Generation Animation

Use the arrow to scroll through each film in the playlist above.

Author:  Adrian Hickey
Format: Digital Video
Duration: various
Published: February 2020

Research Statement

The aim of this Screenworks publication is to analyse specific animated content developed through the Generation Animation project. The Generation Animation project is an example of what Sandmann et al. call “engaged scholarship”. (Sandmann et al., 2008) As they outline the “focus on engagement as a core value of the university reflects a fundamental epistemological position underlying the shift in the locus of education to include the community.” (Sandmann et al., 2008) In order to facilitate community engagement a Participatory Action Research (PAR) methodology was used. (See Fals Borda (1995), Mulroy (2004), Pool (2018) and Wakeford and Sanchez Rodriquez (2018)) This approach facilitated a voice for the children through their media practice. PAR promotes unheard voices by challenging traditional hierarchies of knowledge. (See JMPE paper). In Generation Animation the children were empowered to share their understanding of the UNICEF Rights of the Child. They were allowed freedom to explore their rights from script to screen, supported by undergraduate students. The animation work developed is therefore an example of situated knowledge – an onscreen representation of how the children understand their rights. In this paper I will present a textual analysis to scrutinise specific animated content and draw together wider thematic conclusions from the children’s media practice.

In 2016 the children made 34 films, and in 2017 the children made 28 films, for a total of 62 across the lifespan of the project. Each animated film relates to one or more of the 54 articles in the UNICEF Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNICEF UK, 2019). The children were free to choose which article(s) they wanted to make their animated films about. Table 1 quantifies the number of films made about each article from the convention. It is understandable that not all 54 articles manifested in the filmmaking because the children (8-10 years old) were deemed too young to engage with some of the articles. For example, “Article 34 (sexual exploitation)” and “Article 35 (abduction, sale and trafficking)” (UNICEF UK, 2019). Other reasons include irrelevant or unrelatable articles for this context, such as “Article 11 (abduction and non-return of children)” and “Article 41 (respect for higher national standards)” (UNICEF UK, 2019). Finally, articles 43-54 are specifically aimed at adults and governments so not relevant to the children in this project. The decision-making around the omitted articles was made by the teachers and accepted by University staff and students.

Table 1 helps identify patterns in the subject matter of the animated films. It is clear that many of the children were drawn to make animation about “Article 15 (freedom of association) Every child has the right to meet with other children and to join groups and organisations, as long as this does not stop other people from enjoying their rights” (UNICEF UK, 2019) and “Article 31 (leisure, play and culture) Every child has the right to relax, play and take part in a wide range of cultural and artistic activities.” (UNICEF UK, 2019) Taken individually, together or in combination with another article, Articles 15 and 31 have influenced the animated film-making in 56 of the 62 animated films produced across 2016 and 2017. The remaining animated films are about Article 2 (non-discrimination), Article 14 (freedom of thought, belief and religion), Article 19 (protection from violence, abuse and neglect) and Article 28 (right to education). I have selected eight animated films, that represent the themes of the project, for textual analysis.

Textual Analysis
In this textual analysis, the eight selected animated films represent the thinking of the children in four main areas; relationships with each other, socio-economic issues, educational issues and finally relationships with adults. The first two animation films reveal how the children relate to each other. Both films represent Article 15 (freedom of association) through the subject of bullying (Figure 1) and the arrival of a new child to the class (Figure 2).

Figure 1: Animation about Bullying in the context of Article 15 (freedom of association)

The male character in the first film (figure 1) accuses the two female characters of bullying him after they shove him and (gently) laugh. The representation of being outnumbered in various spaces from the school bus to the classroom, to the dining hall perhaps reflects the difficulty in avoiding bullies in shared spaces. There is no intervention from the teacher, who was present at the start of the film. The female characters admit their mistake and apologise to the male character in the end, which perhaps reflects how the children can take responsibility for their own actions without the need for adult intervention.

Figure 2: A new child arrives in the class in the context of Article 15 (freedom of association)

In Figure 2 the children explore the difficulty of settling in at a new school. Initially the bully picks up on a past sporting rivalry, using that as a reason to exclude the newcomer. When the female characters suggest talking to the newcomer, the bully is persistent and threatens to withdraw friendship from the female characters. The female characters ignore the bully, and invite the newcomer to a Halloween party which resolves the issue through inclusion, reflecting the ideas of freedom of association. (Referenced in Article 15)

Figures 3 and 4 offer an insight into what I broadly regard as representations of the socio-economic in the children’s lives. In Figure 3 for example, jealousy of a new toy causes a dispute and in Figure 4, theft of money drives division in the classroom.

Figure 3: A new toy causes jealousy in the context of Article 15 (freedom of association) and Article 31 (leisure, play and culture)

In Figure 3 a child brings their prized toy to school. The female friend is impressed and positive in her responses, while the other male friend acts unimpressed and uninterested. The argument escalates when the owner of the toy says “It’s better than anything you have.” This highlights the disparity in socio-economic circumstances between some children. When the jealous child takes and hides the toy, he feels vindicated, stating “I hid it because you were boasting and I always wanted one.” The behaviour represented here is an enactment of jealousy that is borne out of self-awareness of the child’s own circumstances – he isn’t able to get a similar toy which calls into question the child’s access to “Article 31 (leisure, play and culture) Every child has the right to relax, play and take part in a wide range of cultural and artistic activities” (UNICEF UK, 2019). The film resolves through a conversation between friends and an agreement to share the toy together.

Figure 4: Money is stolen in the context of Article 29 (goals of education)

Figure 4 opens with a report to the teacher about physical bullying. In the second scene the bully has escalated his behaviour to take money from the victim. Two forms of bullying so early in the film suggest an ongoing pattern and disregard for the adult intervention in the first scene. The theft of money in front of other children further reinforces a character who is not concerned about people knowing they are bullying or the consequences of stealing money. The children try to resolve the matter themselves but fail. The teacher’s intervention is represented here as brief, calm and inconsequential. There appears to be no reprimand for the theft which is perhaps a representation of how children think teachers deal with this type of behaviour.

Figures 5 and 6 reveal issues around educational attainment. In Figure 5 there is a struggle to complete homework and Figure 6 reveals a preoccupation with future struggles to settle in to Secondary school.

Figure 5: Homework issues in the context of Article 15 (freedom of association) and Article 28 (right to education)

In Figure 5 a male character bullies another male character into not submitting his homework. The bully threatens to make sure the victim will “have no friends” if they don’t comply. When the teacher investigates she goes only so far as to be “disappointed”. When questioned later by his peers the bully reveals he was compelled to do it “because your homeworks are always better than mine. Sorry.” In this animation the children have created a character who is motivated by academic jealousy and determined to interfere in the right to education (Article 28) of his peers. The children resolve the film by offering to help each other do their homework, indicating a willingness to support each other through peer learning. This type of shared experience is also evident in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Worrying about the transition from Primary School in the context of Article 15 (freedom of association) and Article 28 (right to education)

Figure 6 is unique in its setting as it is the only animated film out of the 62 set in a secondary school. At the time the children made these animated films they still had at least two years to complete at primary school. Their preoccupation with secondary school is made clear when their characters say they are “lost”. They are looking for their chemistry class, a subject the children wouldn’t have studied yet. In the playground the female character reveals she is “scared”. As the male character reassures her and they approach other children they realise they have to negotiate new friendships. This animated film ends with an interesting scene in which the parents arrive to ask the teacher if their kids were “good”, which indicates that the children want to impress their parents, even if, in their portrayal of secondary school, they represent themselves as literally “lost” and “scared”. Relationships with parents are the subject of the final two animated films in this textual analysis.

The remaining Figures 7 and 8 feature storylines in which the children relate to adults. In Figure 7 the parents are portrayed as incompetent as a child is left behind at a funfair, and in Figure 8 a child runs away from home because of an argument with his mother.

Figure 7: Parental incompetence in relation to Article 15 (freedom of association), Article 19 (protection from violence, abuse and neglect) and Article 31 (leisure, play and culture)

This animated film uses expressive emoji faces to show the feelings of the characters throughout. The film begins with a request from the children to go to “Barry’s”, a funfair and amusement park in Portrush, Northern Ireland. The father figure is portrayed as grumpy and dismissive, denying the request and declaring that “Barry’s is for stupid people.” Overruled by the mother figure, the father continues his grumpy declarations, rushing the family out of the funfair and leaving his son behind. The father’s incompetence is further highlighted when the mother has to explain what happened to him. The father’s only reply is disappointment at having to return to the funfair. Meanwhile, the forgotten child is comforted by another child who helps him to contact his parents. This animated film offers an insightful view from the children’s perspective on how they view the motivation of adults in relation to the negligence (Article 19) of being left at a funfair. The film resolves with the father offering to buy ice-cream, with the forgotten child insisting on bringing his new friend. (Article 15)

Figure 8: A child runs away after an argument with his mother in the context of Article 15 (freedom of association), Article 19 (protection from violence, abuse and neglect)

Figure 8 opens with a crying male character on a dark night. The children have recorded crying sounds followed by the opening dialogue, “I need a friend. I need a home.” This dialogue is unsettling, especially set against the night sky. The sobbing male character is discovered in a park by a female character walking her dog. When she questions him, he replies “No, my mum said that I should never have been born so I ran away.” This line shows the power that words can have as the parent’s comment was so upsetting that the character in the film left home. As in many of the other animated films, children rescue other children here. The female character comforts the male character and offers to take him home. In the final scene the female character negotiates with her mother to allow her new friend to stay because “he doesn’t have a mum or a father.” Although this isn’t true, it harshly reflects the way these children portray the words of the lost child’s mother.

In this paper I have analysed animated films created by the children during the Generation Animation project. Through doing so, I have shown that these animated films are legitimate knowledge which is representative of the lived experience of the children. My approach in analysing this project sits squarely in what Schön calls the new epistemology:

 “The epistemology appropriate to [engaged learning and scholarship] must make room for the practitioner’s reflection in and on action. It must account for and legitimize not only the use of knowledge produced in the academy, but the practitioner’s generation of actionable knowledge” (Schön, 1995: 26)

The textual analysis undertaken here reveals a remarkable and new understanding of the way these children in the Generation Animation project understand themselves in relationship to their social context. They have represented an understanding of their rights on screen and in doing so revealed that they are not only the living embodiment of their specific geography, but also that given the chance and support, they can express that experience effectively on screen. However, it is also important to acknowledge some of the limitations of this project. The agency of the children to choose Rights to explore onscreen was slightly curtailed by teachers who excluded some articles. There were also some limitations in the variety of articles the children chose to explore, with Articles 15 and 31 the predominant choice. There were also limitations in the storytelling models used by the students which was designed to encourage the children to write coherent stories and was necessary because neither the students, the children, nor the teachers had conducted this exercise before.

Overall, within these animated films there is evidence of how the children understand each other and their struggles with bullying and friendship. There is evidence of their understanding of socio-economic issues, including a self-reflective understanding of hardship. There is evidence of stress manifesting around educational issues such as academic failure, jealousy and dread of the next step in their academic lives. Finally their portrayal of adults, from teachers that make little intervention when expected, to parents portrayed as incompetent or even hurtful with their words, reveals a need to listen and understand more deeply than ever. More often than not in the films, children resolve issues with and for other children which reflects how they view their place in the world – resourceful, independent and creative. Further research is needed, possibly with the same children as they grow up, to see how their relationships to each other, adults, and their rights, evolves and how they represent those relationships on screen.

Ethical Statement
All Ulster University staff and students who were involved with Generation Animation went through Access NI criminal record checks before working with children. No data that could identify an individual child, including surnames, was collected, stored or disseminated during the project. All parents were informed of, and gave consent to, their children participating in the project via consent forms sent to and from the schools. All parents gave consent for their children to be photographed and/or filmed as part of the project via consent forms sent to and from the schools. Ulster University photographers also received consent to photograph and/or film children from the headteachers of both schools.

Fals Borda, O. (1995). Research for Social Justice: Some North-South Convergences. In: The Southern Sociological Society Meeting. [online] Atlanta. Available at: [Accessed 18 Apr. 2019].

Hickey, A., (2020) Generation Animation: Participatory Action Research and Intergenerational Pedagogy, Forthcoming

Mulroy, E. A., (2004). University civic engagement with community-based organizations: Dispersed or coordinated model. In Tracey Soska and Alice Johnson Butterfield (Eds.), University-Community Partnerships: Universities in Civic Engagement (pp. 35-72). The Haworth Social Work Practice Press, Haworth Press, Inc.

Pool, S. (2018) ‘Everything and nothing is up for grabs: Using artistic methods within participatory research’ in Facer, K. and Dunleavy, K. (eds.) Connected Communities Foundation Series. Bristol: University of Bristol/AHRC Connected Communities Programme.

Sandmann, L., Saltmarsh, J., & O’Meara, K. (2008). An integrated model for advancing the scholarship of engagement: Creating academic homes for the engaged scholar. Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 12(1), 47-64.

Schön, D. (1995). Knowing-In-Action: The New Scholarship Requires a New Epistemology. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 27(6), pp.27-34.

UNICEF UK. (2019). A summary of the UN convention on the rights of the child. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Apr. 2019].

Wakeford, T. and Sanchez Rodriquez, J. (2018) ‘Participatory action research: towards a more fruitful knowledge’ in Facer, K. and Dunleavy, K. (eds.) Connected Communities Foundation Series. Bristol: University of Bristol/AHRC Connected Communities Programme.

Media References
Figure 1: Animation about Bullying in the context of Article 15 (freedom of association). (2017).
Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2019].

Figure 2: A new child arrives in the class in the context of Article 15 (freedom of association). (2017).
Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2019].

Figure 3: A new toy causes jealousy in the context of Article 15 (freedom of association) and Article 31 (leisure, play and culture). (2017).
Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2019].

Figure 4: Money is stolen in the context of Article 29 (goals of education). (2017). [image] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2019].

Figure 5: Homework issues in the context of Article 15 (freedom of association) and Article 28 (right to education). (2017).
Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2019].

Figure 6: Worrying about the transition from Primary School in the context of Article 15 (freedom of association) and Article 28 (right to education). (2017).
Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2019].

Figure 7: Parental incompetence in relation to Article 15 (freedom of association), Article 19 (protection from violence, abuse and neglect) and Article 31 (leisure, play and culture). (2017).
Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2019].

Figure 8: A child runs away after an argument with his mother in the context of Article 15 (freedom of association), Article 19 (protection from violence, abuse and neglect). (2017).
Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2019].

Peer Reviews

All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to what follows:

Review 1: Accept submission subject to minor revisions of written statement.

General comments
This is an interesting Participatory Action Research (PAR) project that embeds children’s lived experience within the production process of a collection of short animations to capture the child participants’ understanding of the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) ‘Rights of the Child’, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). These animated films aim to represent on screen the children’s understanding of these rights. Children participating in the project were aged 8 to 10 years and made 62 short films between 2016 and 2017; they were free to choose which of the 54 UNCRC articles they explored through animation. The articles encompass all elements of children’s lives and set out how adults and governments should work together to ensure all children can enjoy all their rights. Hence, this submission, which is a combination of practice examples, accompanied by a written research statement, fulfils the REF definition of research as, “a process of investigation leading to new insights, effectively shared” (REF 2021: Guidance on submissions, 2019: 90).

The Screenwork
Selected examples of practice are embedded in the statement, well labelled with clear descriptions. The standardisation of animation techniques and materials – using a ‘South Park’ style of 2-D cut-outs on flat backgrounds – facilitated both the expression of the children through the process of animation and the subsequent textual analysis. The children’s lived experience, exemplified in the animated films they created with the assistance of undergraduate students, resonated with my own collaborative filmmaking projects with children and young people. In Figure 6, I recognise the children’s concerns and anxieties about progression to secondary education from my project work with primary school children. Figure 8, ‘The Lost Boy’, by Reece, Maciek and Charlie is particularly poignant, with the cartoon-like characters and colourful backgrounds, upbeat guitar and vocal expressions providing a stark contrast to the protagonist’s declaration, “my mum said that I should never have been born so I ran away”.

Research statement
The research statement proposes to draw thematic conclusions relating to children’s media practices via textual analysis of selected animation material. Eight animated films were chosen to represent four key themes identified through the project: the children’s perspectives on and understanding of their relationships with one another, socio-economic issues, educational issues, and relationships with adults, which are linked to the relevant UNCRC articles. There is generall a good analysis and evaluation throughout.

The written statement could be strengthened by mapping the research elements and situating the study within a critical and contextual framework. Details of research elements, such as questions, methods, potential wider impact and so on, may be included in the author’s JMPE paper.

Referencing and mapping
Briefly clarify the key terms, such as PAR and situated learning, with appropriate references at an appropriate point. If the statement then exceeds the prescribed limit of 2,000 words, I suggest the addition of a glossary of key terms – note that this would allow the inclusion of relevant information about UNCRC also. Unpick Donald Schön’s 1995 quotation from the 2008 quotation from Sandmann, Saltmarsh and O’Meara, and follow Harvard guidelines for an indented quotation which is 3 lines or greater. I recommend citing Schön from the original – The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action is widely available. The author could usefully expand on practice/actionable knowledge here and also draw on the critical thinking of Schön and others in the Research statement introduction to establish a clearly articulated framework for the study.
Expand the reference list (see comments below on context).
I suggest the inclusion of the eight short animated films in the list of references (or at the end of the statement) under a ‘moving image’ or ‘media’ sub-heading (or similar) with the Vimeo links.

Explain briefly key elements of the project, the involvement and roles of the author and undergraduate students and their interrelationship with the child participants, and how the scenarios were generated. This is important, particularly in pedagogical research, as other scholar researchers will want to draw on the Generation Animation methodology and outcomes for their own PAR media-based projects with children and young people. The field of pedagogical research practice should be defined with reference to relevant literature, along with appropriate PAR or media practice research centred on animation-making by children and/or young people.

Additional notes
I suggest that ethical considerations in relation to the project are included in the Screenworks statement. On a personal note, as a researcher who has worked with children, including young carers, on hidden harm – their lived experience of the impact of drug and alcohol abuse within the family – using animation-making, I would like to know more about the agency of the child participants in the decision-making process to exclude articles 34, 35 and 11. Whilst this information isn’t essential in this research statement, it indicates that Generation Animation generates a series of questions for further discussion and supports the pursuit of more project work of this kind to extend and deepen this important area of research. There is much potential here, and I encourage the author to develop further projects of this kind.

Review 2: Accept submission subject to minor revisions of written statement.
The aim of the project sits well with the Practice Pedagogies special issue editorial remit. The author situates the project clearly within a Participatory Action Research model, and in so doing, promotes the agency of the subjects, in this case the school children undertaking the writing, development and production of the animations, and allowing their voices to drive the project. The UNICEF Rights of the Child articles were used as the basis of a creative exploration of animated storytelling, and the author suggests that by scrutinising the animated content produced by the children, it was possible to draw together wider thematic conclusions about the experience of being a child.

There is some really interesting analysis drawn from the animated stories that the children created, and the author summarises these in the conclusion of the paper. However, there is some superficiality here, and there could be more acknowledgement of the context of the children’s storytelling. Storytelling tradition often cites adult characters as weak and ineffectual for example, creating a story world where children need to take ownership of problems, defend themselves, and seek out justice for themselves and their friends. The concluding statements did not go far enough to establish the limitations of the enquiry, to acknowledge the existing storytelling conventions that children may have inherently used, or how peer (and teacher) pressure may have influenced the stories. Conversely, the concluding statements did not reinforce the integrity of the project, which was clearly beneficial to all involved. It would be beneficial to hear about the impact on the children themselves, and the facilitators, including the undergrads, and what the feedback on the activity was.

Additionally, it would be interesting to expand on how the tutors and the undergraduates involved in the project played the part of the intuitive practitioner, or the pedagogue, nurturing the ideas, and enabling the children to develop the sense of ownership and agency in their creative work. How were the groups formed? How many undergrads worked with each group? Was there a whole group screening/critique? Did the children see each other’s work? What did they think and say about the results? Do those active participants agree with the author’s analyses?

There are many educational theorists who could have been used to frame this project, and the analysis of it. Vygotsky, for example, believed that creativity is something that exists in all people and that collective creativity is a way to tap into this, particularly through play. He considered imagination to be an integral part of creativity through its ability to support the production of new combinations of pre-constructed things. “The more a child sees, hears, and experiences, the more he knows and assimilates, the more elements of reality he will have in his experience, and the more productive will be the operation of his imagination”.

The project is an interesting screen-based practice research project.

All reviews refer to original research statement which has been edited in response.

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