Brain Pickings

Infoviz Education: Animated Visualizations for Kids


Helium, carbon, and what Little Red Riding Hood has to do with malnutrition in Africa.

We love infographics. We love animation. And we’re all for engaging kids in creative education. So today we’re looking at three educational infoviz animations that shed light on complex or important issues in beautifully art-directed ways that make little eyes widen and little brains broaden.


Directed by Denis van Waerebeke, How To Feed The World is a brilliant animated short film made for the Bon appétit exhibition in Paris science museum. Though aimed at helping kids ages 9 to 14 understand the science behind eating and why nutrition is important, the film’s slick animation style and seamless visual narrative make it as educational for kids as it is for budding designers, looking to master the art of using design as a storytelling medium.

Bonus points for the obligatory British voiceover, always a delightful upgrade.


Though not necessarily aimed at kids alone, Annie Leonard’s brilliant The Story of Stuff — which we reviewed extensively some time ago — condenses the entire materials economy into 20 minutes of wonderfully illustrated and engagingly narrated storytelling that makes you never look at stuff the same way again.

The Story of Stuff recently got a book deal, further attesting to its all-around excellence. We highly recommend it.


A few months ago, we reviewed They Might Be Giants’ fantastic Here Comes Science 2-disc CD/DVD album aimed at the K-5 set, a brilliant intersection of entertainment and creative education. One of the highlights on it is this wonderful animated journey across the periodic table, a true exercise in art-meets-science.

The entire album is well worth the two Starbucks lattes that it costs, both as a tool of inspired education for kids and a timeless music treat for indie rock fans of all ages.


Though certainly not educational, and likely not aimed at kids, this fantastic animation — which we featured exactly a year ago today — offers a brilliant infographic reinterpretation of the Brothers Grimm children’s classic The Little Red Riding Hood, inspired by Röyksopp’s Remind Me.

We’d love to see this as a series, celebrating the cross-pollination of some of our favorite facets of creative culture — animation, data visualization, and classic children’s literature — with quirk, humor and superb art direction.

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A Documentarian Collage of Humanity: 8 Billion Lives


A celebrity chef, a Buddhist monk and a gay rights activist walk into a bar…

While we do have a soft spot for pure layman voyeurism, we’re always more interested in projects that use this underlying, hard-wired mechanism of human curiosity about others to do something bigger, to celebrate diversity and build a sense of interconnectedness.

Enter 8 Billion Lives, an inspired effort to foster global citizenship by showcasing the work of independent and amateur filmmakers, who capture day-in-the-life stories about ordinary and extraordinary people alike. The short documentaries aren’t glamorous or glitzy. Their narrative isn’t always seamless and their cinematography is often questionable. But what they lack in production value they make up for in sheer candor, from the quiet humanity of mundane life to the raw richness of everyday triumphs and tragedies.

The films feature curious characters and everyday heroes alike, from Westpoint alum and gay rights activist Dan Choi, who was expelled from the army for being openly gay, to celebrity chef David Burke, from a Japanese lifelong learner to an American Buddhist nun.

The project reminds us of Yann-Arthus Bertrand’s 6 Billion Others, a digital anthology of 5,000 interviews filmed in 75 countries by 6 directors since 2003. Both projects paint a powerful, coherent portrait of humanity through the richness of diversity, weaving an intricate patchwork of personal stories that together form the great social quilt of our day.

Submit your own short documentary to 8 Billion Lives and become a part of this story.

via TBD

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The Apology Line


How to exorcise your indiscretions, or what art from the 80’s has to do with modern guilt.

In 1980, conceptual artist Allan Bridge began his Apology Line project — a telephone hotline, where anonymous callers could unburden themselves from their guilty confessions on an answering machine. Two decades before PostSecret and a quarter century before We Feel Fine, the project pioneered crowdsourced layman voyeurism and went on to collect hundreds of daily confessions for over fifteen years. It was featured in the most groundbreaking cultural commentaries of the day, from an article in then-toddler Wired to an early episode of This American Life.

Though Bridge’s original tape anthology, The Apology Line: Uncut Gems From Year Zero (1980-1981), is long lost in the analog ether, after a few hours of relentless poking around the intertubes, we were able to uncover the only surviving digitized recording of the project, which you can download for your listening pleasure. Uncomfortably honest, sometimes funny and often shocking, these anonymous confessions offer a raw slice of human complexity, with all its tortured tribulations and daily dramas.

But something much richer than a digital recording is taking the project’s legacy into the present era.

In 2007, UK filmmaker duo James Lee and William Bridges revived The Apology Line, launching it across the UK and inviting Britons via posters, flyers and newspaper articles to call the anonymous line and unload whatever is weighing them down. They then made a short documentary about it, which went on to grain critical acclaim across the film festival circuit, showing at Sundance and Cannes in 2008 and being awarded at the Prix UIP Best European Short Film at the Cork International Film Festival.

Now, the team behind The Apology Line is using Kickstarter (which we so love) to bring the project to the US. Their goal is to collect confessions from Americans all over the country, eventually unleashing an art exhibition beginning in New York and traveling all over America.

You can pledge anything from $5 to $100 and help create an avenue where we can safely scratch the itch of guilt for lunching on someone else’s sandwich in the office fridge and telling grandma you’re abstaining until marriage. In exchange, you’ll get a varying magnitude of voyeurism fixes with randomly selected apologies from stranger.

Go ahead, microfund the apologetic exorcism of guilt. You won’t be sorry.

via Coudal

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Bruce Gilden on the Other Side of The Camera


What Coney Island mobsters have to do with Haiti and the smell of New York City streets.

Bruce Gilden is easily the most iconic street photographer of our time, particularly notorious for his merciless and indiscriminate use of the flash. Rich and raw at the same time, his portraits live inhabit the strange and mesmerizing world of orchestrated spontaneity.

This short WNYC documentary about Gilden and his approach to street photography reveals as much about his creative angle as it does about his delightfully prickly and irreverent personality as the tables take a rare turn and put the master of urban voyeurism in front of rather than behind the camera.

I use flash a lot because flash helps me visualize the feelings of the city — the energy, the stress, the anxiety that you find here.” ~ Bruce Gilden

Gilden’s photographic bluntness is beautifully balanced by his more subtle but no less meticulous eye for the intricate character of the city, its nooks and subcultures and wonderfully awkward idiosyncrasies.

If you can smell the street by looking at the photo, then it’s a street photograph. You feel like you’re really there.” ~ Bruce Gilden

Gilden’s photoessays and portfolio on the Magnum Archive (the recent sale of which is another fascinating story) are also a treasure worth ogling.

And while all of his books are an absolute must-read for photography and cultural anthropology enthusiasts alike, we find the 2002 Haiti particularly powerful in light of the recent tragedy — a graphic portrait of all that was and a surreal prophet of all that was to be.

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