Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Disney's New "As Told By Emoji: Beauty and the Beast" Is More Telling Than You Think

So "Storytelling by Emoji" is a thing now.

Easy to dismiss as a fad, nerdist quirk or a sad commentary on the lack of literacy in today's youth, there's actually a lot more to this storytelling form that's been hitting the internet for the past 12-18 months, than initially meets the eye, and the tale released today, September 7th, Beauty and the Beast, is a good example of why.

It's essentially storytelling via symbols and motifs, not unlike how the first stories were recorded back in the golden age of cave painters. (Makes me wonder if cave folk wouldn't adapt to cell phones faster than some of our older population...)

It's easy to scoff and roll your eyes because the cute is turned up to 11, which can be difficult to take seriously, but try to consider symbology as you watch these and note, not only the character icons but all the various transition symbols that are used in texting everyday, being employed here as vehicles to move the action forward. It's quite fascinating.

Take a look:
I will admit my first reaction, as a dedicated logophile and bibliophile, was closer to being aghast than fascinated on seeing the concept applied to an entire story. But as I grudgingly watched the first few seconds it dawned on me that there was more to this than meets the eye, and there's a big reason it's so effective in this age of the infographic, social media memes and visual information sorting.

To make this form of storytelling work, the creators must boil down the tale to its essential details, and anything added after is simply stylistic - very much like the innate method storytellers use all over the world. Storytellers have their "story frame", which contains the essential touchstone elements of the story they are telling, on which they embellish using their own unique language style and additional plot details, all designed to appeal as a whole to the audience in front of them at that time. Although simple, it's far more difficult to do well than it sounds.

These new Disney "As Told By Emoji" series are more effective and on point than I expected. While I would have been surprised to find a study on symbols and motifs to have been a key part of this process, it's clear the creators were looking shrewdly at the methods of communication used in social media, in particular, today, and are using this contemporary "shorthand" as a new form of storytelling.

I particularly like the transformation of Beast to Prince. It's exactly spot-on for today's everyday "vocabulary".
In this digital day and age, folks often prefer texting over making a phone call. It’s quicker, sure—but you also have the option of getting your message across with, well, symbols. They’re called emoji, which means “picture character” in Japanese. Open the texting app in your smartphone of choice and you have hundreds of adorable, hilarious, and sometimes unusual emoji right at your fingertips. Over the years, folks have tried their hand at recreating song lyrics, or telling long-form stories, just through emoji… and that’s where the idea for Disney’s latest short video series was born. 

...The inspiration behind the series? “That’s a big question!” says Gino Guzzardo, the series director and producer, who also leads the video content team at Disney Interactive (DI) Media. “It was a trend we saw on the Internet. People would try to translate stories using static emoji, just through the Unicode [text] set that you have on your phone… We saw the opportunity of translating that into animation. So we thought, ‘What would that look like? Would it work?’ We hadn’t seen anyone use emoji to tell an animated story, like in an actual narrative, two-minute piece… 
So simplified tale telling went back up a few notches in adding back the animation-factor, but the bare bones of story are still very visible.

See? More interesting than you thought. ;)

You can read a little more about the process and the creator's thinking HERE and can watch other Disney fairy tales from the As Told by Emoji series as well (each are linked below in their titles).

So far there are:

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