post emotional contagion film

April 2nd, 2008

We did a four camera shoot in the Telus studio at banff – We had Maria Lantin, Director, Intersections Digital Studio Emily Carr Institute and also video artist Leila Sujir, myself and also Matthew Wild, my partner and Pablo Wild, my son who is now five months old.

The aim was to capture micro expressions and emotional contagion. The ability to read emotions in others and ourselves is central to empathy and social understanding. We are extremely sensitive to emotional body language as up to 90% of all of our communication is nonverbal. Emotions and body language spread in social collectives, almost by contagion. In daily encounters, people automatically and continuously synchronize with the facial expressions, voices, gestures, postures, movements and even physiology of others. Some responses happen unconsciously, in milliseconds. Science has revealed that these shifting muscle movements then trigger the actual emotional feeling by causing the same neurons to fire in the brain as if you were experiencing the emotion naturally. When you feel happy, your brain might send a signal to your mouth to smile. With emotional contagion, the facial tiny muscles movements involved in smiling send a signal to your brain, telling it to feel happy (Hatfield 1996). This is how emotions spread.

We organised it that the cameras formed a semi – circle. One camera focused on Maria, one on Matt, one on Leila and one on myself. We talked for an hour. I think, in the future when I have time to look at it – it will become a short film called ‘Mimesis’ – but basically – its sort of an exercise to understand emotional contagion over time.

So, live action will provide the source material of “Mimesis”. It was important that the event take place with in a controlled and well-lit space such as a studio, and the Telus studio at the Banff Center was great for it. Four digital HD video cameras on tripods focused on the upper body area of the four participants, monitoring interplays of nuances.

In the future, through animation compositing techniques, the video will be slowed to reveal delicate interplays of communication. The voice will be stripped, so the body language can be isolated and amplified. It was shot on a black background – in order to focus on the micro-movements of body language. An important area to deal with is pace. First cuts show that working a ten percent for a single channel work doesn’t really work.

as far as treating hte footage – Other than delicate layering techniques, levels, keying and masking, I imagine the vision will be routed in reality. Each emotional connection will be synched through time, making the piece a scientific documentary of interplay as much as a poetic amplification of the search for empathy. The slowing down of pace will allow the viewer trace the nuances of communication. The rhythms of emotional contagion will drive the editing style and effects. Once in a while four heads will fill the screen to document the flow of understanding between each other; occasionally the piece will focus on one head at a time, revealing the nuances of micro expressions; every so often compositing techniques will be used, delicately over-layering the four faces, merging them, so the interplays over emotions are traced? The grading of the footage will be strong to emphasizing shadows and highlights. At times the piece will focus on uncomfortable and nervous moments of silence, building to focus on more contagious elements, e.g how laughter, yawning and touching the face travels through out social groups. The lighting was quite dramatic. Already I am thinking that I should have focused on the faces more.

Another potential way to look at it could be by concentrating on the moments when we are uncomfortable, confused, bored. I am not sure how to work with it, but so far the rushes look good. It will be interesting to see what Chris Frith, the social neuroscientist I am working with, thinks of it. Important to think about pacing – a sort of ramping or something.


mocked up set up for shoot. In the end we didn’t use a dinner party setting, we just drank wine. Interestingly, after the cameras were running for about ten minutes we all forgot about the cameras and the studio setting and just got immersed in conversation.


beginning ideas for treating the footage.

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