Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘animation’

15 OCTOBER, 2012

The Distance of the Moon: Beautiful Israeli Animated Film Based on the Italo Calvino Classic

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“Ahh… we went to collect the Moon milk.”

Beloved Italian writer Italo Calvino (1923–1985) — who originated these 14 timeless definitions of what makes a classic — would’ve celebrated his 89th birthday today. To mark the occasion, here is an exquisite animated short film by Israeli children’s book author, and illustrator Shulamit Serafy, based on Calvino’s short story The Distance of the Moon.

The story itself is an absolute gem, with passage upon passage of breathtaking language emanating pure whimsy:

In reality, from the top of the ladder, standing erect on the last rung, you could just touch the Moon if you held your arms up. We had taken the measurements carefully (we didn’t yet suspect that she was moving away from us); the only thing you had to be very careful about was where you put your hands. I always chose a scale that seemed fast (we climbed up in groups of five or six at a time), then I would cling first with one hand, then with both, and immediately I would feel ladder and boat drifting away from below me, and the motion of the Moon would tear me from the Earth’s attraction. Yes, the Moon was so strong that she pulled you up; you realized this the moment you passed from one to the other: you had to swing up abruptly, with a kind of somersault, grabbing the scales, throwing your legs over your head, until your feet were on the Moon’s surface. Seen from the Earth, you looked as if you were hanging there with your head down, but for you, it was the normal position, and the only odd thing was that when you raised your eyes you saw the sea above you, glistening, with the boat and the others upside down, hanging like a bunch of grapes from the vine.

[…]

Now, you will ask me what in the world we went up on the Moon for; I’ll explain it to you. We went to collect the milk, with a big spoon and a bucket. Moon-milk was very thick, like a kind of cream cheese. It formed in the crevices between one scale and the next, through the fermentation of various bodies and substances of terrestrial origin which had flown up from the prairies and forests and lakes, as the Moon sailed over them. It was composed chiefly of vegetal juices, tadpoles, bitumen, lentils, honey, starch crystals, sturgeon eggs, molds, pollens, gelatinous matter, worms, resins, pepper, mineral salts, combustion residue. You had only to dip the spoon under the scales that covered the Moon’s scabby terrain, and you brought it out filled with that precious muck. Not in the pure state, obviously; there was a lot of refuse. In the fermentation (which took place as the Moon passed over the expanses of hot air above the deserts) not all the bodies melted; some remained stuck in it: fingernails and cartilage, bolts, sea horses, nuts and peduncles, shards of crockery, fishhooks, at times even a comb. So this paste, after it was collected, had to be refined, filtered. But that wasn’t the difficulty: the hard part was transporting it down to the Earth. This is how we did it: we hurled each spoonful into the air with both hands, using the spoon as a catapult. The cheese flew, and if we had thrown it hard enough, it stuck to the ceiling, I mean the surface of the sea. Once there, it floated, and it was easy enough to pull it into the boat. In this operation, too, my deaf cousin displayed a special gift; he had strength and a good aim; with a single, sharp throw, he could send the cheese straight into a bucket we held up to him from the boat. As for me, I occasionally misfired; the contents of the spoon would fail to overcome the Moon’s attraction and they would fall back into my eye.

Still, beneath the magical science-fiction conceit lies a universality of human emotion. The ending wistfully reminds us that, indeed, every love story is a ghost story:

My return was sweet, my home refound, but my thoughts were filled only with grief at having lost her, and my eyes gazed at the Moon, forever beyond my reach, as I sought her. And I saw her. She was there where I had left her, lying on a beach directly over our heads, and she said nothing. She was the color of the Moon; she held the harp at her side and moved one hand now and then in slow arpeggios. I could distinguish the shape of her bosom, her arms, her thighs, just as I remember them now, just as now, when the Moon has become that flat, remote circle, I still look for her as soon as the first sliver appears in the sky, and the more it waxes, the more clearly I imagine I can see her, her or something of her, but only her, in a hundred, a thousand different vistas, she who makes the Moon the Moon and, whenever she is full, sets the dogs to howling all night long, and me with them.

Complement with Calvino on writing, the two psychological types of writers, how to lower your “worryability,” and his six memos for the future.

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12 OCTOBER, 2012

The Science of Lucid Dreaming and How to Learn to Control Your Dreams, Animated

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Trekking the continuum of sleep and wakefulness in a journey into metaconsciousness.

As if the science of sleep and the emotional function of dreaming weren’t fascinating enough in and of themselves, things get even more bewildering when it comes to lucid dreaming — a dream state in which you’re able to manipulate the plot of the dream and your experience in it. But how, exactly, does that work and can you train yourself to do it? Count on AsapSCIENCE — who have previously explored such mysteries as how music enchants the brain, the neurobiology of orgasms, and the science of procrastination — to shed some light:

Everybody has 3-7 dreams a night — the problem is, we quickly forget them.

(Then again, the probability that you are dreaming this very minute might be one in ten, so it might all be moot.)

For a deeper dive into the scientific nitty-gritty of lucid dreaming, see Stephen LaBerge and Howard Rheingold’s 1991 bible Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming and LaBerge’s follow-up, Lucid Dreaming: A Concise Guide to Awakening in Your Dreams and in Your Life.

Then, treat yourself to this fantastic and mind-bending Radiolab episode about how one man cured himself of a recurring nightmare by learning lucid dreaming:

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04 OCTOBER, 2012

The Surprising Science of Why It’s Dark at Night, Animated

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The glowing edge of space, or how the expansion of the universe is affecting the visible spectrum.

We’ve already seen how mankind conquered the night, but why is the sky dark after nightfall in the first place? The real reason, like most of science, is far less obvious than it seems, and far more expansive. Count on the fine folks of MinutePhysics — who have previously explained why the color pink doesn’t exist and why the past is different from the future — and their signature hand-drawn animation to illuminate the answer. And if Richard Feynman didn’t give you enough pause in demonstrating that the fire in your fireplace is actually the light and heat of the sun, how about knowing that the glow of the sky you see today isn’t starlight but leftover light from the Big Bang? Now that’s a moment of cosmic awe.

All of our evidence seems to indicate that space has no edge, but the universe itself does — not a spatial edge, but a temporal one.

For a less scientific but no less delightful take on the subject, see Edward Gorey’s characteristically irreverent and altogether fantastic Why We Have Day and Night.

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