Non-fiction animation as a genre or a subcategory of animation and cinematography includes a wide range of techniques in relation to reality in front of the camera, reality during the film or the outsidefilm reality.
The definition against the category of fiction is represented by a connecting line among all the groups of artistic expressions. This line can be understood both as a fictional story not based exactly on historical reality, and as an already existing film plot (appropriately a story captured in another medium, e.g. a photograph or a drawing) or as an organization of facts and motives into a causal and narrative row. In this case, animation needs to be thought of simultaneously as a technological apparatus and a medium; its nature is being modified either by a specific usage or by the process of reading, or more precisely perception.
In his early films of the 1980s, Martin Arnold, an Austrian filmmaker and visual artist always worked with short sequences of Hollywood films. He mechanically copied original material on a simple optical photocopying machine. His film called Pièce touchée (1989) was made out of an eighteen-second scene yet lasts for almost sixteen minutes. During a year and a half, Arnold copied more than 148 000 film frames. By arranging and rearranging the frames, he was striving after a perfect exploration of the "space" of the only film scene. By the analysis of the image movement, he was gradually shifting the meaning of a classical situation from a couple's life, when a woman is waiting for her husband. The original sequence is taken out of The Human Jungle (1954, Joseph M. Newman).
Birgitta Hosea, a British performer, who combines live action with animation methods and committed happening, represents an entirely specific way of non-fiction animation interpretation and use of documentation. She places her own corporality into a mode of animation; from the simplest one (when she puts a painted paper bag representing Minnie Mouse on her head – in Dog Betty of 2007) up to more sophisticated digital technologies of copying visual as well as audio areas, with for example, Out There in the Dark from 2008 (together with dimensions of a possible expression or existence, e.g. at hologram level). Thanks to a constant presence of the living body, she denies as well as emphasizes the animation processes, and that is how she is simultaneously making them useless (a living body does not need to be livened up by animation techniques) as well as essential for expression (the extension of the semantic possibilities of a living body through a multiplication of its lifetime).
Non-fiction as a factual record
Film animation (except when considered as the preserve of children's entertainment) is connected with fantasy worlds, exaggeration and caricature or with the violation of physical laws. Hardly anybody handles it as an instrument of record and mediation of historical reality. In a synonymous meaning, it is connected to a photographical record evoking the authenticity of mediating memory by simulation of form and the processes of human perception. Those formats, basically declaring and not manipulating the facts and handling them with maximal respect for historical reality (though non-manipulatory handling is not possible), are called factual. At the moment of using the animation medium for recording historical reality, i.e. events with an official status in the history of humanity, then some modification takes place, and an appropriate questioning of the ontological status and true value of the recorded events occurs. There can be a question whether an animated cartoon can be valued as a documentary film or a historical documentary. Is it possible to bring animation and the parameters of authenticity together?
A stumbling block in the clash of animation and historical reality lies in the high mimetic code which is being used by animation because of the necessity of its definition. The keystone of animation is the fact that it moves inanimate or individually stationary objects (optionally series of records, concerning e.g. pixilation) into motion and in this way imprints an illusion of animation, inspiration, anthropomorphism or existence in a different (not original) semantic context. Since the basis of animation lies in creating a movement illusion from a series of static shots and thus deceiving the human eye (in the sense of suggestion of a movement illusion at the place where movement is not factually proceeding), the animation technology fundamentally seems to be inconvenient as a record of historical reality. Animation cannot compete with photographical recording of an event in the sense that it is not able to capture it immediately and in a disintermediational way. In practice, it means that it is not perceived as a body of evidence because its capture of reality in front of or without the camera is subordinated to proclamatory artistic adaptation and license (for a semiotic, indirect marking of reality).
But animation can at the same time serve to retroactively capture historical reality – in such forms as a diary, autobiography or biography, historical or documentary film – then it can also serve as the cumulative expression of deeper meanings and add emphasis to the more subtle qualities of the recorded material. Also the photorealistic record is subordinated to the ideological or power preferences and its danger lies in image manipulation which is done in an undeclared and veiled way. This constructive approach can be revealed by the application of methods of animation and re-animation of photorealistic capture, for example, by new mutual placement of individual components/shots we can achieve the revelation or creation of mechanisms of influence and offer semantic preferences. That is how, for example, videos of folk art, accessible on the internet, work. Thanks to editing and suitable juxtaposition of the parts of American ex-president Bush's speeches, they demonstrate their own opinion of his mental acuity and psychic maturity. In this case, animationis not being expressed in the most expected way, i.e. by drawing and phasing of the character of Bush with set dialogues, but its action and quality animate Bush in such a context and configuration, that it does not exist as a unique photorealist record, but is manifested latently in total.
