Fascinating Video Essays

Posts tagged delve

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[Works of art] that I really respond to …have behind them a lot of conceptual, political, and intellectual activity…the visual representations are really signposts to this beautiful machine that has been constructed, unique on the earth, and is not just a rehashing of visual elements, but is really a new thought machine that an artist, through visual means and combining his eyes with his perceptions has created.
Mihaly Csikszentmihaly

Filed under Thought machine Adam Westbrook delve mihaly csikszentmihaly art flow creativity

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Nowadays we can watch more than enough animation anytime we want. But no matter how good the animation is, when we have too much, it is no longer of good quality…it takes a great deal of effort to create significant work given the current flood of animation. It is like pouring clear water drop by drop into the muddy flood waters. I can’t help but feel lonely that, just because it is such an effort, some decide to settle for sending out mediocre work to be pushed along with the rest of the deluge.
Hayao Miyazaki, a lecture in June 1982

Filed under Adam Westbrook Hayao Miyazaki Delve animation social media content art creativity popularity deluge of content quality

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What Are These Things Called Love? Transcript

My latest video essay collaboration with Fusion was published last week. 

Subscribers to the newsletter will know it’s been a challenging story. Here is the final version of the script (version number 7!)

What Are These Things Called Love? Words: Adam Westbrook

It’s one of the most popular and powerful stories of our time …that in a universe of immeasurable size…in a galaxy filled with 300 billion stars….on one of millions of planets that can sustain life…filled with 7 billion human beings… living in 2800 cities in 196 countries…that among all this…we will all…one day…meet our soul-mate.

And if you don’t believe it, then you’re the minority.

I saw one survey that said that 84 percent of young Americans believe The One is out there somewhere.

Look at Google’s archive of books and you see the word has exploded in popularity in the last 100 years.

But go back before 1900 and the word is hardly used at all…and you know why? Because it didn’t exist!

This guy - Samuel Taylor Coleridge - invented it in 1822.

So the word isn’t even 200 years old but 84 percent of us are so certain the concept’s real.

But love it turns out is a little bit more complicated…

Here’s a tender scene from one of the oldest love stories ever told. On the right is Achilles - the mythical warrior and the tragic love story between him and Petraculus is central to the plot of Homer’s epic poem The Illiad.

But there’s a great twist…something that didn’t get repeated for a long time…because Petraculus you might have noticed…is a dude.

People still argue about whether there was anything sexual between these guys, but really it doesn’t matter - the bromance was real.

And in ancient greece - a country pretty much always at war - the bond between brothers in arms was what really mattered.

People still fell in love…but romance as we know’s hard to imagine but it really didn’t exist at all..and it certainly wasn’t celebrated.

That is, until a new love story came along…
So there’s this guy called William of Aquitaine…he was a Duke in the south of france in the middle ages… but when he wasn’t jousting he fancied himself as a Troubadour - a sort of medieval singer/songwriter.

And his songs sound nice enough…but they were mostly about tricking women into having sex with him, or comparing them to horses. Charming.

Then - probably stealing ideas from some Arabic poetry which was popular at the time - he switched the roles and made the woman the powerful character - so desirable any man would dedicate his life to her.

For the first time (in the West anyway) the idea of romantic love between a man and a woman became an ideal - a fantasy.. from Rapunzel to Romeo and Juliet love stories celebrated men pursuing unattainable women.

So yes, our entire idea of romance was invented by a sexist douchebag.

But now the love stories we told looked completely different…and the bromance the greeks believed in..well that was made illegal for a very long time.

Society now celebrated love and romance - with anyone really…as long as they weren’t your husband or wife!

Yes, as strange as it sounds, for most of history marriages have been more like a business arrangement, and you didn’t want feelings to get in the way.

These are wedding portraits amazingly and they’re not exactly full of passion.

Then a Dutch artist called Frans Hals painted this. And it tells us everything about how marriage changed.

Couples married for love, they held hands and kissed in public -things that had never been seen in Europe before.

Right, but then it changed again!

Because nearly 700 years later, Europe was obsessed with a novel about a young artist who falls in love with his friend Charlotte.

The only problem - and I’m sure you’ve heard this one before - is that Charlotte is already engaged to someone else

The young artist’s solution to the problem has a big impact - literally.

The Sorrows of Young Werther published by Wolfgang von Goethe in 1744 was like 50 Shades of Grey without the handcuffs. It was insanely popular - men started dressing like the main character - and some even shot themselves, in what’s considered to be the first case of copycat suicides in history.

This all helped launch the romantic movement - the most passionate but also dark version of love we’d ever seen. We assume the romantic movement was - well, romantic, but the reality was different.  

Gave us some of our best art though - Keats, Beethoven, Blake…and a young poet called Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who in 1822 wrote in a letter to a friend: “To be happy in married life, one must have…a soul mate.”
We think the concept of love is something eternal and universal…but it changes all the time!

