‘Little Birds Diary’ by Edmunds Janson


A wonderful longer form short animated documentary featuring the drawn diaries of Irina Pilke. Starting in 1942, many of her drawings are brought to life through animation Irina talks us through her diary, with wit and laughter.



‘Andersartig’ by Dennis Stein-Schomberg

Dennis Stein-Schomburg’s ‘Andersartig’, the German word for different, is an elderly woman’s account of her isolated youth in a German orphanage during a World War II allied bombing campaign.


Schomburg captures the visual essence of memory through the use of transparency, a sepia colour palette and floating camera movements that include  slightly conflicting uses of perspective. While much of the composition is left abstracted by splashed ink, these textures provide context for individual details to pop out. Recognition is owed to the director for crafting the feeling that we are experiencing the narrator’s minds eye.


Two and three dimensional animation components are combined successfully. While the image of a fish constructed out of numbers was designed crudely and moves with an equivalent level of elegance, the dispersion of dandelion seeds give a strong impression of air currents. These airborne symbols of childhood innocence serve as an impeccable introductory device to the impending air raid. Their aimless movement and silence function as a counterpoint to the droning intentionality of the aeroplanes set on civilian devastation.


Despite being based on a factual account, this film has a distinctly allegorical tone to it.  The first possible interpretation aligns this narrative with the age-old advice that one’s proverbial eggs should not be placed in the same basket. In case of a chance instance of damage this is a recognised method for preventing the destruction of an entire stock.


The second interpretation I take from this account weighs more on the connection between personality and survival. The title of the film presents a girl’s isolation and separatism as the main theme. Her resistance to following the action of the cohort led to circumstances that left her living while the rest perished. This is an appealing message as there is great value placed on individuality in our society. However, I am not certain it is wise to learn from this little girl’s actions, and by default her anti-social tendencies. If these circumstances were repeated the same results would not necessarily reoccur. This woman’s mere survival grants her decision the illusion of being correct when rationally it is fair to say this chance outcome was the result of numerous arbitrary circumstances. The connection between her personality and survival could be incidental. That said it is important to remember these are simply someone’s memories and any interpretation may say more about us, the viewers, than the narrator.


I find it intriguing to compare this film with Alex Bland’s ‘I Dreamt of Flying’, an animated documentary I reviewed for this blog back in June. Bland presents the other side of the story, the accounts of British and American bomber pilots that described raids over Germany. While Bland steers away from the civilian casualties associated with these attacks, there is little engagement with the wider context of war in Schomburg’s film.


‘Andersartig’ was brought to our attention by Florian Maubach, the director of ‘Iki – See you soon’ which I wrote about back in August. Maubach and Schomburg are both students from the University of Art and Design in Kessel. Dennis now works freelance as an animator and graphic designer.

‘StoryCorps Animated Shorts’ by the Rauch Brothers

StoryCorps is a US independent non-profit oral history project, charged with the task of recording, sharing and preserving personal stories of American lives. Many of the thousands of stories are broadcast weekly on National Public Radio’s ‘Morning Edition’ while a handful have been adapted into short animated documentaries.


Image from ‘A Family Man’

The Rauch Brothers co-directed all fifteen of the shorts. The series demonstrates a strong influence from the school of American cartoons; Tim Rauch’s distinctly caricatured personalities inhabit beautifully constructed backgrounds designed by Bill Wray. The off-kilter geometry of the architecture and pastel colour palette is reminiscent of the 1960s-era ‘Pink Panther Show’, while the thick outlined digital character animation has a stronger connection to contemporary Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network kids animations.

Image from ‘Eyes on the Stars’

Image from ‘Eyes on the Stars’

Many of the StoryCorps recordings selected for animation deal with themes of mortality. ‘John and Joe’, ‘Always a Family’ and ‘She Was the One’ commemorate individuals lost in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, where family members recall their last conversations with loved ones. Meanwhile ‘Danny and Annie’, ‘Germans in the Woods’, ‘A Family Man’ and ‘No More Questions!’ deal with natural deaths. In some instances recordings were made with an elderly family member not long before their passing. Every reference to mortality is a celebration of that individual’s life, highlighting their idiosyncrasies and honouring memories of them.

Image from ‘She Was the One’

Image from ‘She Was the One’

Films like ‘Eyes on the Stars’, ‘Facundo the Great’ and ‘Icing on the Cake’ refer to the experiences of racial minorities, including stories of inequality and immigration. They are however told with a stereotypical American optimism and sentimentality. The people involved look back from improved circumstances, mocking the absurdity of racism or displaying awe and wonder for the struggles of their parents’ generation.

