Encyclopedia of Computer Graphics and Games

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Animation and Neurocinematics: Visible Language of E-motion-S and Its Magical Science

  • Inma CarpeEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-08234-9_70-1


Emotional Regulation Emotional Intelligence Visual Literacy Emotional Energy Emotion Reveal 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Animation: is the emotional energy in motion of a visual thinking. The illusion of life by making sequential drawings (or 3D representations) of a continuing action and projecting their photographs onto the screen at a constant rate.

Neurocinematics: refers to the neuroscience of film, term coined by Uri Hasson from Princeton University, who studies the effects on the viewer’s brain activity when watching a given film.


Why does it matter what we know about emotions when making movies? Can an animation help us to understand them better? Even if we naturally learn by telling stories, people may forget words and events, but they will never forget how something makes them feel. Movies touch our hearts in the same way they touch our minds.

Whether we hope to spot concealed emotions or seek compassionate connection, our ability to see and respond to others’ often unspoken feelings is central. This ability can be trained. We provide the tools. Paul Ekman

The use of animation as a creative media to enhance communication implies to study relationships, how we connect with each other and how our brains make connections with the information that collects. Neuroscientists acknowledge that we humans need to make sense of our reality, for what we make relationships depending on our perception (Beau Lotto 2015). The dangerous and magic point of this fact is the brain does not distinguish between the imaginative perception from the real perception. If our well-being depends on how we see, perceive the inner/out world, we need to experiment and study how we make stories in order to deconstruct them and get to observe from different angles, not just one reality but may be many others.

Emotional regulation is extremely relevant since influences our decision-making and problem-solving skills. Our well-being or happiness depends on this mysterious ancient world of emotions connected to our way of thinking, and we can explore it through animation. Studies from Talma Hendler, Zack Jeffrey, or Uri Hasson evidence of how watching movies activate specific areas in our brain related to different emotions. This new neuroscience of film making is known as Neurocinematics (Hasson 2008). There are no specific studies regarding to the positive effects of the creative process of animation, especially focusing on how animation and emotions are connected during the art production.

Labs such as Lotto Lab in the United Kingdom, the Animated Learning Lab in Denmark, or the Film Board of Canada have been working on this issue by developing new paradigms of teaching connected to sciences and film production. They include into their teaching human values such as mindfulness, compassion, resilience, and emotional intelligence. We consider animation as a social emotional learning tool; animation is the emotional energy in movement that provides the illusion of life, a soul, and a fantasy world as real. It is an artistic thinking-feeling media, which provides great opportunities to experiment, by playing, with different perspectives, creativity and innovation, and new worlds.

Before going into the current fascination with visual effects and the most advance technology in movies, we should recall how the art of film making started with silent feature films such as from Méliès, A trip to the Moon (1902) or Chaplin’s The Kid (1921). In these films as many others of that time, the main tools that directors could count on, to show the audience an idea or feeling, were the movement, action, and music before dialog appeared. Animation happened even before those movies were produced, in the Upper Paleolithic caves of Altamira or Chauvet (France, ca. 30000 BC). Those were the first attempts to express the idea or feeling of how an animal look like, furthermore, in movement. Some anthropologists and psychologists of neuroaesthetics as Marcos Nadal (University of Vienna 2014) believed that those representations were probably like plays where they could rehearse a situation like hunting. Those cavemen were learning through visual storytelling, most likely making their own sounds and pantomime, before any language existed. They made associations between what they saw and the drawings on the walls with a meaning.
Fig. 1

Film animated strip

Animation can be as abstract as in its origins and go beyond the limits of the physicality of live action movies, for which we usually see a hybrid of productions that need animation to recreate the impossible scenarios that we imagine in our brains, such as Avatar (James Cameron 2009) or possible recreations from the past, such as Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg 1993). Directors like Ray Harryhausen (United States) and Jan Švankmajer (Czeck Republic) were experimenting live action with animation before big companies like Disney produced the well-known Mary Poppins (1964), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1998), and The Three Caballeros (1945). Animation acts as the bridge between reality and fantasy, and the imaginary perception and the real perception. It makes us believe the most abstract forms or realistic dreams as real life, thanks to the emotions which connect us. The short movie The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics (Chuck Jones 1965) is a very harmonic story where we see through the simplest elements of visual composition, the pure expression of feelings in movement.

