The job description “Data Animator” was suggested to me back in 2010 by Jim Walton of Kerbang, whilst musing on metaphors appropriate to a visual analyst. It sprang quickly from his suggestion of “Data Artist”, which seemed far too static and a little too fluffy, and as soon as Jim voiced “animator” it rang beautifully clear and true.
The image instantly conjured was an old-school Hanna-Barbera animator, hunched over a large drafting table, flicking rapidly through a set of onion-skin drawings as he strived to add character and personality to each cell, with a single purpose; to convey the precise movement – subtle, exaggerated or accurate – which would best supported the story he was telling. As I settled comfortably into the idea, I played with alternative animators: the ever-patient stop-frame animator, carefully tweaking the position of each limb on a plasticine model; the marionette-controller delicately coordinating every movement of his puppet in real-time; and the CGI technician building, testing and rendering a beautiful lifelike anglepoise lamp as it bounces playfully on a beach ball.
That sense of purpose – adding movement to otherwise static objects, in order to bring them to life for the purpose of storytelling – struck an immediate chord, and still resonates strongly today. The very best of all of the visual analytics in which I have engaged share a common essence; my audience experiencing a sense of wonder, realisation and essential understanding, derived from each individual engaging with data in a manner entirely unfamiliar to them, yet strangely obvious, comforting and intuitive. I can’t claim that all, or even much, of my work strikes this near-perfect tone but I recognise the widening eyes, broadening smile and leaning forward stance which signals that I have hit the mark. It offers me, the storyteller, an almost euphoric sense of achievement, and as I watch understanding grow, ideas develop and questions form, I revel in the moment.
So Data Animator it is: bringing data to life; crafting visual representations which move and flow to aid understanding and insight; making data just a little more human, in order to tell compelling stories from the available evidence.