‘Tea and Consent’ written by Rock-Star-Dinosaur-Pirate-Princess, produced by Blue Seat Studios

Tea and Consent is a public information animation which is used with permission by Thames Valley Police to address and clarify issues of sexual consent as part of the Consent is everything campaign. This simply rendered Flash animation draws a parallel between sexual consent and the intuitive etiquette associated with offering someone a cup of tea.

In essence you can offer someone tea but it’s not acceptable to pressure or force him or her to drink it. The elegant metaphor behind the short film originates from a blog post written by the feminist blogger Emmeline May, a.k.a. Rock-Star-Dinosaur-Pirate-Princess.

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When exploring this work in the context of animated documentary it is important to recognise that this film does not comfortably fit with Annabelle Honess Roe’s 2013 definition of the genre, which follows a few rules:

Firstly, is it animated? Yes.

Secondly, does the animation reflect an imagined world of an auteur or ‘the world’? This is not as clear. The film primarily addresses a hypothetical scenario, which raises an ethical sexual dilemma. This dilemma is explored explicitly through a metaphor. It is also a distillation of the controversial social and political ideologies of the feminist writer, Emmeline May.

However, I don’t believe these points suggest the film is about an imagined world. The issues addressed clearly reflect a very real problem, while the ideology that is represented considers a majority perspective of our Western society and is supported by the legal system. It is also fair to suggest that theoretical or allegorical devices are a key part of the animated documentary language and help shed light on reality rather than an imagined world.

Finally, was it the intention of the filmmakers to create a documentary? I believe not. I would argue that it was the intention of Blue Seat Studios and Emmeline May in making it, and of Thames Valley Police in their use of the film, to change behaviour rather than observe and capture it.

Tea and Consent sits more comfortably amongst the state sponsored animated propaganda of the mid 20th century than contemporary animated documentary discourse: ‘Animation has historically been used as a tool for illustration and clarification in factual films… [It’s advantage over live action] led to an ever greater uptake of the medium by the US government in the Second World War.’ (Honess Roe, 2013)

Nonetheless, animated educational and propaganda films were an essential evolutional stage in the development of contemporary animated documentary and clearly still have a useful role to play.

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While the issue of consent is often received as a grey area topic, Tea and Consent proposes that it is a simple one. The analogy is powerfully robust. This very strong foundation facilitated the exploration of ambiguous and horrifying sexual conduct with incredible clarity and humour. It has not however been disseminated across the Internet with universal praise.

Comments on the film’s Youtube page have now been suspended, but I can testify that I was startled by the sexual aggression and anti-‘political correctness’ sentiments expressed in some of the comments posted previously. Sadly Youtube has a reputation for providing a platform for the vitriol of anonymous misogynists.

The simplistic Flash animation lends itself to easily rendered parodies. The two I’ve seen awkwardly contort the tea/consent analogy either for ‘comedic value’ or as a counter argument. The first version pushes the concept to an absurd extreme, suggesting that it is never safe to drink tea without lawyers present. The second explores an ill-conceived comedic inversion in which a “slut” wants tea in all scenarios. Neither of these spoofs deserves viewer hits so forgive me for not sharing their links.

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My bias is clearly highlighted by the fact that I feel naturally suspicious of the people who are offended by this film. I wonder if those who are most threatened are also individuals who would benefit most from its message. I suspect this argument is a little reductive and extreme.

The Internet is a breeding ground for such conflict after all and I resign myself to this. I neither have the energy or the skill to engage and attempt to change the minds of those I mistrust, unlike the makers of Tea and Consent.

Notes:

Honess Roe, A. (2013) Animated Documentary, London: Palgrave Macmillan. p.5&9

Animation courtesy of Emmeline May at rockstardinosaurpirateprincess.com and Blue Seat Studios. Copyright © 2015 RockStarDinosaurPiratePrincess and Blue Seat Studios. Images are Copyright ©2015 Blue Seat Studios.

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‘What is Animation?’ by Martin Pickles

Martin Pickles is the director of an animated interview with Bob Godfrey titled What is Animation? This was one of two films by Pickles that were screened as part of London International Animation Festival’s animated documentary programme. Martin is well known through his role as the organiser of the London Animation Club, a monthly screening event in Fitzrovia.

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In What is Animation? Pickles animates a snippet of wisdom from Bob Godfrey (1921 – 2013), the British animation hero responsible for creating Roobarb and Henry’s Cat.

When thinking of this film in the context of animated documentary, I was struck by how relevant Godfrey’s words are to one of the larger tensions within the genre: how does a filmmaker faithfully document their subject matter without simply replicating it? Godfrey encourages animators to be whimsical and to forget the limitations of physics or representation.

The key phrase he uses, one which I have heard many times before, is “…if this thing can be done with a live action camera then for God’s sake do it with a live action camera.”

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While Godfrey wants animators to confront the “absolute freedom” of their medium, animated documentary makers maintain an adjacent balancing act. Our challenge, perhaps, is to find a subject that requires a Godfrey-esque whimsy in order for the story to be documented usefully.

Without wanting to sound pretentious, it’s all very ‘meta’. Not only is this an animation about how animators should animate, this short documentary is also structured around an almost visible feedback loop.

Firstly there is Martin Pickles the director, interviewing his hero Bob Godfrey, who effectively imparts wisdom and instruction to the audience. Then, much deeper in the mechanisms of this film, we can feel Martin tangibly being inspired by Bob’s words and legacy – Martin even credits meeting Godfrey as the stimulus that pushed him to study animation at the Royal College of Art. The next revolution of the feedback loop begins with me, the viewer, inspired enough by Bob’s words and Martin’s film that I chose to write about it. It’s fair to predict that this whole process might inform my own or someone else’s next animation; and so the wheel spins.

Ignoring my theoretical posturing, the true joy of this film can be found in its back-story. Martin Pickles and Bob Godfrey met in Croatia at the Animafest Zagreb festival in 2004. A fan since childhood, Martin sought every opportunity to foster a friendship with Bob. Officially, he found himself in the role of odd-job-man – when they met there was always a light bulb or whatever that needed replacing. Over time, his visits to Godfrey’s ACME studio in Deptford became much more social in nature.

Martin spoke about Bob’s aptitude for story telling and teaching with great affection. One day, as Martin sat opposite his hero, sipping tea, he felt that it didn’t seem right that he was the only one experiencing this. He was struck by the realisation that no one had made the effort to record these pearly nuggets of wisdom. With a real sense of urgency he got his hands an old tape recorder, and with Bob very much enjoying the spotlight, they recorded over two hours of rambling fun from one of the British animation scene’s more charismatic icons.

The two animators started to hatch grand schemes for what to do with the material. Collaboration seemed on the cards until Bob’s health began to suffer. By this point Godfrey was in his late eighties, and with great sadness Martin witnessed his gradual decline. Out of respect the project was put on hold indefinitely. A while after Bob’s passing in 2013, his family and the Bradford Animation Festival released an open call for archival content relating to Bob’s life and work. Following that the rest of the pieces fell into place.

You can read a full transcript of the interview here.

‘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.