And it’s funny… each time, it seems to come from the stories we’re telling…

And isn’t that more true NOW than ever…?

Unlike epic poems or novels, movies and TV shows work best with simple stories…

And while the idea of romance has been around for a long time, now it’s been transformed into the most simple and idealistic version of all.

And now we expect our lover, our best friend, our companion AND the best sex we ever had…in one person!

Thing is…it’s not just movies…

For a hundred years companies have used this story to sell us things…

And in our age of consumerism we’ve somehow turned love itself into a shopping trip…

Swipe left, swipe right…always keeping our eyes open for an upgrade..

But with such simple and idealistic expectations are putting too much pressure on other people? And on ourselves?

So our version of love is not the first, and you know what, it’s probably not the last..

In a hundred years we might be telling a completely different love story - all we’re waiting for, is for someone to write it.

Filed under Adam Westbrook delve Fusion video essay script transcript history of love Samuel Taylor Coleridge Achilles Wolfgang Von Goethe Sorrows of Young Werther Romanticism William of Aquitaine history

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From the cutting room floor…

I’ve been working on a new video essay which is almost done.  As usual, once a rough cut is done I end up reshaping and cutting shots and even whole sequences. 

I’m still spending as much time as I can refining my process. One of the things I have realised just recently is that I have been mixing the creation and analysis stages of making a video essay together, which is a big no-no.

So I’ll often begin analysing a story design before I’ve even made a draft of it, and I’ll try and create and analyse on the same day. Your brain can’t switch from one to the other so easily, so now I’m updating my process to make sure church and state remain separated. 

Here are a couple of shots which I dropped on Monday, after realising they weren’t essential to the story. 

Filed under showyourwork editing Adam Westbrook storytelling cutting room floor video essay history delve

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Eileen from the Redbird Review got in touch a while back to ask if I would do an interview about delve. I agreed, and she asked some really great questions about creativity and the moving image. 

You can read the full interview on their website, and here are a couple of my favourite questions:

You describe your website as being a quiet part of the internet, this is a good introduction to your work, which expresses ideas in a clear but contemplative way.  Do you think that the internet is noisy with content because we haven’t worked out how best to use it for expression, or because we have so much to express and we haven’t learned how best to present it?  Is it the internet or the users which lack clarity?

I think about this idea a lot at the moment. Stepping back a little, we can see that right now we are in the middle of what people call The Social Web. What matters at the moment is how popular you are - how many people share your work. So the people  and companies that are successful (Buzzfeed is the prime example) have cleverly worked out how to engineer their content to be shared widely. All the major platforms we use, from Facebook to YouTube, reward people who are popular; everyone dreams of ‘going viral’. This inherently changes the dynamic of creation: to be successful on YouTube, for example, you must create a lot, which is why things are so noisy.

The way I see it, this obsession with popularity is a hangover from the 20th century age of mass marketing, which we haven’t quite got over yet. I also don’t think The Social Web will last forever - ten years perhaps, which means we are already half way through.

So I describe delve as being a quiet part of the Internet because I don’t try at all to make my videos popular (and, relatively, they’re not!) Instead I try really hard to make them objectively good. This attitude isn’t encouraged or rewarded by the Internet at the moment. Who knows what will come after The Social Web, but I hope it is an ecosystem that rewards quality not quantity; that is what I am building delve for.

Creative people view the world as a construct and so are able to play about with it, producing work that makes truth more palatable.  Can you tell us a bit about your preference for video as a medium to produce palatable truths?

What a great question! I think all motion picture, whether it’s on a cinema screen, a TV screen or an online video is ultimately a medium of emotion. You could call it e-motion pictures. You can convey information of course, but video’s real power is in making people feel. Although my video essays are set up as educational, I am always trying to give people an emotional experience, maybe feeling inspired about their creative journey, surprised that computers are run on such a simple concept, or maybe even guilty that their habits of consumption hurt the poorest people. On the Internet most video makers use the medium in a very literal way: when they talk about a horse, they show a horse etc; but video is so powerful because it can be abstract and suggestive. You can make people feel an emotion by the use of almost invisible techniques in editing and image selection.

All storytelling, in any medium, when it is done well, is about manipulating the audience’s assumptions and ideas. But you do it to help people see a greater truth. And the best truths are emotional ones because they are so complicated and hard to define. I want to tell complicated truths; life isn’t simple and I think we do a disservice when we try and package life into self-contained blocks.    

Filed under Redbird Review redbird adam westbrook delve storytelling video visual storytelling buzzfeed social web social media

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Here are some shots from my latest video essay made in collaboration with Fusion. 

