Norman Rockwell Illustrates Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn (1936-1940)

Sawyer 1

There’s no getting around it: Norman Rockwell was a square. There’s also no getting around the fact that his career helped define the way mainstream Americans saw themselves for decades. And while an artist like Rockwell—so steeped in nostalgia, so lacking in irony and a taste for transgression—might have faded into complete irrelevance amidst the tumult of the sixties, the opposite in fact occurred. Instead of pale, freckle-faced scamps and neighborly civil servants, Rockwell painted likenesses of world leaders like Nehru and Nasser, as well as a now iconic symbol of the Civil Rights struggle on a 1964 Look magazine cover.

Sawyer 2

The sixties Rockwell, though still very much a purveyor of small town Americana, became a somewhat weightier figure, even if he never gained (or sought) acceptance in the art world. But we might think of Rockwell as working on two registers throughout his career—as the PG-rated painter of mischievous, childish niceness, and the earnest commentator on mores and values in adult society. In a way, these two sides of America’s most popular illustrator mirror those of the nation’s most popular writer, Mark Twain. Though separated by a generation, the two, writes the Mark Twain House & Museum’s website, are “twinned in many ways in the public consciousness.”

Sawyer 3

In part, this is because Rockwell illustrated for Heritage Press two of Twain’s most famous books, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1936 and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1940. Above, see three of Rockwell’s illustrations from Tom Sawyer and, below, one from his Huck Finn. The differences between the two books (so hilariously contrasted by Louis CK), could stand for the two sides of both Twain and Rockwell. As the Mark Twain House puts it, “some critics have dismissed [Twain and Rockwell’s] work as lightweight, blithely ignoring the important statements they made on race.” Tom Sawyer is a lightweight book, the work of Twain the popular humorist. (Twain himself would say, “my books are water: those of the great geniuses are wine. Everybody drinks water.”) Huck Finn on the other hand is a serious adult novel with serious adult themes. For all of its flaws, it makes an admirable attempt to identify with and faithfully render the plight of enslaved people.

Huck Finn Rockwell

Twain’s great strength as a serious writer was his wealth of empathy, a quality Rockwell manifested as well. In fact, in order to best represent Twain’s books, the illustrator traveled to their setting, Hannibal, Missouri, where he “acquired a new respect for the characters,” writes the Norman Rockwell Museum. “The longer I worked at the task,” Rockwell wrote, “the more in love with the different personalities I became.” Illustration and design blog Today’s Inspiration points out that Rockwell purchased old clothes from the Hannibal locals to “soak up the atmosphere”: “Of all the illustrators (and there were quite a few) that illustrated these novels in the past, Rockwell was the first to visit Mark Twain’s home town. In typical Rockwell fashion, no amount of detail or research was ignored, faked or quickly glossed over.”

Sawyer 4

Today’s Inspiration zooms in on details from several of the Tom Sawyer paintings to show the fine, almost Vermeer-like attention Rockwell lavished on each illustration. The extensive examination of these early Rockwell classics makes a good case for the folksy illustrator as a “storytelling genius with pallet and brush.” Rockwell may be dismissed as a creator of kitsch, and in some cases the charge is justified, but—like Twain—even his lighter work depended on a fine attention to details of setting and characterization that make his work memorable and moving, in its corniest and its weightiest moments.

Related Content:

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Mark Twain Writes a Rapturous Letter to Walt Whitman on the Poet’s 70th Birthday (1889)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Art of Collotype: See a Near Extinct Printing Technique, as Lovingly Practiced by a Japanese Master Craftsman

When I was a kid,  I spent a lot of time at the Indianapolis Star, where my mother worked in what was then referred to as the “women’s pages.” She kept me busy returning the photos that accompanied marriage and engagement announcements, using the SASEs the young brides had supplied. After that, I’d hit the printing floor, where veteran workers sported square caps folded from the previous day’s edition, as that day’s issue clacked on tracks overhead. If I was lucky, someone would make me a gift of my name, set in hot type.

