top of page
Introduction to the Animated documentary


The Animated documentary is a genre of film which combines the genres of Animation and documentary. The first recognised example of this gene is Winsor McCay’s 'The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918), which uses animation to portray the 1915 sinking of the RMS Lusitania, after it was struck by two torpedoes fired from a German U-boat; an event of which no recorded film footage is known to exist. Since the 1920s, animation has been used in education and instructional films, and has been used to illustrate abstract concepts in mainly live-action examples of these genres. Early examples of fully animated educational films are ‘The Einstein Theory of Relativity’ (1923), ‘Evolution’ (1925), by Max and Dave Fleischer. Walt Disney used it in films such as ‘Victory Through Air Power’ (1943), ‘How to Catch a Cold’ (1951), ‘Our Friend the Atom’ (1957),  ‘Of Stars and Men’, a 1964 animated feature by John Hubley which tells of humankind’s quest to find its place in the universe.


With increased funding between the 60s and the 90s, the animated documentary filmmaking has become more widely practice and has now found a firm footing in independent animation filmmaking practice, and also in more commercial spheres.

The mode of the documentary doesn’t have to be instructional or linear any more either, with documentary practice also extending towards abstract and experimental animation practice. The animated documentary practice is also a great way of finding new subjects to make animated films about.


People We Know project focusses on documentaries about People. Through this project, students will have the opportunity to collaborate with another person to create a film. This project encourages students to observe as much as they can about the world around them, through drawing, writing and voice recording, to create an interesting story about the collaborator, using the theme of the project as starting point.

Release forms
Interview Techniques
Sound design and recording



The theme for the animated documentary project is Home. The theme can be interpreted in its broadest sense, whether it is someone speaking about a bird’s nesting habits, an anecdote about something funny that a family member did, or maybe a person without a home speaking about what the idea of home means to them. The theme is open to interpretation.

The important thing is to create an interesting story by selecting the right person, asking questions that allow them to voice their views and opinions and then later constructing

an interesting story from the material that you have recorded.


Initial steps to follow

  1. Based on your learning from the character design project completed in the last academic year, choose a person who you feel will have things to say about the theme.

  2. Make sure that the selected person is someone you have access to and will be available for you to record.

  3. Get permission from the person you are recording and get a release form signed.

  4. You need to keep the original copy of the release form for your records.

  5. A copy of the release form needs to be kept for your submission too

  6. Make a list of questions that will allow the selected person to speak extensively on the subject, rather than just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers.

  7. Record at least 10 minutes worth of conversation with the selected person.

  8. Transcribe your recordings.



1. Adult and Child Release Forms

It is good practice to ask all of the people in your film to sign a release form. Adults are aged 18 years upwards. If someone is aged 16-17 years they can sign the form but you must give them a letter to take home to their parents explaining what the film is about. If they are below 16 years their parents or guardians must sign the consent form.

2. Location Release Form

You cannot film on private property without consent. This includes areas you may think are public, including parks, libraries and schools. Before filming find out who owns the property or land and ask for their permission. A location release form protects you and the owners of the property. If you do not have insurance you must tell the owner since you may not be allowed to film if you are not covered.

Most local authorities have someone who is dedicated to providing permissions for filming. Contact them before you start filming.

3. Materials Release Form

If you use anything from somebody else - a bar of music, a still photograph, a single frame of video then you need to have permission to use it.

The only way to be absolutely 100% sure that your film can be published is to make it yourself.


You cannot do the following:

  •  Use music from CDs bought in shops, from films, or from TV shows.

  •  Use video clips taken from the BBC archives website, or from other downloads.

  •  Use videos taken from YouTube.

  •  Use illustrations scanned from textbooks.

  •  Use professional photographs taken from websites.

  •  Use music performed by you or a friend but composed by someone else.


As a rule-of-thumb: If somebody’s selling it commercially, you can’t use it.


So, what can you do?

You can use anything that the copyright holder allows you to use, so long as you follow the conditions they specify.


