Assignment 3.1: Gathering Data: Community Voices and Animation Approaches

TASK: Design a PDF or similar document of 1,200 – 1,500 words that gives a focused account of:
• summarises your data-gathering, the methods you used and its relevance to your research question
• presents the data you gathered
• documents your analysis and interpretation of your data
• reflects on the results in relation to your ongoing research and research question – are you going to change or modify your approach?

This document can bring together secondary sources through bibliographies, highlight key pieces of data you think are relevant, include additional diagrams that help make conceptual connections, and be a visual piece of work in its own right.

I started by reviewing Assignments 1 and 2 in the light of feedback from my tutor, new work opportunities and software iPad updates, and need to manage RSI now I have more pc work for my professional contracts. My final revisions compared with what was anticipated there can be seen in the annotations on the Research Flow Chart on Visual Research Process and Assignments.

See also my notes bringing together questions from art criticism and translation theory that I use in this Assignment:

Thinking About Translating Community Voices.

I also updated the blog theme to WordPress 2020 to enable a more streamlined and attractive layout (still being refined).

My work on Assignment 3 is mainly practical analysing primary data from my professional work and/or linking to on-line videos, websites and other sources. Going forward, and particularly in Assignment 5, I will link back to and further develop my analysis with the theoretical and methodological frameworks from Assignment 2 and with full Harvard referencing.


My visual research is driven by professional opportunities and need to develop textless visuals on gender and empowerment for a global audience including people in communities as well as development agencies – particularly low bandwidth on-line animations. This research on wordless animation strategies informs and complements parallel but separate audience work for development agency training on interactive infographics around concepts of leadership and movement-building using Adobe Animate in ‘Only One’ for Visual Communications Advanced Practice (to be confirmed).

My main focus in Part 3 was gathering data on three levels in order to:

a) focus my questions around ‘creative translations’

Based on analysis of community drawings and visuals I explored the ways in which women and men in different contexts use drawing to communicate ideas, and some of the limitations. I identified specific stories that I can develop into translations in my visual portfolio. I also looked at existing animations around development issues and common cultural design and animation styles in South Asia and Africa.

b) expand my visual repertoire

I researched possible animation ‘translation styles and techniques’ based on inspiration from other animators, particularly those working without text and with simple animation. I identified a number whose work I could feasibly draw on in my creative translations.

c) identify practical possibilities

I researched different types of iPad software I could use as part of an RSI-friendly workflow to achieve the animation approaches and styles that would be feasible for me as an independent animator and started to develop the required technical skills.

For my visual work see:

Assignment 3.2 Visual Exploration: drawing and animation experiments

As the format for the project as a whole is on-line, this page and links therefrom a printed pdf.

Technical research : Data gathering 3

I then started to develop concrete proposals and production plans for 5-10 short animated ‘creative translations’ with feasible ideas on animation style, technique and appropriate software workflow that will be taken forward in Assignment 4:

For my visual work see:

Assignment 3.2 Visual Exploration: drawing and animation experiments

As the format for the project as a whole is on-line, this page and links therefrom a printed pdf.

1: What is the question?

How can community visions and strategies for empowerment be ethically ‘translated’ into powerful visual communication for advocacy in a way that ‘frees, transforms and multiplies rather than possesses, controls and defines’?

In particular:
– can this be done graphically without text through using simple lines and shapes?
– can textless narrative sequences as short comic strips or simple animation overcome some of the communicative limitations of single images
– can this be done using media accessible to most people working in communities?

My visual research is driven by opportunities to develop new forms of visual communication in the context of my professional life as a consultant in community empowerment methodologies for international development agencies. There are openings – and also a need – to produce visual resources for training and advocacy that link people in communities with government and private sector decision-makers on a more equal and also global basis. This means resources that do not rely on literacy or fluency in international languages. My research is also driven personal constraints in the form of RSI and health limitations on travel.

The underpinning theoretical framework I chose was that of translation theory, together with questions from communication theory and semiotics (See question on the left).