Image from ‘Facundo the Great’

Image from ‘Facundo the Great’

Eccentric personalities seems to be another theme which pops up in these films. ‘Sundays at Rocco’s’, ‘Q&A’, ‘The Human Voice’, ‘No More Questions!’ and ‘Miss Devine’ all feature domineering or uncongenial characters. These stories celebrate diversity and highlight the importance of individuality.

Image from ‘The Human Voice’

Image from ‘The Human Voice’

While many of the animations make reference to romantic or family love, ‘To RP Salazar, with Love’ concerns an extraordinary circumstance that leads to a digital age fairytale ending.

Image from ‘To RP Salazar, with Love’

Image from ‘To RP Salazar, with Love’

Occasionally the animation is noticeably clunky, in particular lip-synching feels a little rough. However the character designs are marvellous. The Rauch Brothers have sensitively depicted a variety of ethnic groups without leaning on illustrative clichés. Family members are designed with an appropriate level of genetic resemblance while managing to avoid looking identical and the exaggerated use of body language and posture helps bring the individuality of each character to life.

Image from ‘Miss Devine’

Image from ‘Miss Devine’

The StoryCorps project has now been running for ten years. An archive of the recordings is being collected at the American Folklife Centre at the Library of Congress. Although we couldn’t embed all the ‘StoryCorps Animated Shorts’ here, I recommend taking time to flick through them on the StoryCorp website.

‘The Meth Project’ animations by Studio AKA

The Meth Project is a U.S.A. based anti-drugs campaign created in response to the ‘growing Meth epidemic’. It makes use of online and broadcast media in order to dissuade teenagers from ever trying methamphetamine. The highly addictive illicit drug is associated with depression, suicide, serious heart disease, amphetamine psychosis, and violent behaviour. Prolonged abuse of the substance is often indicated by physical deterioration such as loss of teeth and emaciation.

Four animation directors from the London based Studio AKA were commissioned by the advertising agency Organic, Inc. to create short narrative animations for The Meth Project. The harrowing and frank films are based on firsthand stories of young addicts. During each sequence the narrator states their age and when they started using meth. Collectively the six films indicate the horrors of this chemically and culturally poisonous substance.

Kristian Andrews directs three of the stories:


Bernadette – Directed by Kristian Andrews

Bernadette’s account addresses the guilt she feels over a friend’s suicide. Kristian Andrews uses tone to symbolise naivety and consequence. We are initially introduced to two friends who are constructed out of delicate, transparent line drawings in a bleached-out room.  However, harsh under lit shadows appear in the bedroom as drug use ensues. Finally abstract blotches blacken the screen when Bernadette reflects on her guilt. The unexpected cut directly to an image of the gun in the friend’s mouth effectively represents the crushingly arbitrary nature of the young girl’s decision to end her life.

Oriah – Directed by Kristian Andrews

Oriah recounts the shame he feels about the violence he directed towards his family. A visual contrast is created between recollections of being high and the sober interview. When depicting the moments of intoxication sources of light are over exposed and smeared, the virtual handheld camera is either up high or near the ground at an oblique angle. The characterisation of Oriah when he is high is rapid moving and rhythmically awkward. This is contrasted by the relatively static talking-head shots where Oriah discusses his shame.


Kara – Directed by Kristian Andrews

Kara’s story refers to a near death experience in which her heart stopped briefly. The narrator’s greatest shock comes from the realisation that her drug addled friends did very little to help. Following a red and black scene showing Kara’s palpitating heart, Andrews reintroduces the viewer to the stark black and white external world. The camera rotates around her body as supporting characters slide in and out from the darkness in sync with her narration. This extraordinary scene keeps pace with rapid leaps in narrative while maintaining a strong feeling of cohesion.

Grant Orchard directs two of the personal stories:


Rochelle – Directed by Grant Orchard

Rochelle’s story addresses drug-induced hallucinations.  Orchard was charged with the difficult task of indicating the horror of visual disturbances, without glorifying or underplaying the experience. He depicts simultaneous images jostling for space on screen. Individually such symbols would not induce much stress, but in the context of the dense composition they are exposed for a period of time that is too short for them to be fully processed. In a further attempt to evoke disgust Orchard incorporates metamorphosis; faces spawn out of one another like cancerous cells dividing out of control. Rochelle’s account also indicates a twisted rationalisation associated with addiction. “And even when I was loosing everything and everything was going to go, I knew I still wanted to get high. That’s the one thing I knew.”


