‘Seeking Refuge’ series for television by Andy Glynne

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A series of animated shorts illustrating young people’s perspectives of living as refugees and asylum seekers. Part of the BBC Two Learning Zone, this series won a Children’s BAFTA in 2012.

Produced by Mosaic Films in London, UK.
Director: Andy Glynne
Animation Directors: Salvador Maldonado, Karl Hammond, Tom Senior and Jonathan Topf

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00vdxrk

‘Oneironauts’ (the Dream Travellers) by Olivia Humphreys

Olivia Humphreys uses archive photography and hand drawn animation to create an evocative film about the memories of loss. A great example of how animated documentary can transcend the boundaries of reality.

More work on Olivia’s website here: http://www.oliviahumphreys.com/

‘Sensory Overload’ by Miguel Jiron

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This is an interesting short piece that visualises one of the things that many people with Autism experience. It’s part of a bigger trans media project attached to research about Autism called ‘Interacting with Autism Project’ More info below:

Some people with autism have difficulty processing intense, multiple sensory experiences at once. This animation gives the viewer a glimpse into sensory overload, and how often our sensory experiences intertwine in everyday life.

Created as part of Mark Jonathan Harris’ and Marhsa Kinder’s “Interacting with Autism.” Coming in January 1st 2013, IWA is a three-year transmedia project funded by the federal Agency for Health Research and Quality (AHRQ). University Professor Marsha Kinder, the Executive Director of the Labyrinth Project at USC, and Mark Harris are heading a team of filmmakers and artists working to build an interactive, video intensive website that will focus on the best available treatments for autism.

https://vimeo.com/52193530

http://www.interactingwithautism.com/

‘60 Second Adventures in Economics’ (combined) by the Open University

This sequence of 6 episodes provides pithy explanations of economic theories, narrated by the comic actor and frequenter of panel shows, David Mitchell. The script, whilst managing to be digestibly informative, also incorporates a sharp wit that comes so naturally to Mitchell.

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The diagrammatical animation is simplistic.  Some imagery and much of the movement seems reminiscent of comic timing found in Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python cut out animations. While the over all visual style seems influence by the RSA Animate’s wipe board series. The character and set design is fun and doodle like, bringing a pleasantly informal hue to the weighty topics.

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Developed as a promotional tool to attract interest in studying at the Open University, the series seems to have attracted a lot of online attention, particularly from U.S. commentators who seem to eat up the ‘British sense of humour’.

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The films are unaccredited but as far as I can work out Angel Eye Media were commissioned to create the 60-second adventure series.  This isn’t certain however, as the production company’s website seems to declare involvement with only the ‘60 Second Adventures in Thought’. Either way the ‘…Thought’ series is also worth a watch.

‘What is a Flame?’ by Benjamin Ames

The enthusiasm, charm and simplicity of Benjamin Ames’ approach to explaining combustion to school kids is thoroughly enjoyable.

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Ames, a physics doctorial candidate at the University of Innsbruck, created this cartoon for the 2012 Flame Challenge, a competition set up by the Centre for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. Alan Alda, Hollywood actor turned visiting professor, helped set up the competition based on recollections of an unsatisfying answer a teacher gave to his schoolboy question ‘what is a flame?’  Ames’ film won first prize after being judged by thousands of 11-years-olds in schools around the world.

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An aspect of Benjamin’s ability to make learning enjoyable is his humour. For instance the film’s premise gently mocks the protagonist’s plight; a disembodied chipper scientist insists on explaining how flames work to a dead man chained up in the fiery pits of hell, whilst failing to acknowledge the characters suffering.

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Ames’ talents are diverse. Remarkably he managed to write a catchy song for the finale, that summarised all the key points and included an effective chorus that goes: ‘Pyrolysis, Chemiluminesence, Oxidation, Incandescence’.

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It must be mentioned that the standard of animation on this project doesn’t compare with most of the films featured on this blog. Despite the obvious limitations, the ‘my-first-Flash-animation’ feel to the project doesn’t put me off.  The film manages to achieve greatness in spite of the aesthetic flaws.

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It is impressive how many of the Vimeo comments demand that Benjamin quits his day job to make more educational films. According to the Flame Challenge website Benjamin seems to have got the hint and is finishing up his PhD this summer and is busy working on producing a kids’ science show.

‘There’s No Tomorrow’ By Dermot O’Connor

“We’re all doomed!” muttered an internal voice whilst watching this thoroughly bleak yet seemingly rational animation about the fundamental incompatibility of environmentalism and the current fuel based economic paradigm.

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Initially conceived as a lighthearted parody of the pro-capitalist propaganda cartoons of the 1940s and 50s, this Flash animation maintains a commitment to the juxtaposition of serious or complicated concepts with lighthearted and infantile graphic techniques; the characters are cute and inanimate materials are personified. Dermot O’Connor does his best to extend such jollity into the graphic representations of data. However when the flow of imaginative imagery inevitably runs as dry as some of the film’s subject matter, enough distraction is provided by the film’s apocalyptic overtones that criticism is effectively stifled.

