The Animation of Cheating Hitler

November 14, 2019

If you've watched our documentary Cheating Hitler: Surviving the Holocaust, you'll know that the animated sequences are a very important part of the film. We sat down with animators Hanna Jovin and Adrian Morphy to find out about their experience with the project. Cheating Hitler: Surviving the Holocaust airs Saturday, Nov. 16 at 9 p.m. E/P on Global TV.


How did you get involved with the project?


Hanna: Adrian and I were just wrapping up a CBC digital series (Before & After) for Producer Steve Gamester when he and Director Rebecca Snow approached us about doing animations for Cheating Hitler.


How do you feel the animation complements the film or the survivors' journeys?


Hanna: The film is about children who came of age during the Holocaust, so we all felt that the animations should reflect a certain naivety and innocence, almost as if they were drawn by the children themselves.


Adrian: Our goal was for the imagery to elevate the emotional moments in the stories, and bring to life characters that existed almost entirely in the survivors memories. When animating, we always asked ourselves, How would a child see this scene? and went from there.


Hanna: Ultimately, the animations serve as a window into the psyche of the survivors as children.


How did you decide what sequences to animate?


Hanna: I think that from the start Rebecca had a lot of scenes in mind that she wanted animated. All of the animations were used to illustrate scenes from the past, from when the survivors were children, and are recounting memories from that period.


Adrian: Typically Rebecca provided a work order which contained the transcription of the interview and suggestions for what they’d like to see in the scene/animation. We usually discussed the scene together and bounced ideas back and forth until deciding the best way to represent the memory in question.


How did you come up with the look of the animation?


Adrian: We decided early on that the style would be childlike and innocent, with many collage elements. This meant a lot of layering between actual drawings, archive, and textures.


Hanna: We primarily focused on a black-and-white look for the characters, with sepia tones in the background imagery. We sometimes had pops of colour to emphasize certain things, such as green in the forest, red for blood, and yellow for the badges.


How did your process work?


Hanna: I drew all of the storyboards as well as all of the designs (characters, backgrounds, etc.) Any drawing with a wiggle effect was drawn four times. Early on we knew we wanted to have this wiggle in a lot of our drawings, but wanted it to have a raw energetic effect, rather than a digital look, so I drew each piece four times to achieve this effect.


Adrian: Once I have all of those elements from Hanna, I import them and begin editing the sequence, looping the drawings to generate the wiggle, putting in any camera moves, morph effects, and figuring out creative ways to transition in and out of interview footage.


Hanna: Sometimes when he imports all of the images, I’d end up adding more elements or adjusting certain things. Overall the process was very collaborative.


How does animating for a history documentary compare to animating for a different kind of film or short?


Hanna: When animating for a documentary, we feel it’s important to be respectful towards the subject matter by doing our research into the history before starting the creative process. We watched a lot of Holocaust documentaries and had many conversations with our director and producer about the survivors' stories before any drawings were done.


Adrian: We wanted to make sure we honoured the survivors by illustrating their stories in a way that accurately represented their perspectives and memories. We also received a lot of reference photos to work with, such as photos of the survivors themselves, and their families, which was very helpful in creating the look of the characters.


What was the hardest thing about creating the animation?


Hanna: The most notable challenge working on this film was dealing with the emotional hangovers, the overwhelming sadness we felt for some of the stories we heard, or the suffering we saw in the archive images. Some of those pictures were haunting.


Have you animated for a documentary before?


Hanna: I did the illustrations for a short documentary before, but this was my first time animating for a feature doc of this scale.


What are your backgrounds?


Hanna: We both went to Ryerson Film School and have been working in the industry for a couple years now. I now primarily work as a freelance director, producer, and animator.


Adrian: I work primarily as a freelance editor, writer and director.


What was it like attending the premiere at the TIFF Lightbox, during Holocaust Education Week?


Adrian: It was a very moving and emotional screening, especially because all of the survivors were there with their families. It was a special moment to witness and resonated so clearly with the audience.


Hanna: Many tears were shed. Our parents loved the film.


Were you able to meet Rose, Maxwell, or Helen at the event? If so, what was that like?


Hanna: We were lucky enough to meet Maxwell at the screening and he was so wonderful. He said he really liked the animations so that was very special to hear.

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