Previous month:
December 2016
Next month:
March 2017

February 2017

Pixar Studios Offers Free Storytelling Lessons Online

Toy-Story-2

In cooperation with the Khan Academy, Pixar and Disney have been offering Pixar in a Box, an on-going series of behind-the-scenes lessons taught by Pixar's professionals  (storytellers, animators, directors, artists, etc.). Subjects have included color science, animation, effects, sets & staging, character modeling, and so on. Part of the aim of this project, as stated on the Pixar-in-a-Box website is to show how "The subjects you learn in school — math, science, computer science, and humanities — are used every day to create amazing movies at Pixar."

These lessons are remarkable, but what I am most excited about is that last week, Pixar in a Box announced a new series: The Art of Storytelling. Pixar may be the best at the technical side of animation, but what really made them successful is their understanding of story and storytelling. In this interview regarding Pixar's success, Steve Jobs said this: "Even though Pixar is the most technologically advanced studio in the world, John Lasseter has a saying which has really stuck: No amount of technology will turn a bad story into a good story."

The new Art of Storytelling series is great news for educators who want to bring the principles of storytelling into the classroom and help their students understand the art of story. Yet this is also useful for anyone who wants to become a masterful storyteller in business or in any other endeavor. Here's the introduction video for the Storytelling series.

The storytelling series will cover six main parts that take you from the formation of your rough idea to actually creating storyboards. Each lesson features videos and activities, so this is something you can do on your own or as part of a class. Here are the six sections to be covered as outlined in the introductory video in lesson 1:

(1) We are all Storytellers
(2) Character
(3) Structure
(4) Visual language
(5) Filmmaking grammar
(6) Storyboarding

Currently only Lesson 1 is online, but others will follow throughout the year. Even if you do not desire to make an animated film, the lessons — especially those related to structure and visual language coming up in lessons 3 and 4 — will help you create better presentations in all their myriad forms or incorporate storytelling into other aspects of your work and life.

If you have not heard of Pixar in a Box, here is a video presentation that explains the concept. And in the true spirit of Pixar, the video introduction is done with great clarity and humor.

Related Links
• The Art of Storytelling (Khan Academy)
• Tips for creative success from Pixar
• No amount of technology will make a bad story good
• Study the basics: John Lasseter on the secret to success
• Pixar's 22 Rules of Storytelling
• The storytelling imperative: Make them care!
• 10 tips for improving your presentations & speeches

Here are two good books on Pixar I read recently. The first one is Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. The other book — To Pixar and Beyond: My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History — came out at the end of last year. Both give great insights into the workings of Pixar and also the story making process.


Hans Rosling: Doctor, Professor, & Presenter Extraordinaire

Hans-rosling
The Zen Master of data visualization has died. I am sorry to have to report that Dr. Hans Rosling passed away today in Uppsala, Sweden. He was just 68. A profoundly mournful day for anyone who knew Professor Rosling, obviously. But it's also a sad day for all of us in the greater TED community or data visualization/business intelligence communities as well. Dr. Rosling's work was seen by millions and will continue to be seen by millions worldwide. It is incalculable just how many professionals Hans inspired over the years. His presentations, always delivered with honesty, integrity, and clarity, were aided by clear visuals of both the digital and analog variety. He was a master statistician, physician, and academic, but also a superb presenter and storyteller.

Almost eleven years ago, just after TED began experimenting with putting some of their talks on the web, I wrote this post called "If your idea is worth spreading, then presentation matters." In that post, I summarized my impression of Dr. Rosling from his 2006 TED Talk:

"Hans Rosling, an expert in public health from Sweden, does an amazing job in this presentation bringing the data to life. If you want to know how he did all those graphics, go to gapminder.org. It's all there. Hans is saying the problem is not the data. The data is there. But it's not accessible to most people for three reasons: (1) For researchers and journalists, teachers, etc. it is too expensive. (2) For the media, it is too difficult to access. (3) For the public, students, and policy makers, it is presented in a boring way. His solution is to make the data free, let it evoke and provoke an 'aha' experience, or a 'wow!' experience for the public. I loved the way he got involved with the data, virtually throwing himself into the screen. He got his point across, no question about it."

From that point on, I watched virtually every talk he made and featured him in every book I wrote on presentation. I saw the professor in person at TED 2009 and was a fellow presenter with him at Tableau 2014 in Seattle where he, as usual, had the crowd of data geeks in the palm of his hand. If there is a Zen Master —or Jedi Master — of data visualization, then Dr. Hans Rosling is that master. His contributions are immense, and he will be missed deeply.

Below is Dr. Rosling's debut at TED 2006. It's as good now as it was then.


Hans-rosling_ted_2009
A photo I took of Hans at TED 2009. Love his analog pointer!


Hans Rosling presented at TED ten times, more than any other presenter. All of his TED presentations are featured here on the TED website. Below are links to a selection of other posts from presentationzen.com which feature videos and analysis of Dr. Rosling's presentations over the years.

If your idea is worth spreading, then presentation matters
Hans Rosling: Don't just show the notes, play the music!
Hans Rosling: The Jedi Master of Data Visualization
Hans Rosling redux: Mixing analog with digital visualization
Hans Rosling: the Zen Master of Presenting Data
Hans Rosling & the Art of Storytelling with Statistics

His message and spirit live on
Hans Rosling's contribution to the world in his 68 years was extraordinary. I'll continue to do whatever I can to spread his teachings in future. His work will continue to inspire and educate. We need his message of a fact-based worldview now more than ever. Here is part of today's announcement by Anna R. Rönnlund & Ola Rosling which appeared on the Gapminder website:

Across the world, millions of people use our tools and share our vision of a fact-based worldview that everyone can understand. We know that many will be saddened by this message. Hans is no longer alive, but he will always be with us and his dream of a fact-based worldview, we will never let die!

Indeed. Let us all remember Professor's Rosling's contributions and continue to keep the dream of a more fact-based, rational worldview alive.

Gapminder.org