The opening shot, showing the bombing of Hiroshima from the point of view of the bomb itself was an attempt to solve the problem of visualising an anecdote when you have no actual footage.

As well as solving this problem, the point of view creates an added layer of suspense, as the audience guesses what is about to happen.  It also subtly punctuates the theme of the story, that history is only seen from the point of view of the victors.

Filed under point of view visual storytelling adam westbrook delve video essay hiroshima tstumo yamaguchi unluckiest person in history

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Tony Zhou’s ‘Every Frame a Painting’ episode on Orson Welles’ F for Fake.

It’s a great lesson in structuring narrative for moving images. It’s best watched twice - once on YouTube, and secondly with Tony’s own editing annotations.

I’m tempted to try a similar annotation to unpick the editing decisions I make in my own video essays

Filed under tony zhou orson welles narrative structure visual storytelling every frame a painting video essay Adam Westbrook delve

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Bananas, Sardines and Sharks: transcript

Here is the transcript for the video essay “Bananas, Sardines and Sharks”. If you’d like to translate the film into another language, you can use this as a reference. Please email me with a .vtt file plus your website or twitter handle for credit. Thanks!


So, long before we were obsessed with all these things, and even these things, there was something else entirely.

Yep, this is going to be a story is all about a fruit…ok that’s a lie, because bananas aren’t actually a fruit.

It’s true. They’re a berry. And that isn’t the only thing we have wrong about them.

Maybe the most surprising thing about bananas is that they’re so cheap. Think about it - they’re grown on plantations thousands of miles away…transported, loaded, shipped…but when they arrive on our supermarket shelves they are usually cheaper than the apples which are grown just around the corner.

And they pretty much always have been. Even a hundred years ago, 25¢ would get you a dozen bananas, but only two apples.

That’s got everything to do with this friendly looking sailor, and this less friendly looking train operator. In 1899 they teamed up to create the United Fruit Company, and within 10 years they made bananas available and affordable everywhere. And their secret? Complete control.

United Fruit owned the plantations. United Fruit employed the workers. United Fruit built the railway line, and they even owned the ports and operated the ships.

[Old narrator] “The whole operation right from the first cutting is planned and timed…”

United Fruit turned an exotic delicacy into something cheap and convenient for everyone.

And man, we loved our cheap bananas.

[Lyrics] “I’m Chiquita Banana and I’m here to say that bananas have to ripen in a certain way. And when they’re flecked with brown and have a certain hue, bananas taste the best and are the best for you. Anyway you want to eat them, it’s impossible to beat them. Bananas are a solid food that doctors now include in babies diets. And since they are so good for babies, I think we all should try it. Si! Si! Si! Si!”

Long before these came along, the banana proved our appetite for all that is cheap and convenient.

But the story of the banana also comes with a warning…

[Old newsreel narrator] “Communist aggression has incited rebellion against established governments. In France, communist aggression has fomented strikes against essential industries in attempts to discredit the free government. In Iran, in Eastern Germany, in Korea and in China. And with the deadliest of all weapons available to the Russians, no peoples in the world can feel secure against this aggression”

Just 1400 miles from the American border, the shadow of communism was looming dangerously large.

The newly elected president of Guatemala - Jacobo Arbenz - was a well known communist sympathiser.

High level reports warned that the country was overrun with communists…many were even working in the government. Then, in 1952, Arbenz announced a new plan: to buy up all the unused land in Guatemala and distribute it equally to the country’s workers.

And even worse, he planned to nationalise the country’s railways and its ports.

Watching closely, the United States government was sure of one thing. Communism couldn’t be allowed to get a foothold in the Americas…Arbenz had to go.

So in 1953 President Eisenhower ordered his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, to fix the problem. He spoke to his brother, Allen Dulles, the head of the CIA. And together they came up with a secret mission to depose the Guatemalan president.

Now this was a dangerous idea: to remove a democratically elected president from someone else’s country…and do it without getting caught.

Did the Dulles brothers think they could pull it off? They must have done. They called it Operation Success.

Here is the CIA Guide to removing a democratically elected president in six weeks without anyone knowing it was you.

Step One: set up a radio station in Miami Florida, but tell everyone that you’re based in the Guatemalan jungle.

Step Two: assemble a rag tag group of a hundred or so mercenaries and stash them on the border.

Step Three: announce on the radio that an army of thousands of well trained soldiers has just invaded the country - even though they haven’t.

Step Four: send a few light aircraft to strafe the capital city and scare everyone into running away.

Step Five: keep up the radio broadcasts and announce that your made up army is marching towards the capital.

And Step Six: sit back and wait for your man to break.

Just a few days later on June 28th 1954, Jacabo Arbenz resigned and fled from an army that never existed.

In his place the CIA installed this guy - happy to do as he was told…and definitely not a communist.

Except…Jacobo Arbenz…wasn’t a communist either.

