Brain Pickings

Thought of You: Visual Poetry Meets Dance in 2D Animated Magic

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What modern dance has to do with pregnancy and the all-consuming creative impulse.

Brace yourself, for this is the most beautiful, spellbinding animation you’ll see this year.

For the past 15 years, animator and designer Ryan Woodward has created visual magic for just about every major Hollywood studio, most recently by storyboarding Spiderman 3 and Where The Wild Things Are. But it was his personal fascination with the motion of the human body in dance and his childhood nostalgia for 2D animation that sparked an absolutely wonderful personal project: Thought of You, a beautiful short film that blends figurative works, 2D animation, visual Fx, and contemporary dance.

Hold your breath and drink in.

The story’s emotional range is quite extraordinary, from the sweet restlessness of new love to the all-absorbing infatuation of passion at its peak to the hollow longing for a lover gone.

The creative process of the film is almost as beautiful as the animation itself, from the 35-weeks-pregnant choreographer who worked on it to the tender dynamic of the love story that underlies the film.

It’s one of those things that it’s tough to answer, when you ask an artist why they decide to be an artist. There’s this inner beast of creativity that, for me personally, it will consume me to the point of being miserable if I don’t let it out and do something with it.” ~ Ryan Woodward

But perhaps most gratifying of all is the wonderful cross-pollination of different arts that the film embodies — living proof of our credo that interdisciplinary curiosity informs and inspires creative work more powerfully than any one silo possibly could.

Enjoying the score? The song used in the film is World Spins Madly On by The Weepies, one of our favorite bands.

via @kirstinbutler

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Helmut Newton’s SUMO: An Epic Retrospective

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German-American fashion photographer Helmut Newton (1920-2004) is easily among the 20th century’s most prolific and provocative visual creators. His signature erotic black-and-white photos graced the pages of just about every major fashion magazine and style bible of our time. In 1999, Newton and his wife Jane enlisted a team of 50 people — writers, editors, photographers, art directors, designers, book binders — to spend three years capturing Newton’s ambitious body of work in an equally ambitious volume. With 480 pages weighing in at 66 lbs, Helmut Newton’s SUMO — published by Taschen, of course — became a prized collector’s item, was included in the MoMA’s permanent collection, and even earned recognition as ” the biggest, most lavish book production of the 20th century.” The limited edition of 10,000 signed and numbered copies sold out so quickly that it multiplied its value to the eyeball-popping price tag of $150,000 and the copy numbered 1 even broke the record for the most expensive book published in the 20th century, selling for $430,000 at an auction in Berlin in 2000.

Ten years later, Taschen released a “budget” version of the book at the vastly more affordable price of $150 (or, if you get it on Amazon, $94.50.) But don’t be fooled — this new volume is far from a poor man’s version of the original. It features 15 lbs of iconic Helmut Newton photographs, some rare images, and a fascinating making-of booklet that offers a behind-the-scenes peek at what’s easily the most ambitious book production process in the history of photography.

The new edition of SUMO even comes with special stand for proud owners to display the book in their homes — now that’s a homage done right.

In 2010, we spent more than 4,500 hours bringing you Brain Pickings. If you found any joy and inspiration here this year, please consider supporting us with a modest donation — it lets us know we’re doing something right and helps pay the bills.





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The Snark Handbook, Insult Edition: Verbal Sparring Lessons from Literary Greats

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A year ago, The Snark Handbook: A Reference Guide to Verbal Sparring became an instant favorite with its enlightening and entertaining compendium of history’s greatest masterpieces in the art of mockery, contextualizing today’s era of snark-humor and equipping us with the shiniest verbal armor to thrive as victor knights in it. This month, author Lawrence Dorfman is back with a necessary sequel, this time providing the sword: The Snark Handbook: Insult Edition: Comebacks, Taunts, and Effronteries, complete with 50 delightful black-and-white illustrations.

Every time I read Pride and Prejudice, I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” ~ Mark Twain on Jane Austen

It’s a new low for actresses when you have to wonder what’s between her ears instead of her legs.” ~ Katherine Hepburn on Sharon Stone

From strategic instructions on how and when to throw your peers the jabs of well-timed snark to a well-curated collection of history’s most skilled literary insult-maestros, the book is the yellow brick road to what, deep down, you know you always knew you were: Better than everybody else.

I am reading Henry James… and feel myself as one entombed in a block of smooth amber.” ~ Virginia Woolf on Henry James

He was a great friend of mine. Well, as much as you could be a friend of his, unless you were a fourteen-year-old nymphet.” ~ Capote on Faulkner

Sure, The Snark Handbook is the anti-Zen approach to life’s confrontations. Still, it walks the fine line between potent wit and tongue-in-cheek lightheartedness in a way that makes it not just a toolkit but a treat as well. That, or at least a handy 200-pager with which to smack the next fool that crosses you.

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Polaroid Inventor Edwin Land on the 5,000 Steps to Success

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In the fall of 1943, a little girl asked her father why she couldn’t see a photograph immediately after it was taken — a blasphemous proposition in the era’s photographic paradigm. Fortunately, her father happened to be Edwin Land, the iconic inventor and founder of Polaroid Corporation. So rather than dismissing the question as an impossibility, he took it as a challenge, then made history — in February of 1947, the world’s first Polaroid camera hit stores and unleashed one of the most creative movements in the history of the static image.

Upon visiting the MIT Museum this past weekend, which recently acquired the world’s largest collection of Polaroid images and ephemera, we were struck with this quote from Land, displayed alongside some of his sketches:

MIT Museum, Boston

To please the copy-pasters and the SEO algorithms, it reads:

If you dream of something worth doing and then simply go to work on it and don’t think anything of personalities, or emotional conflicts, or of money, or of family distractions; if you just think of, detail by detail, what you have to do next, it is a wonderful dream even if the end is a long way off, for there are about five thousand steps to be taken before we realize it; and start making the first ten, and stay making twenty after, it is amazing how quickly you get through those five thousand steps.” ~ Edwin Land to Polaroid employees, December 23, 1942

Nowhere are Land’s rags-to-riches story and his remarkable entrepreneurial spirit captured better than in Insisting On the Impossible: The Life of Edwin Land, a book by former New York Times columnist Victor McElheny which, although more than a decade old, remains a timeless Polaroid of the thrilling and turbulent world of innovation and entrepreneurship.

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