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Facebook hires Pixar illustrator to re-invent the emoticon

The emoticon has been around in some form since the early days of the world wide web, and there’s no shortage of emoticons out there. For the web and for mobile phones, there are thousands of emoticon apps to use in your everyday chatting. But Facebook thinks they, along with Pixar illustrator Matt Jones and a little bit of Charles Darwin, think they can take emoticons to the next level.

"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.

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    This is a really interesting read! Here’s the full article on BuzzFeed. An intersection of art, the scientific study of...
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