A key area of interest is in production of short textless animations that can be downloaded onto smartphones and tablets by people in communities as well as development workers, placed on social media and networks for dissemination without additional cost. In the course of Assignment 3 I decided to focus specifically on animation – leaving work on text and infographics to Advanced Practice audience work. In the course of my research I also concluded that it would be possible to do this using free or very cheap iPad software alone, and combining these into interactive pdfs. Instead of using more complex and very expensive pc software. That would also make my experiments more relevant to development workers who could replicate themselves some of my suggested techniques on their own tablets or smart phones. As well as making management of RSI more feasible, at least in the development and learning stages of animation.

The revised question then broke down into a number of specific questions for this stage of my research in Assignment 3 (see right).


  • How do women and men in communities communicate concepts and experiences in their drawings?
  • What can I identify as common visual techniques and/or potential narratives for animation?
  • What challenges of textless communication do I need to address?
  • What simple drawing and/or animation techniques can be used to clarify visual communication without text?
  • How have illustrators and animators used line, shape and colour to communicate different messages?
  • What different styles have been used in different cultures?
  • How have they simplified and abstracted of facial expressions and figures?
  • How do they create humour? Shock?
  • What is the best workflow for me to produce short (60 second max) animations of selected community stories on an iPad?
  • What type of animation is feasible for me?
  • When should I draw with pen and paper?
  • What iPad software is most useful and at what stages, for which styles and purpose?
  • What might be the main limitations?

2 Data Gathering

In this Assignment the main aim of the data-gathering was to broaden my repertoire of:

  1. community images – drawings and role play photos – in order to identify potential styles, communication strategies and narratives
  2. animation styles and techniques from other animators, particularly those producing short textless animations
  3. iPad techniques and software that could complement photos and sketches as part of my workflow.

In order to start to answer my research question and develop concrete translation plans for my visual portfolio. For overview see:

My investigation and analysis of all the data indicated below was ongoing. Narrative analysis was much more detailed and focused in relation to development of the translation sets identified for Assignment 4. Animation experiments were revisited and polished as short animated vignettes in Assignment 5.

Data Gathering 1a: Community Voices

I started my research on community voices to enable me to focus my questions around ‘creative translations’. This meant looking through my thousands of images of community drawings, selecting series where I had enough background information and documentation of the drawings to ask and as far as possible to answer questions about:

  • How do women and men in communities communicate concepts and experiences in their drawings? How does this different depending on background, context and/or facilitation process?
  • What can I identify as common visual techniques and/or potential narrative strategies for animation that can be widely understood by different audiences?
  • What challenges of textless communication do I need to address? How can this be done?

I also wanted a variety of drawing styles, and different development themes important for my current work in order to develop a number of different story lines that might be of sufficient interest to colleagues to get feedback.

Based on my review I selected and analysed five different sets of visual data. I pasted the images I had into my Sketchbook 2: Community Voices and started my analysis and visual experimentation – copying freehand some of the drawings to get a feel for how the lines were made, and the details that were there. But I did not spend long on that at this stage as it became mechanical. A lot more detailed analysis will be done in Assignment 4, focusing on the specific story lines and translations. See detailed presentation of the data and analysis in the linked posts of:

Semiotic and Visual Analysis

The community datasets were very variable, between facilitation processes and individuals rather than contexts as a whole. Particularly in Pakistan and India where most drawings were by people at one-off workshops there were big differences in education level, many different drawing styles can be found on one group drawing. This variation was less in Africa, but there were still big variations depending on education and also how long people had been using pictorial methodologies.

Some images, particularly from tribal women in India who had never held a pen before, were very stylistically expressive – reminiscent of Basquiat or Tracey Emin, though the exact meaning needed verbal explanation.

Some images, particularly from women Gumutindo coffee farmers in Uganda were mini-narratives that could be pretty much understood even by outsiders.

Some organisations had over time developed their own internal semiotic language, resulting in very complex systems for pictorial recording and analysis, innovating with the diagram guidelines provided by myself. Anyone used to working with the organisation would be able to read these diagrams with little additional explanation.

