What are emotions?

Until 17th century, the word “emotion” didn’t even exist in the English language. Instead terms such as “passions” or “affections” were used. So what exactly are emotions, and how do they relate to animation?

For years emotions were somehow ignored by psychologists in their research, there was very little work done on that subject and it was only Paul Ekman that really saw potential in that area. He started his cross-cultural research by traveling around the world and showing people images of different facial expressions and asked them to match them with emotions such as: happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, anger and surprise. He wanted to find out if our perception of facial expression is influence by the culture, or is it universal. That’s why he decided to try his experiment in a remote location, where he was confident that people weren’t exposed to the western culture. He continued his research in Papua New Guinea, where he did the same experiment. After getting his results he established the idea of six basic emotions, which was a very popular opinion throughout the years, but it is being challenged right now by other researchers.

One of the criticism of his research was based on a fact that the pictures that he was showing to people were posed and over the top. We know that emotions don’t exist without a context, in a vacuum. This is something that has also came up during my tutorial sessions, researching expressions and facial animation is ok, but without the story, the context it tends to be meaningless and won’t help me improve as an animator.

So why are animators obsessed about emotions and facial expressions? Personally I think that everyone is somehow interested in it, as we all want to know how our minds work. Animators use it to their advantage. They can transform a single thought into something creative and amazing and share it with others. Understanding character’s emotions is important when it comes to telling the story and acting. I think that unlike the actors, or directors or other people from the film industry who can show other valuable skills, animators ability to show what character is thinking, how is he feeling, is important when it comes to getting a job, that’s what makes animator’s work stand out.


BECK J., 2014. Hard Feelings: Science’s Struggle to Define Emotions [online]. The Atlantic, Available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/02/hard-feelings-sciences-struggle-to-define-emotions/385711/  [24.02.2015]


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