Insights: Simon Ball on Balancing the Real and Surreal


Animator / Filmmaker Simon Ball writes on his animated documentary Do You See What I See?, a project with origins in our Border Crossings initiative, an event connecting academic researchers with documentary filmmakers, now available online. Simon Ball’s Do You See What I See is available to view online at the ‘Created Out of Mind’ site, where more information about the project can also be found.

Utilising animation to document the symptoms of PCA (Posterior Cortical Atrophy, a variant of Alzheimer’s affecting the outer layer of the brain, in a region located at the back of the head) was an opportunity to bring the invisible symptoms of a rare medical condition to a wider audience.

When I first met Prof. Sebastian Crutch at Open City Docs’ Border Crossings initiative, I was fascinated by his stories of people with PCA. It was almost as if he was describing short animated sequences; each anecdote appeared to already exist in an animated form.

It would have been impossible to convey the balance between real and surreal in the situations described through a purely live action, video based film. The experiences of the people that I interviewed were very subjective and their descriptions often seemed very uncertain. So the primary technique I employed in the film (drawing over videos and computer animations) was designed to echo this uncertainty.

Animation gives more scope to explore subjective worlds and is less restricted by notions of truth and objectivity. As the project developed, I came to see PCA (and dementia in general) as almost a form of abstraction itself. We can’t always say exactly what specific processes are at work, but we can see all the symptoms and experiences that people describe as fascinating in their own right. For me, this is where animation can play an important role in the documentary genre.