Following the successful reception of 2018’s Principles for Success, and 2013’s How the Economic Machine Works, Ray Dalio returned to Thornberg & Forester to design and produce an animated film to release alongside his latest book of the same name, Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order. The book covers Mr. Dalio’s journey over his career to understand the repeating patterns that have driven the successes and failures of the world’s major countries through history – and how he’s turned these learnings into practical tools for dealing with the future.
We reunited with creative production partner, Universal Patterns, to translate and visualize a story of the development of our complex global economy, spanning more than 500 years of history. The piece allowed us the rare opportunity to showcase our long-form storytelling skills while challenging us to translate abstract macroeconomic mechanisms into a form both digestible and elegant.
The film marks our most ambitious long-form animated project to date and has been met with overwhelming positivity on a global scale. In the first five months since its release the film has garnered over 18 million views, and continues to climb daily.
The year-long journey of developing the story from outline and r&d to a complete, polished 43-minute film was incredibly challenging, yet extremely fulfilling. Many thanks to our trusted partners at Principles LLC, Universal Patterns, Jeremy Turner Studios, and the 30-member team at T&F who brought this film to life.
The to-be-released book was in late stage draft mode when we were engaged. We had an outline of the general direction of the film’s narrative when Mr. Dalio, of Principles LLC, and Jonathan Jarvis, of Universal Patterns, gave us the green light to begin. Jonathan worked closely with Mr. Dalio on fleshing out the script to make sure his voice was clear while we worked with Jonathan to ensure viewers would be able to understand the specific concepts and the big picture of Mr. Dalio’s observations.
The film deals with some serious truths; that the stability of a nation and its place in the world economy is subject to external and internal pressures. Resulting from these combined pressures there is an arc that defines the health of the nation in its path towards and away from economic supremacy. There is hope if the warning signs are heeded and appropriate action is adopted, but no nation is eternal. We needed to find language, both through the script and visually that exemplified the seriousness of the subject matter, but didn’t oppress the viewer and obscure from the lessons and the message. There was room for some levity, at times a bit of gallows humor, but it was a careful balance that we needed to strike.
Our first hurdle was to find a visual language that fulfilled the needs of the script. The look would be an evolution of the character style of Principles for Success and the conceptual illustrations of How the Economic Machine Works. This story also needed to handle new concepts and material not found in either of the previous films; extended timelines, historically-specific characters, and treatments for photography and sourced footage. It became apparent three main aspects of design were to be addressed:
Chart Language. Delineate information tied to a historic period, sweeping lengths of time, and abstracts to describe trends and cycles across the past with variables into the future.
Character Development. Develop characters in the context of the chart language, and represent them across economic classes and periods of history.
Levels of Zoom. Develop rules to move from specific moments in time out to historical timelines, and further, out to the abstract conceptual frameworks necessary to tell the story.
We conducted a thorough design exploration considering everything from character style and expressions to emotional range and behavior, accessories, props, and establishing rules for use of color. The winning look marries the success our previous simplistic character design, but includes more realistic proportions. Character animation is rich with personality and subtle, fun details. Color and texture represent our journey across spans of time, creating logic for telling our story clearly and intuitively.
Levels of zoom are also reflected in the level of detail in the characters, from entire nations of people as a field of arranged dots, to a crowd of the faceless mob in revolution, all the way to the sneering close up on a fully illustrated privateer. Using devices like the ‘jeweler’s loupe’ to magnify a section of a line to transition into an illustrated world, along with timelines that slid along beneath us as we move the viewer through time, we were able to navigate the complexity to get into the fine details, and back out to the larger abstract concepts and tie them together in context.
Design language, script, and ideas for storytelling were in constant development as we produced this film. We found conceptual puzzles to solve from the script, in the words needed to express them, in the way we broke them down into visual elements, and most importantly, how all these disparate elements played out, together over time.
Total running time for the film cycled between 20 and 60 minutes as we experimented with varying scene lengths to deliver clear and concise messaging while maintaining great energy. Ultimately, this process culminated in a 45-minute, boardamatic that consisted of nearly 1,000 hand drawn frames.
Before embarking on full scale production, we focused on the creation of a book trailer that would serve to stress test the design and animation pipeline on a small scale. It was released via YouTube in late 2021, and set us on course to finish the balance of the film a few months later.
Armed with a final draft of the book, a 1000-panel storyboard, an approved design style and proven animation production method, we moved into full production. We tripled the size of our team to include additional designers, a fleet of animators, and technical/production support.
Our design team started the process, applying final design touches and details to every shot in animation-ready form while the animation team prepared dozens of characters for animation. On the back end, our technical team and editors pieced all the scenes together, finalizing transitions and textural effects.
Our partners at Jeremy Turner Studios completed and delivered the custom score and mix to our team for finish.
Thank you to our friends and partners at Principles LLC for your continued trust and faith in Thornberg & Forester, to Jonathan Jarvis, and of course to our amazing team. Without your passion, unique talent, and steadfast commitment, this film would not have been possible.