How to... create empathy through animation
Animation is the format we turn to when telling difficult stories, and it can deliver new levels of human empathy and imagination, argues Kelsey Hodgkin, EVP, Head of Strategy at Deutsch Los Angeles.
When I was a little girl, I used to sit in front of the fire and watch The Snowman. Even though I had never really seen snow at the time or comprehended the notion of a snowman, the spellbinding nature of the music, combined with the beautifully animated story, took me to such a vivid, magical land in my mind that I can still travel to this place when I think of it today.
And so my understanding and appreciation of animation as a visual format was born. An understanding grown from experiencing first-hand the power of illustration to bring to life people, places and things that were previously unknown. To visualize concepts, ideas, meanings that were otherwise completely unfamiliar.
The Past: Animation as Creativity
As we enter a time that is calling on the power of storytelling to create narrative change in entirely new ways and experiment with the construct of storytelling to grow understanding for entirely foreign concepts, the power of animation is having an essential revival.
Done well, it invites your imagination to fill in the gaps, encourages your mind to catch an idea and expand its interpretation in your own vision. And as we think of the worlds in the virtual spaces that we have yet to experience, it uniquely works to create entire ecosystems in our shared consciousness that reinvent society as we know it.
Animation... does not to set out to create connectedness through shared reality, but through shared imagination.
Perhaps it is not surprising then that animation is the format we increasingly turn to as we seek to deliver new levels of human empathy and imagination. If the cave paintings conveyed survival mechanisms through the hunter-gatherer era, and verbal myths and legends created a shared identity and social codes, it could be argued that the animated world-building of Disney conveyed the power of mankind to create.
The Present: Animation as Understanding
Now, our storytelling takes on a different form. It seeks to teach us how to not only to create worlds, but share understanding and empathy outside of the traditional confines of our immediate experiences. And so, animation takes on a new level of responsibility. No longer simply about conjuring the immediate reward of narrative as entertainment pleasure, it is instead an essential method of creating shared meaning. Shared understanding. One that transcends color, creed and geography to convey universal emotions and bring to life new styles of thinking outside the traditional boundaries of place and time.
We might not all have seen snow. But we can all imagine a snowman.
In this way, animation works in stark contrast to the modern “stories” of Instagram and Snapchat. It does not to set out to create connectedness through shared reality, but through shared imagination. Transforming possibility into belief.
It is perhaps not surprising, then, that animation is how we chose to depict a series of stories that convey experiences that, honestly, humanity would rather forget. Stories we have a tendency to lean away from, rather than towards, as they show us what we do not want to be. Stories that capture experiences we hope no one ever has, and yet so many people experience every day.
These are the stories of Me Too. The stories the world does not want to hear, forcing us as they do, to question who we think we are. And yet they create the blueprint for empathetic healing that transcends any one society or social group. Stories designed not to show you what happened, but to help you empathise with another’s experience. To transport you to a place where you can not only connect but resonate and understand. And in doing so, commit to supporting people that you may not directly know.
Because what if it is enough to know that if someone else felt it, we too can feel it. If someone else experienced this emotional trauma, then we too can empathise with it. And what if our ability to empathise on an individual level forms the building blocks of social change on a fundamental level?
The Future: Animation as Empathy
Herein lies the new power of animation as we look to the future of society. To look past storytelling as entertainment or a reflection of our real-world connections, and to instead look towards narrative value in the form of building cross-cultural belief. To create human bonds that travel beyond the systems of today, to construct the new empathetic systems of tomorrow. By bringing to into our consciousness new ideas and emotions that we can relate to and believe in, no matter how our own life experience was nurtured.
After all, we might not all have seen snow. But we can all imagine a snowman.