Writing Animated Documentary: A Theory of Practice

by Paul Wells.


Only recently there has been an acknowledged view of animation’s self-evident role in public engagement. Wells aim is to present approaches to writing animated documentary using theoretical concepts as tools of practice and identify practical applications. Wells claim is that animated documentary cannot be divorced from its conditions of production, as there may be specific contexts, socio-political outlook, but it can vary in terms of its uses. Such as artwork, a vehicle for information and training, educational text for knowledge transfer. The challenges of animated documentary that Wells addresses is that the text is more often interrogated for its form, rather than content. The ability to reconcile the relationship between “form” and “content” in animated documentary would mean increasing credibility in this field. Documentary simply put is an act of social record. Wells describes the animated documentary to operate in three ways. Firstly, it is a model of personal, social and institutional memory; second it reflects aspects of relationships between individuals and government bodies and finally it is how such texts evidence their own form as a matter of record. In relation to the extract, Wells mentions the documentary film maker Jon Else who provides a useful perspective to understanding what procedure is recommended to produce a documentary based on secondary materials. The sourced materials used will always have social subjectivity as its driving force and needs to convey a non-fictional enunciation, manifested visually. Wells further states his case through Paul Laverty’s statement that “good issues don’t make good films – good stories do” and this means that it is essential the presentation of the “document” requires a perspective. Thus, Wells redefines animated documentary as animated non-fictional dramaturgy. Wells recognizes the potential of animated documentary and reasons out the necessity to clarify the definition of documentary in order for viewers to take the animated documentary seriously. After establishing the genre of dramaturgy, Wells presents five core principles in the production of animated documentaries, with consideration to Halas’ taxonomy.


  • What is animated documentary?
    • p7. theorisation of documentary practice has been characterised by the address of its core genres – travelogue, cinema verite, fly-on-the-wall, screen-journalism, docu-drama, observational actuality etc.
  • What challenges are there presented in the field?
    • p8. considerations insist upon deciding what the use of animation helps to actually achieve in the film that cannot be achieved in any other way.
    • p12. More challenging is to prove how an animated documentary not merely speaks to the public sphere as evidenced above; but how in itself it answers research questions.
  • What approaches are there to produce a successful animated documentary? *define what is successful – the conditions and considerations needed
    • p10. Animation’s key characteristics: symbolisation of objects and human beings; picturing the invisible; penetration; selection, exaggeration and transformation; showing the past and predicting the future; controlling speed and time
    • Examples: Break the Silence; The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation by John Canemaker; His Mother’s Voice by Dennis Tupicoff
    • p13. five core principles required to create animated documentary: making animation choices; staging in space; using attachment and detachment; episodic lists and micro-narratives; transition and associative relations



Wells, Paul (2016) Writing Animated Documentary: A Theory of Practice. International Journal of Film and Media Arts. Available at: <http://revistas.ulusofona.pt/index.php/ijfma/article/view/5432>. Date accessed: 06 jan. 2017.


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