Emoticons have become a pretty standard part of communication these days. Ever since texting first started to get big, people have been using emoticons as a shortcut, because typing on mobile devices had been something of a chore. Even though text input has gotten quite a bit easier, emoticons are here to stay, but Facebook thinks it's time to reimagine emoticons, and has hired Pixar artist Matt Jones for the task.
This isn't an official partnership between Pixar and Facebook, Jones is working independently, and he is excited about the project. The plan is to
create a new set of emoticons that are much more expressive, and can cover a much wider range of emotions than is traditionally seen in emoticon sets. Jones was chosen for the job because he has been studying facial expressions for his work on a Pixar film scheduled for 2015, which delves into the mind of a young girl.
Dacher Keltner, co-director of University of California-Berkeley's Greater Good Science Program, was tasked by Facebook to find an artist for the job, and Keltner went to Pixar for help. Keltner gave Jones simple emotions to recreate, and was impressed, so he gave Jones emotions from Charles Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. Some emotions were simple, some had quite lengthy descriptions, but Jones had a way of creating simple but expressive representations of emotions, even with emotions that haven't been scientifically studied, like gratitude, relief, awe, and guilt.
The goal is to create something of a universal language with emoticons. Of course, Matt Jones has shown his Pixar roots, pushing for use of animation in emoticon sets (similar to recent additions to Google+), saying he wants to create "living little characters." But, he is wary of using colors beyond the standard emoticon yellow, because he says he doesn't "want to offend anyone. Colors will be a racial issue." Maybe Apple should have talked to Jones when creating its emoticon set, which was controversial for having gay and lesbian couples, and other ethnicities, but no representations for black people.
The big challenge now is shrinking Jones' work to fit in a chat/message box. Jones already had to adjust how he would create the emoticons because of the scale that will be involved in displaying them. He had originally wanted to add shoulders for shrugging gestures, and noses, but the scale would simply be too small. So, Jones found that he could portray what he needed with combinations in the tilt of the head, angle and curve of the eyebrow, and angle and curve of the mouth.
No word on when the new emoticons will be rolling out to Facebook users, but we're excited to see work being done to emoticons. So far, companies have been simply adding more and more images to sets, like aliens, pandas, and various symbols, but the basic range of emotions has stayed relatively static. The current sketches are looking pretty good, but shrinking them down to the size needed will be a big task.