In the following lines, we will briefly present the relationship between animation, neuroscience, and emotions, which we use during film productions at different levels. We obtained very positive results that motivate us to share and ask scientists to keep working with artists, like Paul Ekman who has explored with his studies the universal signs of emotions and facial expressions in different cultures. Antonio Damasio pointed out that scientists record life as it is; yet, artists express it as it may or may not be. Artists can be the scientists of preconceiving life.

“The greatest scientists are artists as well” Einstein. (Calaprice 2000, 245)

This is our vision, how we can use the knowledge of producing movies to change our perception, to learn about life understanding our emotions, so the relationships that we have with the self and the external world (Fig. 2). Rewire our brain with a tool that helps to rewrite our story to become fully alive and make sense of our lives.

Methodology: Working Beliefs-Feelings-Actions Through Animated Productions

In this section, we share our observations and work method during the creative process of making an animated film.

We collected data from the Animated Learning Lab in collaboration with educational institutions from different countries, such as San Carles Fine Arts in Valencia, Spain; independent artists such as George Mcbean (UNICEF) and creative professionals, who have been working on tailoring animated workshops for students of different ages, from toddlers to postgraduate students. This makes a richer experience at the time to exchange and contrast ideas, which shows us interesting ways in which animation is a very powerful tool for building social relationships and increasing creativity. To answer why we connect animation, emotions, and neuroscience, we will start explaining the relationship between our brain and emotions.

Scientists such as Richard Davidson (University of Wisconsin) Daniel Siegel (Mindsight Institute, California) or Joe Dispenza (DC) have been studying neuroplasticity and researching the effects of meditation and emotional regulation for an optimal learning and well-being. As we mentioned before, emotions affect our decision-making, if we learn how to identify the emotions and regulate them, we will be able to develop resilience and increase our sense of fulfillment and contentment. We found that animation can be an excellent media to learn and regulate our emotions, understand different perspectives, and be more conscious about our feelings and beliefs.

The most recent Pixar movie, Inside Out (2015), is an excellent sample of the importance to understand the relationship between emotions and thoughts with behavior. Furthermore, some schools are using the movie to talk about and identify the emotions. By watching this movie, we learn to identify four from the primary six emotions that Antonio Damasio classified in his research (Damasio 1999). We get to know why and how the characters behave, what is inside our heads and what kind of feelings and actions emerge when one emotion is in control. We understand the importance of accepting and balancing negative and positive emotions because they need each other. The same thing applies to the question of being more rational or emotional; both go hand-in-hand and work together as we can see in Reason and emotion (Disney 1943). Some great films as Party Cloudy (Pixar 2009) explore feelings and ideas, friendship and resilience, with a clear reflection by using images over words. Luxo Jr. (Pixar 1986) was a revolutionary experiment using procedural animation, where John Lasseter applied the classical principles of animation to 3D characters in order to provoke emotions. Most recently, in the independent film-making arena, we find a movie which has a program for teachers to share wisdom about life, The Prophet (Salma Hayek 2015).
Fig. 2

Textile art for a character design. Re-construction of thyself

The field of neuroplasticity explains how our brain is capable of change with every experience and by repetition, creating new synapses and patterns that can determine new behaviors (Davidson 2008). Animation is all about repetition and focus; it is a transformative process where we work connecting our minds to our bodies. During any creative process, the energy flows where our attention is focused (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi 2008); some people are more kinesthetic, others are attracted to sound or are more verbal; these are some of the multiple intelligences that Howard Gardner (Harvard 2006) acknowledged, all can be explored during the creation of an animated movie as if it were a mindfulness practice.