1. Music from loops or editing software

If your editing software came with music loops or clips, or you have music software like GarageBand or Steinberg Sequel then you’re probably OK. Check the precise terms and conditions, if you can. We know you’re OK with Apple’s GarageBand, for example. This works because the music loops are provided with open licenses, and the final composition is yours.


2. Material owned by a friend, for which they give you permission. Need a photo of Tower Bridge, and have a friend who was there last year? By all means use their photo, if they’ll let you. Make sure you explain what’s going to happen to their picture, and how it’s going to be licensed, so they know what they’re agreeing to. You might want them to sign a materials release form so you can demonstrate that you’ve done everything properly. The same applies to music they’ve recorded for you — as long as they composed the track themselves. If it’s somebody else’s music and they’re just performing it, you’re back to square one.


Once you have selelcted the person you will intreview,

  1. Prepare carefully, familiarizing yourself with as much background as possible.

  2. Prepare a set of questions to ask the interviewee. Frame your questions in such a way that you dont get 'yes', 'no’ or one word answers.

  3. Establish a relationship with the interviewee conducive to obtaining information.

  4. Ask questions that are relevant to the source and that encourage the interviewee to talk.

  5. Listen and watch attentively.


Recording Level

It is important to remember that if your recording level is set too high, the loudest points in your recording will be distorted and loose definition (particularly if it is speech); if the level set too low, the softer sounds will be lost– which leads to you turning up the levels in mixing which in turn means you increase the background hiss noise. Therefore, it is crucial that you get the recording level set correctly before you start recording. Sound levels are measured in decibels (db) and generally range from 100 to ‐100. As a good, ‘rule of thumb’, it is best not to let the highest sound level in your recording go above ‐12dB. This will allow you some ‘headroom’, later when you are mixing your recorded sound to allow you to increase the volume, if need be, without distorting it.


  1. Keep the recorder on a table, so it does not record any unwanted sounds that your hands may make.

  2. Make the interviewee feel comfortable, so that the interview is natural

  3. Be careful that you do not speak at the same time as the person you are interviewing.

  4. Try not to record more than an hours worth of sound, however you need to record at least 10 mins.


Once you have recorded your sound:

  1. The next step is to import your sound file/files into Premiere Pro. Refer to the AD5600 Module guide for the required settings and ensure that you use these settings.

  2. Clean up your file in Premiere Pro, leaving only mistakes that you feel might be animate-able. Remove gaps and mistakes that disturb the recording.

  3. Save each version of your Premiere Pro file incrementally, so that it is possible to look at the process that you have followed.

  4. Transcribe the first edited recording (after initial clean-ups have been done)

  5. Select four to six sections of the recording, (in both the Premiere Pro File as well the transcriptions) that you feel have potential to be taken forward


Transcribing and Editing

  1. Transcribe the first edited recording (after initial clean-ups have been done)

  2. Select two to six sections of the recording, (in both the Premiere Pro File as well the transcriptions) that you feel have potential to be taken forward (You can do this by colouring text in different colours)


Selected Sections of Transcription and Moving Storyboard/Animatic

  1. 3-5 minute edit: After receiving feedback on selected two to six sections of the transcription, select one of the sections and refine this into a final piece that is between 3-5 minutes in duration. Make sure that you have received feedback before selecting.

  2. 1-2 minute edit: After receiving feedback on edited 3-5 minute section of the transcription, edit this down to approximately 1-2 minutes in duration.

  3. Presentation: You will need to present/submit both the 3-5 minute and the 1-2 minute audio edit as well the transcriptions (as a Word file) in the next lesson.

  4. You will receive feedback for work submitted after the presentation

  5. Visualise and create images for the selected one-minute of transcription to make a moving storyboard - You can begin making  your moving storyboard before you receive feedback.

  6. Once you receive feedback, you can then implement the suggested changes as you see appropriate to building your story.


Moving Storyboard/Animatic on Premiere Pro file

  1. The images you visualise and create need to need to be uploaded onto Premiere Pro to match the audio. Make a Quicktime and send this in for feedback.

  2. You will receive feedback for your animatic.

  3. Finalise Animatic/moving storyboard implementing feedback received.


12. Plan Animation and begin animating according to your time schedule

bottom of page