He wasn’t even remotely dangerous…until that is you realise that Guatemala was known by another name…

[Old narrator] “Here is a banana plantation, and it is our first introduction as to why this rich area is known as Bananaland”

The stories that the country was overrun with communists were made up… all part of a big PR campaign…paid for by United Fruit.

But hang on…we’re talking about a fruit company here - how did they convince the president of the United States to stage a secret coup? Well it’s pretty easy actually…if the Secretary of State and the head of the CIA used to be your company lawyers…

Castillo Armas did as he was told and gave United Fruit all their land back.

And so the bananas kept on coming, as convenient as ever and still cheaper than apples.

The operation to remove Arbenz was remarkably quick and clean…but the 36 year civil war that it started was not.

[Lyrics] “I’m Chiquita Banana and I’m here to say that bananas have to ripen in a certain way. And when they’re flecked with brown and have a certain hue, bananas taste the best and are the best for you. Anyway you want to eat them, it’s impossible to beat them. Bananas are a solid food that doctors now include in babies diets. And since they are so good for babies, I think we all should try it…”

Around 200 thousand people died…or simply disappeared. Mass graves are being discovered.

Today we’re in love with cheap convenience more than ever…but usually someone somewhere pays the price.

Question is…as long as WE still get what we want…do we care?

[Old Narrator] “So now that you’ve seen where bananas come from before they reach your table, our journey to Bananaland has ended. We hope you’ve enjoyed the trip. We know you like bananas!”

Filed under Adam Westbrook bananas sardines and sharks transcript delve delve video essays translate

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Before our favourite smartphones, tablets, taxi apps and online stores there was the humble banana. This remarkable true story of a Cold War coup warns us that no matter how cheap and convenient our stuff is, there is always a price to pay.

[Warning: contains some images that you might find disturbing]

The title Bananas, Sardines and Sharks is a reference to The Shark and the Sardines, one of the first accounts written about the Guatemalan coup, by Jacobo Arbenz’s predecessor Juan José Avéralo, and the first to accuse the American government of being involved.

Find out more about the story

Filed under Adam Westbrook VideoEssay delve delve video essays delveTV bananas shark sardines guatemala coup cia vimeo

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A new video essay from delve

100 summers ago the countries of Europe collapsed quickly into war: it was sudden but also kind of inevitable. Countless books have been written since about the causes of the Great War, but in this video essay we offer an alternative history. By tracing the story backwards in time we stumble upon a very unexpected cause and discover that sometimes the most harmless of things can have terrible consequences. 

Story Design & Direction: Adam Westbrook 
Animation: Adam Westbrook
Additional Photography: Brett Walsh
Archive footage from the US National Archives released in the public domain
Stock footage via Videohive and Pond5
All photographs in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 2 performed by Kevin McLeod
Additional music and sound effects via AudioJungle 
Story assistance from Caroline Vanier, Cody Delistraty and Chris Schaefer.

Here are the books I used in researching this essay.

Filed under Adam Westbrook Ww1 ww1 kaiser wilhelm ii history documentary history documentary video essay delve books alfred mahan max hastings margaret macmillan barbara tuchman dreadnoughts germany britain europe war world war cause and effect robert massie

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A new video essay from delve.

It was the change that no-one saw coming: the idea that we could take a book, a painting or a song and send it through cables and wires and even thin air to the other end of the world - and it would be identical on the other side. But this idea underpins everything about the Information Age we live in.

How did we make such a mind bending transition into the digital world? And how does it work? It turns out it’s all based on a concept that is surprisingly beautiful in its simplicity. This short video essay explores what that idea is and tells you about the man who figured it all out.

Computers are everywhere and control almost every aspect of our lives. In the next 6 minutes you’ll find out how they really work.


Curious? Read Andrew Lih’s quick explanation of Information Theory.

Even more interested? Spend an hour learning Information Theory with this Cambridge Professor.

Super interested? Read “Information: a history, a theory, a flood” by James Gleick

A maths person? Read Shannon’s original 1948 paper which changed the world [PDF].


Filed under Adam Westbrook Claude Shannon Binary How computers work Digital communication a Mathematical Theory of Communication Bell Labs 1948 Transistor Information Theory Information A simple explanation of information theory Vincent Van Gogh Delve video essay delve video essays Las Vegas Blackjack Charles and Ray Eames

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A Little History of the World No.11

OK so it’s 800 BCE and now we can introduce some people you’ve definitely heard of. But Ancient Greece wasn’t really a single society as the name suggests, but a collection of smaller, competing, tribes. They included the Ionians who founded Athens and the Dorians better known as the Spartans.

Filed under ancientgreece dorians athens alittlehistoryoftheworld ionians sparta spartan aeolians greece ancient history ancient world classical history history on instagram history documentary delve delveTV