Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘animation’

03 JANUARY, 2012

Mathemagician Vi Hart Explains Spirals and Fibonacci Numbers in Doodles and Vegetables


What snuggled-up slug cats have to do with the math of cosmic wonder and simple beginnings.

You may recall mathemagician Vi Hart from her delightful stop-motion explanation of the Victorian novella Flatland on a Möbius strip and her ingenious illustrated unpacking of the science of sound, frequency, and pitch. Her latest doodletastic gem explores the mathematics of spirals and Fibonacci numbers through pine cones, cauliflower, pineapples, artichokes, and daisies.

It seems pretty cosmic and wondrous, but the cool thing about the Fibonacci series and spiral is not that it’s this big, complicated, mystical, magical supermath thing beyond the comprehension of our puny human minds that shows up mysteriously everywhere. We’ll find that these numbers aren’t weird at all — in fact, it would be weird if they weren’t there. The cool thing about it is that these incredibly intricate patterns can result from utterly simple beginnings.”

This is the first installment in Hart’s trilogy on the subject — keep an eye out for the two forthcoming parts.

For more on Fibonacci numbers, meet the man after whom they were named, a young Medieval mathematician who changed the very fabric of our lives — from our calendar to our business to the evolution of technology — when he wrote Liber Abbaci, Latin for Book of Calculation, in 1202. His story is one of the best science books of 2011 — riveting, important, and unmissable.

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23 DECEMBER, 2011

Max Fleischer’s Original 1947 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Animation


How Santa’s ninth reindeer made his on-screen debut.

In 1939, Robert L. May conceived of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in a poem, published in a booklet by iconic department store Montgomery Ward. But “Santa’s 9th Reindeer” didn’t become etched into the nation’s collective imagination until May’s brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, adapted Rudolph into a song in 1949. (What makes the story all the more curious and poetic is that Marks was Jewish, yet he created some of the most popular Christmas songs we know today.)

But Rudolph made his first screen appearance two years earlier, in 1947, in a cartoon short produced by animation pioneer Max Fleischer. The film was later reissued by the Handy (Jam) Organization — who also brought us such gems as a manifesto for makers (1960), cinematic homage to mid-century design (1958), and an animated explanation of how radio broadcasting works (1937) — with the song added in. The 8-minute animation, now in the public domain, is a vintage treat of the most delicious variety:

Fleischer’s film was eventually adapted into a lovely children’s storybook in 1951, illustrated by Richard Scarry.

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15 DECEMBER, 2011

Viewers Like You: Edward Gorey’s Animated Intro for PBS’s Mystery


Lessons in giving from the master of the macabre.

I have a well-documented soft spot for legendary mid-century illustrator Edward Gorey, whose stories about mischievous children and curious creatures influenced generations of creators as diverse as Nine Inch Nails and Tim Burton, and who even eleven years after his death managed to delight us with one of the best children’s books of 2011. But what catapulted Gorey into cultural cachet were his animated introductions for the PBS show Mystery! in 1980 — an absolute micro-treat of Goreyesque grim whimsy.

As a regular supporter of public media (and myself the proprietor of what’s essentially a donation-based public service), I’m particularly delighted by Gorey’s refreshing take on the familiar “viewers like you” message — easily the most charming way to ask for a donation.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.