Emoticons have been around ever since the world wide web became fairly prominent in our daily lives. There are thousands of different variations, designs, animals, really any type you can imagine. Facebook, however, thinks that they can do better. They recently hired famed Pixar illustrator Matt Jones to re-invent the emoticon all together.
“Facebook was canny enough to realize that traditional emoticons are quite bland,” says Jones. “At Pixar we consider emotional states every day with every drawing we make. Our work is informed by the years of study we do, constantly studying people’s gestures and expressions in real life.” (To be clear, it isn’t an official collaboration between Pixar and Facebook. Jones is working independently.)
Jones was studying facial expressions for his work on a new film by Pete Docter (director of Up and Monsters, Inc.), which takes place in the mind of a young girl coming of age. The film, referred to as The Untitled Pixar Movie That Takes You Inside the Mind, is set for release in June 2015. Pixar is famous for bringing to life inanimate, and even mundane, objects: lamps, cars, a hockey puck. This film required an extra level of emotional detail. A young girl’s mental state is a complicated thing.
Docter brought in psychologist Paul Ekman, a pioneer in the research of facial expressions, as a consultant on micro-emotions, the small mini expressions that happen between more major ones. (You may have heard of Ekman as John Cleese’s collaborator on the BBC series, The Human Face.) At the same time, Ekman’s protégé, Dacher Keltner, codirector of University of California-Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Program, was starting work with Facebook to improve their emoticons. When Keltner heard about the project at Pixar, he approached the company. That’s how he found Jones.
Keltner started off by giving Jones some of the classic universal emotions (anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise) to translate into emoticon-style drawings. He loved what he saw — and decided to up the ante. He handed over Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, which Darwin published 13 years after On the Origin of Species. The book explores similarities between human and animal facial movements, in support of Darwin’s theory that humans and animals have a common ancestor. It became one of the seminal works on the facial emotive expressions.