Gender, poverty level and emotional state were widely communicated through abstracted figures differentiated by use of clothing, hairstyle, facial expression etc., even where drawings were spontaneous and done with little guidance.

Signs like arrows, dream bubbles, skid marks, tears and so on were also widely used and understood.

Concepts like empowerment, gender-based violence and leadership could be visually disaggregated into component meanings and gradations of power, abuse etc. that could be understood once the topic of the exercise was known.

That said, some of the images were very formulaic, eg with ‘sad crying figures’ meaning anything from loneliness to lack of identity and freedom. Such limitations would need to be overcome through developing symbolic juxtaposition of elements as single-image or sequential narratives.

Data gathering 1b: Visuals from development agencies and cultural context

I also looked at existing animations around development issues and common cultural design and animation styles. This was done through Google and You Tube searches and based on resources I have been looking out for in the course of my work before and since starting the course. See presentation and analysis of the data in the linked posts:


In contrast to the community drawings the visuals from development agencies, and also graphic artists in Pakistan and Africa tended to be rather formulaic following a global digital style, with some variation in colour, features etc. The most significant shortcomings from a development perspective is the widespread reliance on a lot of written text or voice over narrative in English or main national language. Although these were obviously very professional, using comedy as well as serious messages, they were not appropriate animation models for my own work.

Some of the Indian animation was more ‘artistic’ with evocative black and white styles that were more relevant for my research, but still very reliant on English.

I continued to look for textless examples of illustration and animation in unconventional style – my aim being to broaden the repertoire. My anecdotal experience is that people in communities – like everyone else – rapidly become accustomed to stylistic conventions and tend not to look at many of the visuals produced by professional artists working with development agencies. Sources of innovative visual and narrative inspiration will in future be included in my category of Data Gathering 2.

Data gathering 2: Inspiration:
Innovative simple textless animation and/or visual style

In Assignment 3 my animation research was just starting with:

May aim in Assignment 3 was to significantly expand my visual repertoire of innovative inspiration for simple textless animation and/or visual style that I could feasibly adapt in my own short animations on the iPad. I used a combination of:

  • further investigation of illustrators and animators whose work I had looked at in earlier OCA courses
  • Google and You Tube searches on textless animation, political animation, 2D animation, flipbooks etc.
  • consultation of the available on-line sections of the OCA Moving Image 1 : animation module, further following up on links from there.

From this research I identified a wide range of possible approaches by animators whose work I myself find very effective in different ways, many working without words and in simple enough styles for me to simplify further on the iPad (see some key examples on the right). I thought my focus would be mainly in the form of traditional cel animation, building on experience of flipbooks. Though I might also experiment with some simple cut-out collage animation and lego puppet animation in the iPad software Toontastic. 2D vector animation in eg Adobe Animate would be left until a much later date.

Within 2D Frame by Frame animation styles I found many different styles and approaches that I would like to analyse in more detail and adapt in some way. I was particularly interested in exploring the key elements of animation identified in OCA Moving Image 1 : Animation module and the examples on the right:

  • ‘Boil’ strategies that create the illusion of constant movement across all or parts of the image
  • Cycles, loops and layers
  • Different frame rates
  • Attention to eye trace

The use of audio and sound effects and its relation to the visual narrative is also important.

In Assignment 5 this was brought together with further research in Assignment 4 as one page with padlet:

Monochrome styles
Painterly/drawn colour styles

Data gathering 3:
Technical research

The third element of my data gathering was to investigate different types of iPad software, the range of techniques and styles which other animators have used them. In particular, which software techniques would be most useful to adapt the animation styles I want to use in my translations. And how they might be combined in workflows adapted to different animation requirements.

A potentially effective initial iPad workflow I identified was:

  • Toontastic as a playful lego-puppet story-telling ap with very simple colours and character animation to experiment with simplification of the narrative, character and scenes with built-in mood music and possibility to alter order and number of scenes. Whether it is possible to create comic child-like animations just using this remains to be seen.
  • Procreate to create very artistic atmospheric drawn and/or painted short scenes, including photo and video import. Export to either:
  • Flipaclip to create longer sequences with multiple layering and audio tracks. Flipaclip could also be used alone for the whole process where very artistic effects are not required.
  • Rough animator to create longer sequences with complex loops and cycles with single audio track. Will export to After Effects.

