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RCA Symposium Challenges Definitions of Animated Documentary

The Royal College of Art hosts Ecstatic Truth: Defining the essence of animated documentary, on Saturday 14 May 2016. The symposium is organised by the Animation Postgraduate Research Group to celebrate the launch of the RCA’s new Documentary Animation pathway, which is open to applications for the 2016/17 academic year. 

Ecstatic Truth marks the APRG’s sixth research symposium, and invites speakers to consider the ways in which animated forms might address the notion of a ‘poetic truth’ that expands representations of fact and reality to capture more faithfully the nuances and depths of human experience. The organisation was set up in 2011 by Professor Paul Ward of the Arts University College at Bournemouth, as a supportive network in which MPhil and PhD students in animation can network, exchange ideas and disseminate their research. 

Ward, a prominent animation theorist and previous tutor in Critical & Historical Studies at the RCA, will serve as keynote speaker for the event. Other speakers include Abigail Addison from Animate Projects, who will speak about her work with scientists and a project entitled Silent Signal, and curator and historian Brigitta Ivanyi-Bitter, specialist in animated documentary from Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, and who recently curated Kovásnai – A Cold War Artist. Animation. Painting. at Somerset House.

The breadth of expertise and interest amongst speakers is intended to both reflect and to act as a starting point for both research and practice-based conversations that will continue to develop in the new Documentary Animation pathway. Designed to address the fast-growing documentary practices involving animation and other forms of image fabrication, the pathway – one of two, alongside Experimental Animation – is about expanding and combining approaches to questions about how to represent and engage with notions of the ‘real’. Students will be asked to consider critically the ways in which animated documentary might be considered an aspirational form of the genre, a serious form that contends notions that the truth may be represented by analogue photography alone.

The two-year Documentary Animation MA is taught in the School of Communication at the RCA’s South Kensington campus, and is the only dedicated programme of its kind in existence. The pathway, overseen by Head of Programme Dr Birgitta Hosea, will study various aspects of the potential fluidity of material between form an content embedded within the specificity of animation as a medium within the field documentary. Documentary Animation at the RCA hopes to attract those with an animation background looking to work with documentary as a new practice, or vice versa, those with a documentary background who wish to pursue the medium of animation. Optional beginners' animation classes will be offered.

The programme will emphasise the importance of research methodology as a critical element within the field, and one that might further develop a broad field of possibilities for practitioners and theorists alike. Core questions will examine the unique role of documentary animation in explaining information (diagramatics and big data), protecting the witness, depicting subjective states of mind and being or interior experience, reanimating history and imagining the future, as well as depicting impossible-to-access or otherwise invisible places, objects and materials. Within these broad areas of focus, students will consider the ethical choices and possibilities of representation, illustration, linear and non-linear narrative to produce a diverse range of output. The course has established links with the V&A, Imperial College, the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford; as well as The Wellcome Trust, with whom they will pursue collaborative work surrounding its comprehensive digital library of short films about medical and social issues.  

Ecstatic Truth hopes to present a framework within which many of these ideas will be explored by a community of like-minded researchers and practitioners both inside and outside of the RCA. Proposals should be for either a 20-minute conference paper or an alternative discussion/presentation format as appropriate for practice-based research (this can include work in a form of short film, images, etc.). The RCA and the APRG recognise the value of fostering and promoting a network of researchers that extends across UK institutions and engages in the global animation community. New researchers and prospective students are encouraged to present their work-in-progress to a friendly and well-informed audience of peers and supervisors and to participate in active dialogue and debate.  


Read more about Animation at the RCA and how to apply for Documentary Animation here.

Resources and material from the symposium are available to view here.