we handpicked some of the best examples of animated documentaries that show how the genre evolved through the years; giving us compelling non-fiction visual storytelling.
Of Stars and Men
John and Faith, from the famous Hubley family, created this personal cartoon animation documentary project based on the book by Harlow Shapley in 1964.
The film shows the man himself as the central character trying to marvel at the existence of the universe and finding his purpose in the grand scheme of things.
Of Stars and Men is narrated by Harlow Shapley himself. He’s one of the pioneers of the animated documentary genre.
Chicago 10: Speak Your Peace
Chicago 10: Speak Your Peace is an animated documentary film directed by Brett Morgen. It was released in 2007.
It tells the story of Chicago Eight and features the voices of notable actors which include Hank Azaria, Liev Schreiber, Nick Nolte, and Jeffrey Wright.
The film revolves around the animated reenactment of Chicago Eight’s trial through transcripts and rediscovered audio recordings. Also, it includes live-action archival footage to reveal the events involved in the buildup of the trial.
Chicago 10: Speak Your Peace was premiered at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival and clinched Best Documentary Screenplay award at the Writers Guild of America.
Waltz with Bashir
Waltz with Bashir is Israeli writer-director Ari Folman’s powerful semi-autobiographical animated documentary film released in 2008.
The animated documentary focuses on the horrors and fogged memories of Sabra and Shatila camps massacre that took place in Lebanon in 1982.
Director Ari Folman plays himself who is trying to recollect his suppressed memories of what happened during the war by interviewing fellow veterans.
The animated documentary will always be known for its usage of classical animation techniques with Adobe Flash cutouts instead of rotoscoping, and dark hues to show guilt, regret, and forgetfulness.
The title of the film is a nod to Israel’s political waltz with Bashir Gemayal, who was elected President of Lebanon in 1982. The massacre was a result of a retaliation by Christian Phalange for the assassination of Bashir Gemayal.
Waltz with Bashir managed to bag several accolades including a nomination at the Academy Awards and a Golden Globe Award for the Foreign Language Film category in 2009.
Bulgarian animator Theodore Ushev, who has Blind Vaysha credited to his name, created this short-animated documentary in 2010.
Lipsett Diaries sheds light on the troubled life and art of Canadian filmmaker Arthur Lipsett who committed suicide at the age of 49 after losing his battle with depression.
Lipsett’s agony and sufferings are demonstrated through the animation of hand-drawn paintings, dark crayon colors, and remnants of his own audiovisual works.
Lipsett Diaries clinched Canadian awards including the Genie Award for Best Animated Short.
Crulic: The Path to Beyond
Crulic: The Path to Beyond is a Romanian-Polish animated documentary film directed by Anca Damian. It was released in 2011.
The film tells the story of a Romanian national, ClaudiuCrulic, who went on strike while imprisoned in Poland and died due to starvation. In 2007, Crulic was arrested for theft in Poland. His four-month hunger strike began when the Romanian consulate refused to come to his aid.
Director Anca Damian used a blend of hand-drawn, collage, cut out and stop motion animation techniques to create a visually striking experience of Crulic’s miserable prison journey.
Crulic: The Path to Beyond won more than 35 awards during its run time all through numerous film festivals.
Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?
Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy is French director Michel Gondry’s most personal animated work released in 2013.
The animated documentary features Michel Gondry’s conversation with famous linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky in a hyper-active animation with a bright color palette.
Most of the conversation revolves around language, philosophy, and modern science. Noam Chomsky’s thoughts are illustrated with hand-drawn wavy graphics.
The Frenchman occasionally chimes in with comical voiceovers to apologize for his poor English speaking and animation skills.
The Wanted 18
The Wanted 18 is a Palestinian-Canadian animated documentary film by Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan. It was released in 2014.
It showcases the stand-off between Palestinian dairy collective in Beit Sahour and Israeli security forces about the 18 cows during the First Intifada.
The film has fused claymation, stop motion animation, and archival footage to highlight the absurdity of the whole event along with maintaining the seriousness.
The Wanted 18 holds a special gravity in the lift of Amer Shomali since his family was tied to the consequences of the event. It was named Best Documentary at Abu Dhabi Film Festival in 2014.
Tower is an animated documentary film directed by Keith Maitland. It was released in 2016.
The film largely focuses on the mass shooting incident that took place at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966. Keith Maitland has adapted Pamela Colloff’s 2006 Texas Monthly article titled “96 Minutes.”
It recounts the perspective and action-packed details of numerous survivors of the event with the use of archival footage and rotoscoping animation.
Tower premiered at SXSW in 2016 and managed to win Best Documentary award at Austin Film Critics Association.
Deciding to shoot a documentary in animation gives filmmakers multiple dimensions and aesthetics to play with. From rotoscoping to stop motion to claymation animation styles.
Filmmakers can blend different designs to give a charming and visually appealing look to their animated documentary.