Let’s look at two examples to start with.
While working on Wall-E Stanton was at an impasse with how to make the main character more empathic with audience. One thing Stanton was sure of was that he didn’t want the robot to have human eyes. This caused a problem, as so much emotion is conveyed through the eyes, that Stanton felt it needed to be addressed. After an impasse of some time and with the frustration building Stanton attended a baseball game with his editor. During the game the editor used a pair for small binoculars to see better what was happening on field. At that moment Stanton had an insight that the way the binoculars looked when moved up and down looked expressive. This realization led him to instantly connect this to his robot character.
John Lasseter went through the same process when coming up with Pixar’s first character. Luxo Jr. Lasseter was also at an impasse in finding the right character to show off the newly created Pixar’s computer animation technology.
After sitting at his desk thinking through the problem he looked at the old desk lamp sitting beside him. Suddenly it became clear, that the lamp itself had character and could convey emotion as a living entity. I’ve talked more about this idea of the inanimate coming to life in a previous post.
Conceptual Blending draws parallels with Margaret Boden’s ideas of Conceptual Space. Boden in her book “The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms“ talks about the ability to explore conceptual spaces as one would explore a landscape. Prior knowledge acts as a map which gives us some idea of the terrain, but by exploring beyond the boundaries we can expand our “known territory” and make the room for more ideas.