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Using motion to move the needle. Part 1: Animation.
James Young in conversation with Ruben DeLuna

James Young, Principal

Ruben DeLuna is a Creative Director/Animation Director who has produced animated videos for non-profit organizations, political campaigns, and businesses since 2005. As an animator, Ruben is best known for his work on The Story of Stuff – the viral video series seen by over 40 million viewers about our obsession with consumption. Listen in as he and James discuss the power of using animation for businesses.

Using motion to move the needle: Animation from Tangible on Vimeo.

Video Transcription

James:

Welcome. I’m very excited about being here with Ruben DeLuna, who is one of the folks that we get an opportunity at Tangible to work with on video, primarily a lot of crafting the video and creating the animations. Thanks for being here today. We wanted to have just a nice short conversation around videos, around animations, and whatever else that goes along with that.

James:

Let me start this off Ruben with a quote that I really liked. It’s from Walt Disney. “Animation can explain whatever the mind can conceive. This facility makes it most versatile and explicit means of communication yet devised for a quick mass appreciation.” I was just like, “Yep. It sounds obvious, but it’s true,” and Walt Disney, of course, being the master and the, the person who pioneered all of this in the beginning saying it makes it more powerful. That quote, what does that bring to you, or what do you think about that?

Ruben:

Yeah. No, I definitely think that it is true, and it’s interesting to me, because I think about the context of how he was thinking of animation and the type of work they did was primarily for entertainment purposes and just how applicable it’s still is to even the type of work that I do today, because growing up that’s what I wanted to be. I wanted to be a two 2D Disney animator, and what I ended up doing was I started gravitating towards more web online content. That wasn’t a thing when I was growing up. Animated videos, videos for the web, that wasn’t a thing.

Ruben:

Yeah, when I think about the power of animation to be able to explain these concepts and even going beyond entertainment, it’s not even so much, yes, it’s entertaining, but as a tool of communication, as a tool of being able to explain difficult subject matter to people and to have them be receptive to that type of thing, it definitely is so powerful. Even just hearing that quote that was given I’m sure 40, 50 years ago, it’s still so applicable today in different ways.

James:

Let’s come at it from, you were talking about Pixar and Walt Disney and those studios and that type of entertainment. The work we’ve done together has been working for business, large corporations. I would actually come at this question like, why with animation and with what we do, why is it good for business? What would you say about that? What’s the power of it for business outside of entertainment, Pixar, Disney?

Ruben:

Yeah. For sure. Specifically, for the work that we have done, I feel like we tend to use it for software walk-throughs, explaining new benefits for a software package, that type of thing. The question is, when do you use live action and when to use animation? A lot of the stuff that we’ve done together has been a mix of both, and I would say that the idea of using live action is for that relatability, it’s that instant, “Oh, I can see myself in that. He’s a customer just I’m a customer.” Whereas, animation could be like, “Oh, well, what do you mean this makes the process a whole lot quicker? Can you show me that?” So, the ability to have that hybrid use and with the videos, a lot of the videos that we make together use both of those tools and I think it makes just for a really powerful way of communicating.

James:

Yeah. That’s interesting. Is there a reason why innovation? Is there a part of our brain that it hits and reasons to use it because of that?

Ruben:

I think for me, it’s interesting because I am a very visual person. This is basically the way I think. The way that I oversee animations and put animations together is basically the way things make sense to me. I think for a lot of people who are visual learners even doing a sketch for somebody, even doing illustrations for someone, is a really quick way to indicate an idea. But that when you combine that with the audio elements, that to me is when the magic happens, because you can reinforce ideas both ways. You can reinforce it with audio and with visual, and a lot of times they can compliment each other a whole lot more.

Ruben:

Sort of the same way when you watch a movie. It’s a lot of times the feeling that you get from watching it, I feel like it being on a timeline and being something you experience over a time, and you hear the music and you see the visuals, you can leave a video feeling inspired. You can leave a video feeling like, “Oh, that’s so great. I really want to learn more. Where can I go to learn more about that product or that topic?”

James:

Question, I was thinking about it. What is the most powerful piece of animation where we’re talking about that you’ve ever seen and why?

Ruben:

I have one that stands out for me. It’s maybe, I don’t know, eight to 10 years old at this point, but it was a Chipotle ad. This is called back to the start, I think, is what it was called. But it had, I think, Willie Nelson was singing a Coldplay song. It was not even so much to sell burritos, but it was to tell the story of where their food comes from and why they try to source from organic sources and why they try to source from farms that treat their animals right and that kind of thing.

Ruben:

So it was a very simple story of a farmer, and it was done in this little claymation style, kind of fake, faux claymation stop motion. But it was a very just emotional story of just this story between the relationship between the farmer and his pig, and then you get to see how big industrial farming can go wrong and how we’re avoiding that, how Chipotle avoids that.

Ruben:

Yeah. The thing that stands out about it, it’s like it was emotional and you connect with that. The music is great, obviously, so that’s part of it. But it’s also just the simplicity of the character design, because one thing that is interesting is that you can have these very simplistic anthropomorphized designs that, one thing that’s great about animation is that it allows the viewer to transpose. It’s filling a lot of those blanks.

Ruben:

If you have a circle with a knot, two dots and a smile, a viewer can fill in the blanks of, “Oh, that’s a happy person.” That’s doing a lot of the work for you. To me, that was also the other thing. It’s such a simple design, but you’re able to just fully emote for, fully feel emotions for these little simple characters. So, that’s why I think it’s probably stuck in my mind for all these years.

