Documentaries Everyone Should See
Written by Cary Nelson

Animation documentaries are a fascinating look into studios, artist's lives, and the process of making films or TV shows. The trials that one faces for their art/career can be astonishing. With these documentaries, all this is shown. So here's a short list that we hope gets you inspired.

6 Days To Air (2012) OOPS! MISSING IMAGE

The television show South Park takes around 6 days to produce an entire episode from scratch before it airs. This phenomenal feat is shown in this TV documentary that following the making of the episode "HumancentiPad" (S15E1). It shows just how many people it takes to come together and produce an episode of a series, and the strain it can put on their lives.

At the time of filming, the series creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, were just stepping from opening their massively popular Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon, so this adds even more strain on the already short time limit due to the lack of preparation for a new season.


The Sweatbox (2002) OOPS! MISSING IMAGE

When Disney began work on The Emperor's New Groove, it was titled Kingdom of the Sun. Conceived and directed by Lion King co-director, Roger Allers, it was about a young, poor llama herder who changes places with the rich and cocky emperor that's been turned into a llama. All the music numbers were going to be composed by the singer-song writer, Sting; and had a very rich story. In return to the arrangement, Sting's wife, Trudie Styler, a filmmaker herself, got permission to document the making of the movie. She had quite unprecedented access to the studio and got an intimate look over the shoulders of the artists and director as they planned and begun work on the film. But as events played out, she accidentally captures the efforts of a production that ends up getting scrapped and reworked (a lot) to the movie that we now know today.

It features great interviews, a look at a grueling pre-production process, and fantastic shots throughout the Walt Disney Animation building, offices, and archives circa late 1990s.

Although never officially released (except a two minute cut used on The Emperor's New Groove DVD), it was shown for limited screenings in 2005, and like most things, can be found online.


The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (2013) OOPS! MISSING IMAGE

Following a year at Studio Ghibli as they near the end of production on Hayao Miyazaki's final film before his retirement, The Wind Rises, Miyazaki allows the filmmakers access to the studio and his life.

It also covers the studio's history, the people who work there, and the atmosphere of the studio itself. It takes you on production meetings, art rooms, and Miyazaki's daily routine and personal efforts in his local community.

Including a kind of side story about how Miyazaki's producer, Toshio Suzuki, juggles producing both The Wind Rises, and Isao Takahata's The Tale of Princess Kaguya at the same time, and the friendly rivalry between the two directors.

It's a great look at a person who has been crafting with an art form for so many years, and is ready to move on.


Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009) OOPS! MISSING IMAGE

Waking Sleeping Beauty tells the story of the ups and downs the Disney animation department faced after Walt Disney's death in 1966, and then to ultimately pull themselves back up again in 1989 and the 90's with the "Disney Renaissance" thanks to new management.

Interviews with key people paint the picture of those uncertain times, while delving into the bubbling underbelly that went on between the studio heads and animators at the time.

Directed by Disney producer, Don Hahn, who experienced it first hand, it's a great film about a bunch of really passionate people doing what they love to keep the ship afloat.


Persistence of Vision (2012) OOPS! MISSING IMAGE

Canadian animator, Richard Williams (Who Framed Roger Rabbit), feverishly directed the team at his animation studio in the UK for 28 years on the film The Thief and the Cobbler. Together they were working on putting Williams' ultimate vision of a "masterpiece" to the screen. In the final days of the 30 year production, and after financial backers came and went, Warner Brothers agreed to fund the rest of the money needed to complete the movie. Progess was too slow, and they still exceeded the budget; this led to Williams and his studio being dropped and the rest of the feature to be reworked and finished by different people and studio.

It was to be an animated epic that pushed the boundaries of the hand drawn medium to its limits with brilliant visuals that were painstakingly drawn with no computers. But after 31 years of labor and tens of millions of dollars spent, it all led to 1995, with the release of the (re-titled) film, Arabian Knight. The film now was a "Disney-knock-off" musical comedy-adventure that was an utter butchering of the original vision. They took the completed scenes by Williams, cut it down and combined them with noticeably lower quality animation and poorly worked in voice-overs for the mute Thief and Cobbler. It really is a train-wreck that needs to be seen to be believed.

This documentary is about the drive to create greatness; and could be taken as a cautionary tale about obsession and passion. Persistence of Vision makes you question what lengths you would go to truly see your vision become reality, and whether or not we should keep the perfectionist in all of us in check for the greater good of completing a project.

Article: Copyright © 2016

In 1933, Tex Avery lost the sight in his left eye after it got hit by a paper clip shot with a rubber band by co-worker and fellow animator, Charles Hastings.

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