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Efforts are made to keep levels of panic at a low simmer. Twinkling classical music soothes the tone of the film as catastrophic statements are churned out. Similarly the female narrator’s soft delivery greatly contrasts the alarming information she imparts.

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Gradually I started to mentally add two dots above each bell shape graph that predicted decline of a resource or living standard, resulting in a stream of crude sad-face emoticons.

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The Frequently Asked Questions on O’Connor’s website made for interesting reading. In this the writer/animator bitterly describes the film ‘consuming’ up to ‘three full years of personal labor’. In response to the question ‘Would you do it again if you knew how long it was going to take?’ O’Connor retorts ‘No. In the intervening years, it’s become clear that people are deeply set in their opinions, and that most of the writing/commentary/movies that are made simply reinforce existing beliefs, rather than change them. In addition, dealing with this subject is likely to have one labeled a Eugenicist/Genocidal-maniac/New World Order puppet/Illuminati/Oil-industry-shill/The AntiChrist, or worse. It would have been wiser to create a cartoon about crime-fighting squirrels with super-powers.’

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Despite being sympathetic and interested in much of O’Connor’s concerns this film has an uncanny pacifying effect. Rather than a call to arms the lasting sentiment is that of inevitable doom. Readers may ask ‘why write about a project that seemed to bring down both creator and audiences.’ In response I suggest it might be a good idea to consider the worst every now and then. The blissful comfort of ignorance can be as inversely distorting as crippling paranoia. We all need a bit of doom in our lives if not just to provide perspective on the triviality of our own day-to-day soap opera or maybe even help us re-think our tangled relationships with non-renewable energy sources.

‘The Vanni’ by Benjamin Dix

‘The Vanni’ is a graphic novel set in Sri Lanka, India and the UK and follows the story of a fictional Tamil family living in a fishing village in Sri Lanka. The story starts in 2004 following the Tsunami and takes us through to the following conflict and then life for the family surviving as refugees.

The concept comes from Bejamin Dix, a former UN staff member who spent 4 years living in Sri Lanka until 2008 when all NGO’s were asked to leave Sri Lanka. He has teamed up with illustrator Lindsay Pollack. The story and images are based on his real life experiences of living and working with communities after the Tsunami and as refugees.

The graphic novel is still in production, but you can see an interactive preview on their website.

http://www.thevanni.co.uk/

‘Centrefold’ by Ellie Land

Released over a year ago this animated docmentary looks at the current UK trend for labia surgery, a procedure which trims and tidies a woman’s labia.

Directed and designed by animateddocumentary.com’s co founder Ellie Land.

http://www.thecentrefoldproject.org/

‘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.

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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 Man Inside Mickey’ by Daniela Sherer, for the ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’ project

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Don’t Talk To Strangers’ is a blog focusing on collecting urban stories; these are then reworked into animation, illustration or song. The creators encourage visitors to the blog to leave a recorded message, on their skype address: dttsanimation or telephone: 020 3290 4348, describing a story, experience or thought. You may also simply email your tale to donttalktostrangersproject@gmail.com. The blurb reads: ‘Life in the city surrounded by strangers can bring about unexpected encounters. We want to hear your stories; from the awkward, alienating or unpleasant to the amusing, bizarre or touching. Call and leave us a message or drop us an email of a thought, experience or story. Our team of artists will pick stories and bring them to life through animation, illustration or song.’

‘The Man Inside Mickey’ is the project’s first episode; a curious and creepy anecdote concerning an unexpectedly charged encounter with a poorly impersonated Mickey Mouse.  Retold by an anonymous female voice, the quality of the recording suggests the tone of an answer-phone machine.  The animator, Daniela Sherer, adopts a minimal and scrappy 2D digital aesthetic common to graphic tablet sketches. The seemingly naïf style combines a limited colour palette with a pleasing line boil. The unsophisticated, uninhibited drawing style skillfully supplements the sinister nature of the short narrative.

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‘The Man Inside Mickey’ is the first and only episode available. A blog post from May 2013 states the project was put on hold while the group focused on their graduate films. Christine Hooper, the producer, has been in-touch to explain they team have taken a ‘strategic pause’ while they apply for funding. The ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’ team is mostly made up from the Royal College of Art’s Animation MA 2013 2013 graduate year. On show in June at the RCA’s animation exhibition was Daniela Sherer’s marvelous nine-minute 2D digital short ‘The Shirley Temple’, an animation where mimesis and storytelling is reduced to the point of abstraction. We wish Daniela, Christine and their collaborators luck in gaining funding to develop the ‘Don’t Talk To Stranger’ project.  A few more stories from the public may help spur them on (hint, hint).

If any animators or illustrators are interested in getting involved then please get in touch via donttalktostrangersproject@gmail.com