James:

That’s cool. That’s interesting. Yeah. I think we teach a lot of design thinking, a lot of innovation, and we, along with that, teach what we call simple sketching. You talked just a minute ago about two dots and a curve. What does that mean? That says a lot, and that’s what we talk about. Oftentimes when we get in with people, they say, “Oh, we can’t draw.” We’re literally teaching them how to draw quick visual representations, how to express themselves visually.

James:

And the reason why we do that is it’s fundamental. To express something visual is 65,000 times faster to comprehend than text, and that makes sense. So, that makes sense to me. And I think then you add in movement and sound along those, and then the simple movement of things in there probably even makes a bigger effect.

Ruben:

Yeah. For sure. Yeah. And one of my favorite parts of the process is, I tend to get to gravitate towards the animated storyboard, the animatic, which a lot of times I’ll work with teams and I’ll work with other animators that I’m directing. But I always do the animatic because that’s how I think the composition of shots, how I think through the pacing, like, “Oh, that was too fast. That’s moving too quick. No, one’s going to understand that. Oh, the composition of that is weird. The viewer’s not oriented correctly.”

Ruben:

It’s iterative. I can do it quickly. I can play it and then know that, “Oh, that didn’t work. Scrap it. Do it again. Oh, now it works.” Then we can move forward to production, which obviously takes a little bit longer to do it in the final style. Yeah, that honestly is my favorite time is when things are so loose and things aren’t so precious. Also, I’ve had the opposite effect with clients where they get attached to the storyboard of like, “Oh, I kind of liked the looseness of how quick it was when you’re just sketching it. So we lost a little something when we made it precious or we made it designerly.” That’s the tightrope that we walk in doing these types of productions.

James:

If I’m a business and I’m coming to Tangible and Ruben to think about beginning should I do a video? What should people start thinking through on that point? How should they make the most of it, I guess, is maybe a question?

Ruben:

Yeah. I think what I try to get my clients to understand is that a video is a finite amount of time. Typically, an average video will be 90 seconds to two minutes. That tends to be sort of the sweet spot these days. There’s a lot of content on the web. Fighting for attention is hard, and so that’s seems to be about the maximum amount of runtime. Sometimes there’s longer ones, but that’s pretty average. And I really encourage people to think about these types of videos more often than not as the icebreaker.

Ruben:

It’s the foot in the door to get someone’s attention introduce the topic, but don’t expect that you are going to be able to explain your whole breadth of knowledge within two minutes. You can, but no one’s going to remember any of that. I mean, it’s typically going to be two to three things that someone will take away, an average viewer will take away from a video, and you oftentimes want that to funnel directly into whatever action it is you want them to take like. It’s sign a petition or click here to learn more or download the software.

Ruben:

Yeah. So, I think it’s always a matter of just making sure that you understand as a client that the use of this video, to under understand its limitations and utilize it to the best of its ability, not expect it to carry more than it’s able to carry. Otherwise, it’s not going to do what it was meant to do of just getting people’s attention and getting people interested.

James:

Yeah. That’s interesting.

Ruben:

Yeah. And then honestly, that is the hardest thing a lot of times with clients. I work with a lot in nonprofits and a lot of science researchers and that kind of thing. I’ve worked with universities and the United Nations. They have a lot of knowledge, and they want to tell everybody about that knowledge. It’s just so hard to pare back and just really get to the meat of what it is. If you had 30 seconds to talk to somebody, what are the three things you really want them to know? And it’s hard for people.

James:

Yeah, I think the way I come at it and would think of, it’s like, what are the three things you want them to remember, because everything else is just noise. While it’s really powerful, that’s, I think, the core of it is that it’s what you want them to remember from this video. Now, that’s a little different if you’re doing long explainer videos, which go into detail of things where they need to understand in detail how things work, but if it’s a marketing kind of thing…

James:

I’ve had that before, too. What’s the quote? I think it’s Robert Kipling. I may misquote this, but I think Robert Kipling said basically in storytelling, kill your darlings. Because there’s so much. All of our products, the products that we work for, they do amazing things. They do a lot of amazing things, but we have to work really hard to figure out what’s going to get in the user’s mind. What’s going to be memorable. The rest can come later.

James:

I was just on the other side of this, actually as a customer to a video. I started a nonprofit a long time ago, and it’s to help homeless individuals get into homes. We’re creating a new video, and some of the employees of the nonprofit we’re just like, “Can we also talk about the misconceptions around homelessness in this video and try to…” And I’m like, “No. This video, I want it to do two things, get people to give us money and get us volunteers. That’s all I want it to do, those two things.” She’s like, “Yeah, but we could…” I’m like, “No. That’s for another day. That’s for another blog post or something else.”

Ruben:

My line’s like, “That’ll be in the next video. Put a pin in that. We’ll do that for the next one.”

James:

No, that’s important. I think that’s good. Well, I want to, Ruben, thank you for just taking the time to talk to me. I think it’s been really interesting. I love working with you. I know my team, we all love working with you. I know my clients love working with you.

Ruben:

Same here.

James:

Just it’s been an honor to try to connect and I love getting information you’ve been given us.

Ruben:

Great. Yeah. No, thanks for chatting with me. It’s great. I love the collaborations we do together, so looking forward to future collaborations as well.

James:

Yeah. Thank you so much.

Ruben:

Yeah. Thank you.