Animation can be a practice of mindfulness, since animators need to observe outside of themselves, in order to be able to understand the character that we must animate, or have enough information to be able to design a new original character, environment which has to be believable and engaging to the audience. This engagement happens because our empathy and mirror neurons activate when a speaker and listener interact (Hasson 2010) (Fig. 3). Despite very subtle differences between cultures, is our basic human essence to connect through empathy; Paul Ekman (Emotions Revealed 2012) has been working for major animation studios due to his relevant studies about facial expressions, emotions, and deception. Animators have been using his knowledge to better understand the nuances of expressing feelings within different contexts and situations. This is relevant to exaggeration and having gestures to entertain the audience, as the story unwraps. Our understanding about the story itself is a reason for case study; to question beliefs, decide which emotions intervene and what actions are going to happen to resolve the conflict. Life is presented as a conflict to resolve, with a touch of imagination. Walt Disney Studios used to test future animators with an assignment where they had to express different feelings and emotions using a sack of flour. A clear sample of how we can learn about emotions from the inside out is by doing, as we do from outside in, by watching movies.

To work on a production, we set up groups of three or four students, depending on their age and interests. Each group had to discuss an idea and make a film out of it. Different roles were distributed amongst themselves, if they are not children under 9–10 years old. Ateliers are taught in a constructivism learning method (Vygotsky), to animate in a very intuitive way, by playing with the software and receiving small lessons and support from the tutors. We focus on four main animation techniques: pixilation, cut out, clay, and 2D, to keep them in touch with analog materials and avoid working just with computers. We encouraged the importance of using kinesthetic techniques when possible, since it helps to focus. The rewarding system of the brain activates when students see a physical and visual product after their learning experience.

Animators develop the four main components that Daniel Goleman acknowledges in his definition of emotional intelligence (2005): self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, and relationship management.

Naturally our brain is plastic and shapes itself by experiences; it is always transforming and creating new synapses, even as we get older. When we work on making movies, we put ourselves as directors or animators in hypothetical situations that, either, are real memories or fantasies. In either case, they are an excuse to experiment in a safe context, situations which we could be involved in, provoking: reactions and, inducing feelings and ideas that we can question by reflecting, especially working in groups where different perspectives are factored in.

The creators have to think and feel the way their characters must behave. During this process, they are not just passive observers but active protagonists. As a result, the learning experience is stronger and their effects are more intense regarding comprehension to why a character acts in a certain manner, and how they should express ideas and feelings in accordance with that behavior. The results in comprehension of emotional status are higher than when watching movies. While watching a film, each viewer makes a lecture of the scene based on his perception (from his/her background). In other words, they bring their vision from what they personally have lived; by doing animation, they become the character, forcing them to get his mindset with all its traits. Feelings are no longer a personal interpretation but a rehearsal for being the character, even though there may be certain level of subjectivity while acting.

Animation acts as a metaphor to transport the ateliers to live other people lives, through their minds and bodies. We usually hear“ You don’t understand because it never happened to you” and somehow this is true since the process of embodying feelings and ideas is always more real when one has lived a similar personal experience. The reason is there is a trace of that past event through all the senses, instead of being just a hypothetical thought or imagination. In this matter, the creative process is more important than the quality of the final result, because it makes you gain knowledge by experiencing instead by just listening or viewing (Fig. 3).
Fig. 3

Illustration of speaker-listener when telling a story

At the end of the production students, learn technical aspects related to animation and film making than can be applied to reflect on real life. Movies are audiovisuals expressions from reflections about life, a work in progress; and we create our own stories as recreations of past, present, or future events. We become the architects of personal realities, by editing those moments and putting them together to make sense of what we live (Lev Kuleshov 1920). Our brain does not distinguish what is real or fiction, and perception and cognition are crucial in understanding emotions and getting an optimal communication within the self and others. We edit and change our realities due to personal perception and the fragmentation that occurs in our brains when processing data; this is a whole new area of study, the cognitive neuroscience of film (Jeffrey Zack 2014).

Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot. Chaplin (1889–1977)

In making movies, we must be aware of the meaning and function that every artistic component adds to the film. In animation, we work with what big studios call color script, which shows the film’s colors and lights visualized in key frames from the primary scenes. Nowadays, we can find the whole movie compressed as a barcode, providing the whole spectrum in one image. Animators learned to evoke emotions by using different technical elements of composition such as color, warm for love and positive feelings, more blue or darker for sad ones: in Beauty and the Beast (Disney 1992) the castle changes from very dark bluish colors during the spell, to bright and warm towards the end of the film. Round shapes are more suitable for children; they are soft and calm as we see them in Lilo ad Stich (Disney 2002), while more angular shapes convey a cold and aggressive feeling. More light is associated with happy and relaxed situations, such as in Tangle (Disney 2010) where everything is inspired by the painting of Fragonard; the main colors are pink and soft with an especial glow. Music is extremely relevant as well as many other elements, such as rhythm. Animators and directors start to be more aware of the psychological and symbolic meaning of these components as they work on productions. Even camera movement can create and enhance different moods.

To summarize, life in animation is a safe game where we play somebody else; we are free and focus on what we do. Being aware of what happens brings a more peaceful status of relaxation to face problems and make decisions. We work on resilience and the relationships between the world and the self, as well as the connections between our thoughts, feelings, and actions, in order to reach balance. Animated movies can teach us how to feel like children again and inspire us to become our better selves, even when we are already grown-ups thanks to neuroplasticity. It is a chance to find ourselves in somebody else’s eyes, so we can meet others within ourselves by empathy, which is the key to our emotional system. Animation is an excellent art form for self-awareness and self-development, which we can use for children and adults. Filmmakers and professionals of other visual fields must take bigger responsibility of their influence in people’s lives, through their movies, especially children. Animation is more than an entertaining media; it is a visual language of emotions and feelings, worth to research the sciences of its effects in how we make up stories in our minds in order to make meanings and sense of our lives, starting by how we perceive the world.


  • Animation improves our cognitive functions and awareness of being.

  • Students or professionals learn about emotions and feelings (especially the difference)

  • It enhances social skills such as cooperation, compassion, tolerance, listening, and teamwork.

  • Animation provides a more natural method to reflect on actions by having fun, without judgment.

  • Communication becomes better within the teamwork by sharing and listening.

  • Expressing feeling through animation encourages students to find their voice when there is some impediment or difficulty, physical or psychological.

  • The students raise their self-esteem and feeling of reward by producing a final product.

  • Learning skills, as concentration, focus improve considerably after a program is complete.

  • Students start to develop a personal mindset with a critical view to question audiovisual information and beliefs systems.

  • Animation students get greater knowledge and comprehension of visual literacy when watching or producing movies.

  • Creativity increases in all cases, including the most introverted animators.

Conclusions and Discussion

Working with animation provides the tools to train our minds and bodies thanks to neuroplasticity, by applying the emotional intelligence. It can be considered as a medium for cognitive therapies.

It is a bridge between sciences and arts.

Animation is an excellent medium to teach visual literacy and develop critical minds to avoid manipulation.

Within art therapy, it works as an excellent new approach with autistic children and any other condition that is an obstacle to communication.

It is a mindfulness media and tool to put it in practice and bring consciousness from the unconsciousness.

The creative process of an animated movie helps to develop important social skills.

Animated movies serve as metaphors to communicate when language barriers are an impediment. It can be an alternative language to linguistics.

Animation should be considered a social emotional learning tool to be incorporated in regular curricula to implement knowledge about emotions.

Animated productions open new ways of communication, contributing to the creation of happier communities with the necessary tools to obtain an optimal sense of resilience, in order to cope with life’s challenges, learning to be humans. Animation is a social emotional learning media, extremely powerful to study deeper the cognitive effects in our brains and minds during art production, which can bring us a better understanding of how we see the world from different perspectives.

Animation can be an important storytelling media to be aware of our thoughts and feelings, to reflect upon them and understand the stories that our brain creates, since apparently its default mode activity is story-making (Mehl-Madrona 2010).

I am convinced that animation really is the ultimate art form of our time with endless new territories to explore. Glen Keane. http://www.awn.com/news/glen-keane-creates-nephtali-short-paris-opera


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Animation WorkshopVIA University CollegeViborgDenmark
  2. 2.University Polytechnic of ValenciaValenciaSpain