Subconscious mind

4.1.2015 - 9 minutes read

This is it, #1 most important thing, almost everything I talk about is related to this topic. The reason why this is such an important thing is because this is in control of you as well as your audience. This dictates what you like and what  you don’t like, what you feel and what you don’t feel. I truly believe that in order to be great animator you have to study this subject really deep. I will be more than glad to help you with it.

First a little bit of real life theory. As discussed in Layers of mind subconscious mind is a level of mind that is there to help you get through life, to survive. I say help but most of the time it’s not really helping you in the right way, will expand on that in a bit. It is a very interesting mechanism that gathers your experience and available information and makes assumptions based on that. At the same time it’s number one concern is to meet your needs. The results of subconscious mind activity don’t have to be rational E.g. if your parents argued during drinking their morning coffee and you were witness of that, your SM (subconscious mind) could make an assumption that coffee is bad because it makes your parents behave that way. Or if you are an alcoholic and you try to stop but you can’t, it’s basically your SM is standing in the way saying that alcohol is meeting your needs, SM wants you to be happy so it tells you to drink more and you become addicted. This topic is really interesting for me and I could go on and on but  we are here for animation, so let’s start talking about something a bit more related to it.

The best thing about SM is that the best way to communicate with it is by pictures. Which is a huge win for our industry. The second „best“ thing is that most people are under full control of their subconscious mind. Am I saying that you can control people by what you show them? Yes. Ever heard about mass media? Anyways. Back to animation, we can be certain that through pictures/animation we can communicate to the subconscious mind and that it will read our messages that we put into our animations, but what we can actually do with all this power?


SM looks for patterns, rules, principles, similarities, for something that it can chew on in the background. These things are everywhere and we should study them and consciously place them in our animations where needed.

Example of SM working with patterns:

Body language, your SM can tell if someone is friendly or hostile based on their body language. From experience and information (not only yours, but the experience and information coded in your DNA) your SM recognizes some patterns and it can tell if the person you are speaking with is friendly or hostile, if they are happy or sad. You can study these patterns and then apply them to your animation so you bring up the emotions you want at the right time. Say you have a character that you want your audience to connect with, make the audience feel comfortable and safe? How? By meeting their needs and sending the right messages – simple example – make the character having a nice body posture, put a smile on their face, open their palms and make them visible for the audience (this hand gesture carries a very special gesture: „Look, I am not armed, I have no weapons in my hands“ I’m not making this up, it really is this way, look it up). You want to introduce the bad guy? Make the audience feel uncomfortable watching this guy moving, make the body language scream out everything bad, make the character bending over in a creepy way, make them have a twitch in their eye)

One thing to keep in mind when working with subconscious mind. Be clear and never confuse the SM and also don’t make the SM feel stupid. There is a mechanism that you may already heard of called „Ego“ and that prevents you from getting hurt emotionaly. This will make sure that you won’t feel stupid but the thing you are watching will appear stupid. So please, be clear and don’t confuse the SM.

Example on confusing the SM:

Facial expressions especially. Watch out for „multiple messages“ What does this mean? If you make one part of the face (or body) sending one message, say a smile (positive emotion) on the mouth and different message on different part, say eyebrows being in a thrown pose (negative emotion), people will get confused. Sometimes animators do something just because it looks cool but you have to avoid that at all cost! Always think about what the character is thinking and then match the expression to it and always keep in mind that everything has to be in the direction of the main message, or the main expression. I believe it was in the great book Drawn to life, where the author drew a very nice drawing of 10 arrows pointing at one point vs 10 arrows pointing in different directions, I advice you to go read that book right now if you haven’t already.

 Another key thing is to think it through, add depth to the message.

From Where does the motion start we know that every movement is driven by a thought. We can push it a bit further and talk about the motivation of the character in a story. Often in movies you see the bad guys being bad for no obvious reason, or the reason is kind of simple and stupid. Well people can’t really relate to that and the connection with the movie won’t be as strong as if the bad guy had a sophisticated (but clear) motivation. Another way to say that is that the character and their motivation has a lot of depth. SM is like a child, it will ask questions like „Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?“ and if the answer is, like in the first case, „because the bad guy is simply bad“ the SM won’t be satisfied. But if you create a story where the main character is e.g. a policeman married to a woman and they have 2 beautiful children and then you tell the audience that the woman is a serial killer her whole life and her husband is about to find out, your SM is actually really happy because there are multiples levels that it can think of, it can ask questions and get various answers, it can think about what’s going to happen to the policeman, what’s going to happen to the marriage, to the woman, to the kids and the answers aren’t so simple and as long as they make sense to the SM it will be happy.

I want to keep these articles relatively short so I will wrap it up here but I’m already preparing a second article on this topic. Stay tuned!