When the first images of the new Paddington film were released back in 2014, Paddington bear was met with mixed reactions. Fans perceived the CGI rendering as a bit too realistic, and Sebastián Niño, Lead Animator at Framestore VFX, recalls how discouraged and uneasy the animation team felt at the time. They had spent months painstakingly animating the motion of Paddington’s every feature and had fallen in love with the bear in the process. So why hadn’t other people?
It wasn’t until the film was released that Paddington began to win audiences over, eventually garnering 97% on Rotten Tomatoes and earning a spot in Empire magazine’s list of the 100 best British films. Paddington 2, on which Niño personally worked on, went on to earn 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. What had changed?
“Storytelling is a powerful thing,” explained Niño on stage at the latest SAP Design Talks. “More than visual effects, it’s the story that’s the backbone of animation and that makes the emotional connection real.”
While Paddington was beautifully brought to life a realistic-looking bear (perhaps, arguably, to a fault), it was his tale that ultimately won everyone’s heart. For Niño – himself a Colombian living in London – it was easy to identify with the story of a South American bear courageously setting off alone on an adventure abroad in London. Paddington had a warmth to him that immediately made him irresistible to audiences, and to Niño, it was clear that his job wasn’t so much to bring his features alive as to animate the motion behind this emotion.
“Emotion and motion: that’s the essence of any animators’ work,” said Niño, and it’s what makes animation so interesting. It’s a careful balance of scientific discipline and artistic license. Channeling moods, feelings, and personality through detailed movements requires a deep understanding of how biomechanics works. It involves taking a scientific approach to things like balance, weight, timing, and muscle and bone structure and movement.
But it also requires a deep sensibility for the subtleties of emotional expression. “Our eyes convey most of the emotional information. If you get that part right, and you really nailed it, then the rest is more of just a sideshow,” said Niño.
Niño likes to think of his craft as performance-driven animation. Animation that drives the story forward and supports storytelling, This is what most stands out about Niño upon meeting him: it’s not the technology or technique he is most passionate about, but rather the way they are used to strike emotional chords and connect with people. And he’s not alone.
We are seeing a change in the importance of emotional connection for business. Emotion is quickly becoming the new commodity. Nowhere is this more evident than with Qualtrics, the most recent acquisition by SAP, whose core business is based on understanding and acting on customers’ opinions and emotions.
Tapping into customers’ emotions has the potential to influence everything from content marketing, to branding, to learning, to user experience and even product development. But data doesn’t stand alone, and Qualtrics understands the importance of using analytics to build good stories. In order to truly help decision-makers understand the meaning behind the numbers, writes Catherine Thurtle from Qualtrics, it’s important that we “humanize and tell the stories around data.”
As for Niño, he’s confident that animation will become increasingly important to storytelling as the technology becomes more readily available to everyday users. Animation is one of the most dynamic and growing industries in the world and even at SAP we’ve seen animation takeoff as an effective storytelling tool, with everything from rudimentary whiteboard animation, to more sophisticated AV/VR technologies, and even CGI, making appearances in the areas of marketing, learning, and user experience.
The state of technology now pretty much allows us to do anything,” said Niño. “The question is only how fast, and for how much money. The sky is the limit. At this pace, we’ll have more tools, resources to make work faster and more efficiently, and for animations to look way better.” But whether it’s Paddington bear or a sentiment analysis data set, without the story to back it up, “You have nothing,” according to Niño. “The story is everything.”
The SAP Design Talks regularly bring leaders from the international design scene to SAP. The sessions are held on a large stage for an internal audience of employees at various SAP locations around the globe.
Framestore VFX is Oscar-winning creative studio, working with some of the greatest storytellers in film today. Including the minds behind Paddington.
This story originally appears on Forbes.