Besides this border example, most of the non-fiction animation dealing with factual patterns is implemented in a more classical way. This category is mostly represented by animated documentaries often combining photorealistic record and animated sequences. Thanks to animation characteristics such as semantic abbreviation, caricaturist emphasis and more flexibility of space-time configuration, not an image, but a sense of the documented material can be captured more comprehensively than the superficially true photorealistic record. An amount of various inspirations by a factual pattern and adapted photo-reality (in sense of consensually confirmed authenticity as well as direct transformation of record) can be found in this subcategory. For example, Denis Tupicoff, an Australian filmmaker, is defining himself to photographical reality by its rotoscopic redrawing in Chainsaw (2007) or detailed charcoal portraits drawing in His Mother's Voice (1997). However, it does not mean that the entire contribution of animation would be concluded by mechanical redrawing; in Chainsaw, Tupicoff links in parallel an instructional film about safety work with a chainsaw, the scandalous biography of a famous Spanish toreador who had a love affair with Ava Gardner and other celebrities, the history of bullfighting and an intimate drama of adultery whose victim is a balding woodcutter. The formed muddle and rotoscopic proximity of photographs, but not its raw literality, supports the morally-ecological appeal of the film as well as its amusingly ironical parody on a social report. The audio recording of the evidence of a murdered teenager's mother is repeated many times in His Mother's Voice. The naturalism of sorrow and extremely reinforced emotions in audio mix are softened by overexposed black-and-white drawings renouncing doubling for the information and it shows a boy and his relatives resting or being busy with their household activities. The effect of the urgent repetition of the mother's words is emphasized by the contrasting harmonies of the image.
Non-fiction as absence of narrative
Films giving up causal and narrative logic of image organization and connecting them on the basis of different, generally formal foundations are a well represented subcategory of non-fiction animation. The aim is to create clear visual, audio, audiovisual or aesthetical experiences and not to lure the audience away from the perception and appreciation of the superficial qualities of the work. In this case, animation does not serve as an elimination of simple meanings and a revelation of more profound social and human relations; any sense of understanding in this way is absent; the sense is to warn about ones own medium possibilities and qualities. This category includes, for example, a German abstract cinematography of the 1920s, Walter Ruttmann's and Hans Richter's combinatorial analysis of geometric shapes and colours or animation of people by means of transferring them into spacious and visual qualities in Bauhaus studio, with a non-cinematographic animation of Man Ray's cinematographic material. French avantgarde's playfulness captures how to deal with objects and images in new configurations, by means of which not only the artistic nature of an artist, but also his philosophy of existence and perception is expressed. In the last resort, it can include also rapidmontage. By means of thoughtful and goal-directed juxtaposition of short shots/ cinegrams, the rapidmontage is producing/animating the sense not included or expressible by the individually participating cinegrams; it comes into being only thanks to their concrete correlation on paradigmatic (question of choice) as well as syntagmatic axis (question of placement).
Non-fiction as recombination of photorealistic record
Analysis of narrative character of cinematography history and its backward fall into thematically organized systems of moving images is the subject of many contemporary artists' (Martin Arnold, Douglas Gordon, in Czech Republic some works of Filip Cenk or Martin Kohout) work. Their work is representing so called recycling stream, for which an existing work is the source of creation. Uniformity in methods, suggestion of stagnation, gender superiority or feminist struggle, reconciliation or victory is often being sought in schemes, technique, dubbing, genres and Hollywood clichés. The effort is to build up or progressively compose new image system and to establish a new reflection in the context of the presentation time by means of authentic materials (shots of nonexistent films are used most often). The example is Kino wie noch nie (Generali Foundation Vienna, 2006). A few filmmakers did not come with "anything new", they only arranged various films' scenes schematically and according to contents: scenes of telephoning women, men in front of a mirror, Lumiérs' shot of workers leaving a factory in film variations of each decade of the twentieth century (a representative of each decade arranged one next to another on television screens), up to the identity transformation under the influence of dubbing, e.g. a mirror scene in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976).
Ken Jacobs, an American experimental filmmaker, started to work on Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son in 1969 thanks to "rewriting of the film image" (in other words, by its borrowing – socalled appropriation). During two years, he created a series of "a few films" out of an original film. Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son is an American movie of 1905 shot by Billy Bitzer, David W. Griffith's cameraman. The original version lasts ten minutes and it is composed of eight shots, the wholes of concentrated action in a theatrical frame varied in filming way. Tom's theft of a pig and successive persecution of a furious crowd is the content of the original version. Ken Jacobs adapted the original film material for many times and he successively arranged newly originating films into continuously cumulating film with the same title. After thirty years he came back to film and in 2002 he widened it again. Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son and Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera represent two most significant films of so-called reflexive film whose primary subject is aesthetical definition of film medium. Ken Jacobs chose projection system of scanning for the recycling of the image system of the "appropriated" film. The whole film was shot through a transparent projection screen. Wide range of adjustment (images refocusing, frame size regrouping, their multiplication, slowdown, speed-up, image freeze) is a stylistic expression gradually replacing the importance of film's "main characters". All the "animation effects" are made during the film screening by a projectionist = a creator. Tom, Tom, The Piper's Son (versions 1969–71, 2002) is beginning and ending with the projection of Billy Bitzer's film itself. Concerning the described Ken Jacobs' film, the author was progressing up to the essence of the film formation, in other words, the image record and its reflection in form of projection movement of the shown image. As audience, we are able to recognize luminous column of a film projector. Ken Jacobs achieved very ingenious revealing of the film disposals by means of the projection analysis technique.
Examples of non-fiction animation stand in for historical documentation, they transform completed films in new or non-narrative contexts. Once formed structure of fictive plot can be starting material for its denial, e.g. within the bounds of literal technological analysis of medium possibilities. Then, the technology is becoming a manifested documentation of fiction.
Kateřina Surmanová, Martin Mazanec
Birgitta Hosea, Blu, Denis Tupicoff, Paul Fierlinger, Mischa Kamp, Steve woods, Tim webb, walter Ruttmann, Hans Richter, Man Ray, Mathias Müller, Thomas Mank, Cathy Jortz, Batian Cleve, Bruce Conner, Stan Vanderbeek, Martin Arnold, Ken Jacobs, Virgil widrich a další.