Bran Ferren at IDF: Storytelling beyond cartoons

As the former president of Disney Imagineering says, there are "endless problems out there just waiting for advanced visualization."

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
2 min read

Bran Ferren tells a good story. Rafe Needleman / CNET

At the Intel Developer Forum on Tuesday, I skipped out of the sessions on CPU thermal management and USB sideband optimization and headed into a session where Bran Ferren, co-founder of Applied Minds and former president of Disney Imagineering, was giving an interesting talk at a somewhat more metaphysical level.

His thesis: "Storytelling is how ideas become permanent." He believes that the Internet is taking off (present tense, not past) because the technology is getting good enough now for storytelling. Since we process so much information visually, Ferren believes that new technologies for visualization are what makes the stories stick.

To illustrate his points, because just talking about visualization would be lame, Ferren headed over to a large flat-screen monitor with multitouch capabilities, and showed, first, how watching a display of aircraft flights in the U.S. clearly shows interesting items when you manipulate the display. First, by turning on trails and letting them fill in the map as the planes fly, you can clearly see where the no-fly zones are. Second, simply by watching the traffic in an accelerated playback, you can spot where the bad data is--the planes jump around.

Ferren and a colleague demo on a large flat-screen monitor. The image was also projected overhead. Rafe Needleman / CNET

More interestingly, he showed different ways to visualize what is likely a nuclear processing plant in Iran. Overlaying images taken at different times, it was clear to see not just the construction of a large underground facility near a previously built but smaller research complex, but also how the new facility had been camouflaged over time and even made resistant to cruise missile attack. And by overlaying larger scale data--such as access to rail lines (good), nearby population density (low), and seismic activity (lowest in the country)--it became very clear that these remote facilities were not accidentally situated. The story was far more compelling than looking at single frames of satellite imagery.

As Ferren says, there are "endless problems out there just waiting for advanced visualization." In other words, seeing is believing.

Speaking of which, there's a a very cool new visualization and image processing product coming out later Wednesday. We'll have the story here on Webware.

Click here for full coverage of the Intel Developer Forum.