J.R. Bray: Documentarian?
Noell Wolfgram Evans · From fps #1 · March 1, 2005 | John Randolph Bray (1879–1978) is inarguably one of the founding fathers of animation. Much could be said about the talent he discovered, the patents he held, the breakthroughs he oversaw, his business acumen or the characters he brought to the screen. What isn't often discussed is the influence he had in non-fiction animation, particularly training and educational films.
By definition, the line between the educational and documentary film is a thin one, if it is even there at all. Educational shorts as a whole are an interesting type of film; their purpose is obviously to teach, but one could argue that is the purpose of a documentary film is as well.
The task of defining documentary animated film is a slippery one. There are many pieces of work that could be considered documentary even though they don't fit neatly into a dictionary definition of the term. J.R. Bray produced a number of films that fall into that grey area: films that taught, defined and showed things through an unfiltered lens.
Already a successful animation producer, Bray started using animation as a teaching tool, in full force, during World War I. When the war began, the US Government put out a call to filmmakers for training materials. Bray took some of his animators to West Point and created a short training piece. The government was so impressed that they awarded him a large production contract.
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