Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘animation’

29 JUNE, 2010

Waiting for “Superman”: Education by the Numbers


Why 26 seconds are enough to end up in prison, or what Superman has to do with the economy.

A couple of months ago, we raved about Waiting for “Superman” — an ambitious new documentary about the state of public education from filmmaker Davis Guggenheim of An Inconvenient Truth fame.

The film explores the human side of education statistics, following five promising, talented, intelligent kids through a system that inhibits rather than inspires academic and intellectual growth. While very much a curtain-peeler for a broken system, with all its “academic sinkholes” and “drop-out factories,” the film is also a hopeful manifesto for the transformational power of great educators, whom Guggenheim casts as the only true ushers of education reform.

This week, the film released an infographic-driven teaser in addition to standard trailer, offering a compelling visual narrative around some eye-opening education statistics.

In America right now, a kid drops out of high school every 26 seconds. These drop-outs are 8 times more likely to go to prison, 50% less likely to vote, more likely to need social welfare assistance, not eligible for 90% of jobs, are being paid 40 cents to the dollar of earned by a college graduate, and continuing the cycle of poverty.”

The film ultimately asks the most critical question: How do we ensure that talented teachers help their students succeed?

We highly, highly encourage you to see Waiting for “Superman” when it hits theaters this fall — you can even pledge to do so right now. Meanwhile, the site offers a handful of ways to take action and lend a hand in fixing a broken system from the ground up.


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24 JUNE, 2010

5 Seminal Vintage Russian Animation Short Films


What dancing ballerinas and hungry kings have to do with the dawn of the digital age.

While Walt Disney was building an animation empire in America, a thriving school of animation mastery was unfolding on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Russian art directors, illustrators, animators and video producers were experimenting with techniques often decades ahead of their time and creating beautifully crafted, visually stunning short films despite the technological limitations of the era. Many of these masterpieces are now available in Masters Of Russian Animation — a remarkable collcection of animated shorts from the 1960s through 1980s in four volumes.

Today, we look at five of these gems, with many thanks to reader Sebastian Waack (@edutechnews) for bringing some of them to our attention.


Based on a Russian folk tale, Hedgehog in the Fog, a 1975 gem by master-animator Yuri Norstein, utilized techniques like cutout-animation and stop-motion three decades before they reached creative buzzword status.

Thinking about how these effects were achieved — brilliantly — in the age of manual, analog studio production does give one pause in the face of all the digital tools we take for granted today.

Found on Volume 2.


Director Fyodor Khitruk’s Story of a Crime is part Hanna-Barbera, part Hitchcock, part something else entirely. Using techniques like cutout collages and photo-illustration hybrids long before they had entered the mainstream animation arsenal, the film won the Jury Prize at the prestigious 1980 film festival in Lille, France.

You can catch part 2 here. Found on Volume 1.


From director Anatoly Petrov comes The Singing Teacher, an eerie, haunting, stunningly illustrated gem from 1968.

Found on Volume 1.


Based on the famous A. A. Milne poem The King’s Breakfast, director Andrey Khrzhanovsky’s The King’s Sandwich features intricate line illustration and remarkably expressive characters from the dawn of computer animation.

Found on Volume 3.


With its minimalist lines and intricate play of perspectives, director Lev Atamanov’s Ballerina on a Boat is a lovely exercise in storytelling through grace and simplicity.

Found on Volume 2.

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02 APRIL, 2010

Japan: The Strange Country


Kabuki, GDP, and speech-free storytelling that leaves you speechless.

Last week, we saw and loved Japan: The Strange Country — a wonderful student project presenting Japan’s numbers and figures in a brilliant infographic animation. In the past few days, the film got a decent amount of press. But today, something strange happened: The English version of the animation was taken down, leaving only the Japanese one.

Out of curiosity, we gave the Japanese version a spin and were astounded to realize it was just as brilliant, despite the foreign voiceover — just as crisp, just as digestible, just as informationally revelational. And we thought this was the true litmus test for excellent infographic visualization: Using design and visual narrative as a storytelling device in a way that makes the data so intuitive and clear that it renders language unnecessary.

See for yourself.

So for your next encounter with infoviz, consider this: If you took language away, would it still make sense and tell a story?

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