But I found the professional software on a pc with bigger screen and much better timeline automation features much more user and RSI-friendly for my work. I was already familiar with Adobe Animate, used for some of the diagram animations on this blog. But after looking through tutorials and reviews on You Tube, I decided on:

  • TVPaint because of its art-style drawing and painting features as well as professional timeline management, storyboarding etc.
  • Adobe Animate for vector animation, symbols and small file size, tweening and interactivity (see Adobe Animate software overview and styles)
  • Adobe Premiere for final compositing and sound effects

Other software to be further explored in future:

  • Adobe After Effects for puppet animation of eg Illustrator characters, video stabilisation and robust effects compositing
  • ToonBoom studio for easier smoother cartoon-style animation?
  • Blender for 3D?
Key things to look for when choosing animation software:
  • Drawing tools vector drawing tools for creating motion and scaling and/or pixel-based tools for more artistic effects.
  • Symbols or re-usable elements
  • Tweening or smoothing/interpolation of animation between drawn key-frames
  • Onion-skinning: viewing of previous and following drawn frames to facilitate accurate drawing of current frames
  • Layers to be able to create scenes. Including image import so that backgrounds and other features can be created from photographs, artwork or imported images from other drawing and painting aps.
  • Timeline features: control over frame speed and duration, easy addition and deletion of frames.
  • Audio features to import music, narration and sound effects
  • Text features to add titles, captions and additional text overlays.
Bloop animation review of the main professional software: 3D from Autodesk (3DMax, Maya and?); Blender (free 3D); Cinema 4D; After Effects; Adobe Animate; Photoshop; TVpaint; Toon Boom. See also
Overview of free and professional software: MohoAnime Studio (free); Synfig (free) ToonBoom Harmony (professional used by Disney); Opentoonz (free Open Source used by Ghibli for Princess Mononoke) Cel Action (free no drawing tools); pencil 2D (minimalist traditional FbF); Tupi Pen Source tweening; Flipbook imports drawings from a scanner; Sprinter Pro to import and animate bones; Stop Motion Studio for Stop Motion.

My portfolio

Having identified potential workflow I did some preliminary experimentation on my iPad based on drawings from Uganda, DRCongo, India and Pakistan.

See Assignment 3.2 Visual Exploration: drawing and animation experiments

I then started to develop concrete proposals and production plans for 5-10 short animated ‘creative translations’ with feasible ideas on animation style, technique and appropriate software workflow that were taken forward in Assignment 4:


Notes on how I think my work meets the assessment criteria:

  • creativity: the new plans for more but shorter animated iPad ‘translations’ opens up much more possibility for developing a broad range of creative responses and experimentation that will then be carried forward to the final interactive on-line experience.
  • research and idea development: contextualised semiotic analysis and visual comparison of five different community data sets, exploration of the approaches and techniques of early and contemporary animators to broaden the range of visual and narrative inspiration, together with fpcused experimentation with different visual translation possibilities in the Sketchlogs and digital iPad work.
  • visual and technical skills: new iPad drawing and animation technical skills, and further development of drawing/sketching/concept drawing skills and addressing a weakness in narrative and storytelling skills.
  • context: theoretical frameworks and researching illustrators and animators and work of other designers, illustrators and animators in development agencies, Africa and Asia as well as Western traditions.

Reworking in subsequent assignments from feedback (to be done)

Links to Assignment 3 Data-gathering outcomes

Community Voices : data-gathering 1a

I selected four sets of visuals from my many potential primary datasets:

External Voices: data-gathering 1b

In addition to revisiting work on Islamic calligraphy and Street Art from Book Design 1 (opens in new tab), I selected four sets of relevant visuals from Africa, Asia and development agencies from many potential primary datasets: