StoryCorps’ animated shorts bring the voices and stories of everyday people from all walks of life to the screen. You might have first come to know StoryCorps by seeing one of our animations — maybe online, at a movie theater, in a classroom, on TV, or even on a Delta Airlines flight. But for StoryCorps, creating animations to illustrate our stories wasn’t part of the initial plan. It all started back in 2007, when an intern took a risk.
Mike Rauch, along with his brother Tim, had wanted to bring real stories from real people to life through animation since they were kids. As an intern at StoryCorps, he was excited by the opportunity to be around people who loved storytelling as much as he did.
When Dave Isay, StoryCorps’ Founder & President, opened up office hours, during which anybody in the organization could schedule time to come meet with him, Mike knew he saw an opportunity. But he felt shy. “I really wanted to ask him if we could animate some of the StoryCorps stories or some of his Sound Portraits work. But I didn’t really have the guts to ask him that.”
“So instead, what I asked him when we met was like, ‘Hey, do you have any advice for me if my brother and I want to animate stories like StoryCorps interviews or like your work at Sound Portraits?” And then he said, ‘Well, why don’t you just animate something from StoryCorps?’ And so I went home simultaneously super excited and super fearful.”
Although Dave had wondered about ways to add visuals to StoryCorps’ audio stories, the idea of creating animations had not previously occurred to him. At the time, video content online was gaining in popularity. “StoryCorps was audio, audio, audio. So animation was definitely something that hadn’t been part of the original plan,” remembered Kathrina Proscia, StoryCorps’ Director of Executive Office & Board Liaison.
Mike and Tim didn’t have much experience with the technical side of animation. “It was a lot of trial and error and messing things up.” But over the course of a year, they created their first animated short together: Germans in the Woods. A year after Mike and Dave’s initial meeting, the brothers were ready to unveil their work.
As Dave remembers of that day, “This thing started playing and it was beautiful…. And I was just like, ‘Go for it. I’m in.’” He continued, “I had to see it to believe it. It’s like falling in love; you know it when you see it.” And StoryCorps’ animations were born.
Over the next few years, Mike (who in the meantime, had joined StoryCorps’ staff as a facilitator) and Tim created several more animations in their spare time, until funding was secured for them in 2010 to make a series. The brothers hired a team that included art director Bill Wray, a cartoonist, animation artist and painter who they admired for his impressionistic, observational style.
The Rauch brothers went on to produce some of StoryCorps’ most beloved animations, including Danny and Annie, Q & A, and Miss Devine. Since then, a series of animators have contributed to StoryCorps’ catalog, which today totals almost 100 stories with additional animations released every year.
“The biggest challenge in translating peoples’ voices and memories to the screen,” says Mike, “was finding ways to make the animations as accurate as possible to the stories being told.” The brothers would undertake intensive research to learn as much as they could, often traveling to the locations where the stories took place, interviewing participants and their loved ones, and even looking at old family photos to familiarize themselves with details of time and place.
Looking back, Mike credits his lucky first break — the opportunity to create work for StoryCorps, and his entry into the professional world of animation, where today he works as an animation executive — to something he first heard from Dave: Dave talked about taking advantage of every “window of opportunity”. “If I hadn’t seized that opportunity to kind of go in and have time with him that way, this would have never happened.”