Graphic artist Simon Ducroquet on the role, future of news animation

by Margaret Looney
Oct 30, 2018 in Data Journalism

Updated Sept. 11, 19:11 EDT

Animated graphics can breathe life into a story laden with abstract data, as projects like Folhacóptero, an animated video series produced by Brazil's Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, are demonstrating.

Graphic artist Simon Ducroquet has been designing infographics at Folha since 2008, when the newspaper was beginning to dive more deeply into interactive coverage. In the past five years, Ducroquet has seen infographics evolve from static to interactive to animated motion videos.

Ducroquet spoke with IJNet about the paper's innovative projects, what kind of work goes into an animation and how the standards for storytelling are shifting.

IJNet: What made you start using your animation skills in the newsroom?

Simon Ducroquet: I was already making infographics with 3D software, and I began to realize it was not very difficult to transform some 3D drawings into animations.

...There were very good motion graphics being done by The New York Times, and I was interested in doing something that could go in the same direction. [Folha] was also investing in more video content for the Web, and we were hiring people for this purpose...So there were all these factors that became a good start for making animation. My editors were supporting this, so I started to experiment doing little animations.

IJNet: What role does animation play in a news story?

SD: Last year, we started to make animations for the Olympic games...about Usain Bolt showing how he runs and why he’s faster than others, and we made that an animation story because we could show the movements and that's the kind of story that works.

[It's important to] find out which stories work better as animations, because it's a big investment you have to make. You have to put two to four people working on it for a week, so it has to be something that will work well.

[When we started making animations], it was more for complementing longer pieces, but little by little we started to tell the whole story through animation.

100 anos em 100 metros from Simon Ducroquet on Vimeo.

IJNet: Can you tell me about the work that went in to Folhacóptero?

SD: That was also a story that started last year. At that time we had elections for president in Brazil, so we were searching for a new product for this coverage. We had this work with animation that was becoming more mature. We had been working with maps, but sometimes this work becomes too technical or complex for a lot of people [who] aren't used to seeing statistical maps. So the idea was to get all this data of socioeconomic indicators [of the voters] available from the last elections and transform it into a map that could be presented in a more friendly way.

There were other people involved. [The original team included Otavio Burin, who worked on motion graphics; Ariel Tonglet, who worked with the data; Mario Kanno, deputy editor and project coordinator; and art editor Fabio Marra. ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellow Gustavo Faleiros, who was then based at Folha, was a consultant on the project.] It was the crossing of many talents that were very motivated to do something new. Folhacóptero, from the beginning, got a very good response from the readers and inside the newsroom, so after that first episode we started to make it a regular production for every week.

How time-intensive was it to make a weekly animated production? What factors do you have to consider when working with such a short time frame?

SD: We had to make each one in like four days. We had some experience doing animation, but we had to start from almost zero with the production management. We had to figure out how we could make these videos in such a short time, so we started to make scripts to predict how long it was going to take and what kind of animations we could do in that time.

Usually, in a newsroom, the normal workflow is that the reporter...writes the text for the infographics. But this workflow can have a problematic consequence [because] people who write for print don´t think visually. I think that it's very important that the graphic artists write the texts for the infographics themselves.

Folha de S. Paulo has a weekly television program that Folhacóptero was being featured on. So that’s why we were making it every week in the beginning. It’s hard to find a good subject every week, so you have to predict what subject is going to last until the weekend [when the show airs], and until it's broadcast on the Internet...and still be an important subject.

Folhacoptero #01 : Campo de Batalha Eleitoral em São Paulo from Simon Ducroquet on Vimeo.

IJNet: What other newsrooms are making good use of animation? Are there any particular news animation examples that inspire you?

SD: On The New York Times there was animation about a baseball player, [Mariano Rivera], that showed how he threw to the batter. It showed his technique, how the balls turned in the air and all the strikes he made in one year. It was very inspiring to me because it was something I had never seen in motion graphics. It also executed very well the addition of narration to the animation.

The Guardian also had an interactive video with the Olympic Games where you could make your own character running in the Olympics, with vintage pixel art, and it was very funny. They did very good work while not being so serious and technical.

IJNet: Are there tools for people who don’t have a lot of design training, but want to create animations?

SD: To start making animations, there’s After Effects software from Adobe that could be a very good start. It’s becoming easier to work with, especially if someone already works with Photoshop.

We’re using Cinema 4D, and it’s little bit more complicated for starting...It’s directed toward animations so it’s a good tool for that.

IJNet: Now that interactive data visualizations and animated motion videos are becoming standard, what will be the next trend in infographics?

SD: Video games can be a way to make some good infographics. It’s becoming easier to make video games that are also good [learning] tools. I think it can be a way to add some [user] experience. On the other hand, there are Web documentaries like Snowfall from the New York Times that became a standard, and everyone is trying to go in that direction.

...The most important changes we´re going to see is in the roles of people who make the infographics. I think that everybody is getting more visually educated in every generation, and there are many tools popping up for making data visualization. So, making basic graphics is becoming a commodity tool accessible to all.

Putting all these experiences together - video animation, interactives and static graphics also, everything with the same narrative on the Internet - I’m sure that's going to be the direction to follow.

You can read more about how Folhacóptero was made here or see more of Ducroquet's projects here.

IJNet Editorial Assistant Margaret Looney writes about the latest media trends, reporting tools and journalism resources.

Global media innovation content related to the projects and partners of the ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellows on IJNet is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and edited by Jennifer Dorroh.

Image: screenshot of Folhacóptero #3.