Hailey – Directed by Grant Orchard

Hailey’s story addresses the visible signs of bodily deterioration that are associated with prolonged meth use. Orchard sets a virtual camera descending through a stark black and white environment speckled with floating blotches. In this space the narration is expanded upon when figurative elements spread out from a point. To further unsettle the viewer gravity is inverted so that dribbling black marks stream upwards. The quality of line and overall aesthetic seems to suggest etching prints.

One of the films is a collaboration between Steve Small, director, and Dave Prosser, designer.


Ashley – Directed by Steve Small – Design by Dave Prosser

Ashley’s narrative starts by referring to a particular hallucination that led her to cut open her arm to look inside.  From a jostling point-of-view camera the animated arm quivers, this is matched by the scrappy mark making.  A crisp edged, gently growing, crimson pool of blood starkly contrasts the loosely painted and drawn grey-scale arm. The second scene, in which disfiguring acne is described, suggests the use of a hand held camera. This creates a sense of intimacy with the character, as we feel noticeably present in the bathroom with Ashley.

Studio AKA was also commissioned to create a series of stand-alone illustrations. These echo the reoccurring starting-age theme found in the six animated films.

A colleague suggested animation might have been chosen for this campaign as the medium is traditionally associated with young people. Teenagers are the campaign’s target audience so many of the conventions of children’s animation have been circumnavigated, instead these sequences do hold much of the angst, gloom and tension connected to the first stumbling years of adulthood. Adolescent recklessness collides with life altering consequences, often indicating personal growth and the taking of responsibility. Perhaps these films chime with their audiences by updating the visual language instilled by cartoons in childhood.

This set of challenging animated documentaries make up the ‘Personal Stories’ subsection of the Meth Project’s YouTube Channel, each video has received between ten to twenty thousand views.

Review of ‘Tanko Bole Chhe’ – The Stitch Speaks by Nina Sabnani


I saw this beautifully crafted film at the Animated Realities conference in Edinburgh in 2011. The film animates a traditional sewing and textiles technique developed by the Kutch community, who are from a coastal region in Ahmedabad, India and has for a long time inspired fashion and textiles all over the world.

Here is a link to a review of the film following the latest in a long line of awards the film has received  We will keep an out out for an online release of the film and if anyone knows where we can link to the film online, please do get in touch.


‘The Story of Cholera’ by Yoni Goodman and Global Health Media

Animated public information film ‘The Story of Cholera’ explicitly depicts methods of transmission, prevention and treatment of the bacterial disease in a simple and informative manner. The commissioning body, Global Health Media, explains the film ‘follows evidence-based guidelines, has been field-tested, and reviewed for accuracy and content’.

The entire sequence is strikingly utilitarian, breaking the conventional codes of pace found in mainstream film and television in order to emphasise the crucial learning points; for instance twice the viewer is left lingering on an image of a someone washing their hands properly. This film does not pull any punches; diarrhoea and vomiting is frequently depicted and explained in plain descriptive language.

Largely in black and white, colour is used to illustrate the presence of the invisible bacteria. As Western viewers we might take for granted how public health campaigns and detergent advertisements have helped us visualise how disease is spread. At the film’s resolution colour seeps into the black and white palette. This visual metaphor, despite it’s incredibly simplistic symbolism, is suitably optimistic.

The absence of lip-sync indicates one of the crucial functions of this film. Already it has been dubbed into nine languages and there are more in the pipeline. Global Health Media claim the film has been screened in 175 countries around the world. Animated Documentary wishes the campaign further success.

‘Oil’d’ by Chris Harmon

In April 2010 a massive oil spill began in the Gulf. The entire country was glued to the news until the well was capped, and then we forgot about it.As the year anniversary was approaching I became curious, just how much oil was that exactly? Where would it have gone? What I found was shocking.

So in an effort to further our discussion on oil dependency I created this short animation to help illustrate just how dependent we truly are on oil.

Selected from the doco-anim channel.


‘Reality 2.0’ trailer by Victor Orozco Ramirez

As featured in our Dok Leipzig review, here is the trailer for Victor’s film.

It was autumn when I arrived in Germany. I thought that in this exotic country I could distance myself a little bit from Mexico, but I was wrong. Drug traffickers managed to take me back in a ruthless way.
A short animated documentary about the drug-related violence in Mexico.


‘Tiberians’ Dreams’ by DM stop

Another from the Vimeo doco-anim channel, specifically chosen as its subject centres on the life and work of being an animator. We do however disagree with the interviewees statement about Caroline Leaf!

‘Two young pencils document four Israeli animation icons. They confront them with questions, film and record every word, story or argument and by that try to comprehend the existence they once shared and the insights they still share (or are divided upon) about contemporary animation and creation in Israel.
This film was made in “Bezalel academy of art and design” in Jerusalem using stop-motion animation.’