Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘animation’

25 AUGUST, 2010

The Beast File: Infographic Storytelling


Catholic priests, Greenpeace terrorists, and what Tim Burton has to do with Obama’s entourage.

We have a soft spot for infographic storytelling — from a data-driven take on The Little Red Riding Hood to animated infoviz for kids to an infographic breakdown of web history. We’ve recently discovered a wonderful Australian program, The Hungry Beast, whose series The Beast File hits right in the middle of this sweet spot — part modern muckraking, part typographic animation, part data-driven storytelling. Sadly, Hungry Beast got pulled from the air in April, but we’ve curated five fantastic episodes to immortalize its infographic legacy.


In the past 50 years, some 30,000 people in 25 countries have reported abuse by Catholic priests. The Beast File takes a critical look at a serious problem that has been well-documented yet unresolved in over 2,000 years of Catholic church history.


Hungry Beast pulls back the curtain to probe a bit deeper into the world’s premiere purveyor of “Don’t be evil” philosophy, from the Big G’s impressive media portfolio to their 187 patents and the many subtle ways in which the search giant has penetrated our daily lives.


Controversial environmental activist Paul Watson was among the most influential early members of Greenpeace, but was notoriously axed from the organization for supporting strategies of direct, radical action that conflicted with Greenpeace’s philosophy of nonviolence. Though his work was pivotal in enforcing marine regulations against illegal whalers and sealers, The Beast File nails Watson’s aura of controversy by calling him “one man’s freedom fighter, another man’s terrorist.”


MDMA, or 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, was synthesized by accident in 1912 and enjoyed a long career of illicit use as ecstasy. Because of its reckless recreational use, MDMA was quickly pulled from the world of medicine and banned as part of the war on drugs, but doctors continued to campaign for its use in medical research, uncovering some evidence for the drug’s efficiency in treating PTSD and anxiety disorders.


A job consisting solely of keeping track of throat lozenges may seem like the kind of absurd occupation you’d encounter in a Tim Burton film, unless these are Obama’s throat lozenges. Then it becomes a matter of national security — and the very non-fictional job of one man on the president’s 500-person entourage. In this episode, The Beast File introduces us to some of the more curious portable White House staffers that go everywhere Obama goes.

And is it just us, or did the voiceover lady slip a Bushism in there with her “nucular” pronunciation?

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16 AUGUST, 2010

How To Be Alone


Dancing with yourself, how to talk to statues, and what squirrels have to do with love.

UPDATE: Now available as an illustrated book.

Modernity offers a curious paradox of connectedness and loneliness. Our perpetually networked selves cling to constant communication in an effort to avoid the deep-seated sense of loneliness we so dread. Somewhere along the way, we forget — or maybe never even learn — how to be alone, how to stay contented in our own company.

Poet and singer-songwriter Tanya Davis and filmmaker Andrea Dorfman address this forgotten art in How To Be Alone — a beautifully hand-illustrated, simply yet eloquently narrated visual poem full of all these things we so often need to tell ourselves and believe, yet so rarely do.

You could be in an instant surrounded if you needed it. If your heart is bleeding, make the best of it. There is heat in freezing, be a testament.

Davis’s illustrated book adaptation is just as lovely.

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09 AUGUST, 2010

5 ½ Werner Herzog Gems


Monkey philosophy, literary incongruity, and what eating a shoe reveals about the state of contemporary culture.

We’re a little obsessed with the endlessly eccentric, delightfully dark German director Werner Herzog. So we’ve curated five — and a half — of our favorite Werner Herzog nuggets to get existential with or simply have a good intellectual chuckle over.


Directed by Ramin Bahrani of Goodbye Solo fame, Plastic Bag follows the existential journey of a plastic bag, narrated by Herzog, searching for its maker.

The film is part of FutureStates, a series of 11 fictional mini-features exploring hypothetical scenarios for our future through the lens of the world’s current realities.


Okay, so it isn’t really Herzog. It’s an impersonator, filmmaker Ryan Iverson. But the prospect of the dry, uncompromising, deeply existentialist German interpreting children’s classics is oddly alluring, both humorous and awkwardly disturbing. Either way, you can’t stop listening.


Yep, it’s another impersonation. But we just can’t get enough of them. The urgency with which “Herzog” recites the playful rhymes of the book is so comically incongruous that you — or at least we — can’t help chuckling.


No children’s books parody is complete without a stab at Where’s Waldo. Here, “Herzog” takes a tone that’s somewhere between Freud and The X Files, taking the absurdity of the whole concept to a whole new level.


Returning to the authentic Herzog, these excerpts from Les Blank’s classic 1980 short film, Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, are part serious cultural commentary, part humorous encounter with Herzog’s public persona, part rare glimpse of his private creative process as a deeply thoughtful filmmaker.

The film documents Herzog delivering on a bet he made with Errol Morris, which held that if Morris finished his acclaimed first feature, Gates of Heaven, Herzog would eat his shoe.


You may recall an old Brain Pickings favorite from a couple of years ago, Clemens Kogler’s Le Grand Content — a brilliant blend of humor and philosophy reflecting on today’s infographic culture. Inspired by Jessica Hagy’s equally brilliant indexed blog, another Brain Pickings favorite, it’s narrated by a (rather excellent) Werner Herzog impersonator who nails Herzog’s characteristic monotonous snark with a degree of precision and an ounce of caricature that only adds to the dark charm of the piece.

This instant classic is without question in our top five animations of all time.

For a deeper dive into the magic of Herzog, we highly recommend Werner Herzog Collection, a fantastic 1977 film anthology featuring eight of his excellent films, along with commentary, as well as Herzog on Herzog, a priceless collection of interviews Herzog has given throughout his prolific career in both fiction and documentary.

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