The Star still publishes – I shudder to report that its website seems to have renamed it IndyStar… – but cultural and digital advances have relegated all of the particulars mentioned above to the scrap pile.

They came rushing back with wild, Proustian urgency when Osamu Yamamoto, a master printer at Benrido Collotype Atelier in Kyoto, mentions the smell of the ink, in the short documentary above, how over the years, it has seeped into his skin, and become a part of his being.

Collotype, defined by the Getty Conservation Institute as “a screenless photomechanical process that allows high-quality prints from continuous-tone photographic negatives,” has been on the way out since the 70s. As master printer Yamamoto notes, it’s a low-efficiency, small batch operation, involving messy matrixes, hand-operated presses, and heavy iron machines that give off a sort of animal warmth when working.

Rather than pressmen’s caps, Benrido’s shirtless printers wear hachimaki, rubber aprons, and purple disposable gloves.

Filmmaker Fritz Schumann (whose film on the oldest hotel in Japan we previously featured before) evokes the workplace – one of two remaining collotype companies in the world – through small details like the plastic-wrapped digital Hamtaro clock and also by drawing viewers’ attention to the number of years logged by each employee. The art of collotype takes a long time to master and novices appear to be in short supply.

Should we conceive of this operation as a quaint relic, creeping along thanks to the whimsy of a few nostalgia buffs?

Surprisingly, no. The laborious collotype process remains the best way to duplicate precious artworks and historic documents. The way the ink interacts with reticulations in the gelatin surface atop results in subtleties that pixellated digital images cannot hope to achieve.

Visitors to the studio may support the enterprise by picking up a handful of collotype-printed postcards in the gift shop, but the office of the Japanese Emperor is the one who’s really keeping them in business, with orders to copy hundreds of delicate, centuries old scrolls, paintings and letters.

Like a circle in a circle…cultural preservation via cultural preservation! Perhaps the smell of the ink will prevail.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday


Astronaut Reads The Divine Comedy on the International Space Station on Dante’s 750th Birthday

“On April 24th,” writes The New Yorker‘s John Kleiner, “Samantha Cristoforetti, Italy’s first female astronaut, took time off from her regular duties in the International Space Station to read from the Divine Comedy.” You can watch a clip of that reading of the first canto of the Paradiso above. “As Cristoforetti spun around the globe at the rate of seventeen thousand miles an hour, her reading was beamed back to earth and shown in a movie theater in Florence.”

While that stands alone as a neat event in and of itself, more celebration of the epic Italian poem followed. “Ten days later,” Kleiner continues, “the actor Roberto Benigni recited the last canto of Paradiso in the Italian Senate” to a standing ovation. Benigni, one of world cinema’s best-known representatives of Italian culture, seems to have a particularly strong appreciation for Dante Alighieri, the best-known representative of Italian literature; you can see him recite the first canto of the Inferno just above.

The occasion? Dante’s 750th birthday. Though you’ll find no unsuitable occasion to celebrate the Divine Comedy (find it in our collection of 700 Free eBooks), this past month has proven a particularly rich one. Today we’ve gathered a few more pieces of Danteiana so you can conduct your own personal appreciation. You might consider as a first stop the Princeton Dante Project, which “combines a traditional approach to the study of Dante’s Comedy with new techniques of compiling and consulting data, images, and sound,” featuring a searchable new verse translation, texts of Dante’s minor works (with translations), historical and interpretive lectures, more than seventy commentaries, and links to Dante sites from all over the world.

“When Dante began work on the Comedy [circa 1308], none of the different dialects spoken in Italy’s many city-states had any particular claim to preeminence,” writes Kleiner for The New Yorker. “Such was the force and influence of the Comedy that the Tuscan dialect became Italy’s literary language and, eventually, its national one.” But if you don’t speak Italian (as much as the linguistic importance of the Divine Comedy might inspire you to learn it), you might prefer an English reading, which you’ll find in the Youtube playlist embedded just above.

Dante has, for so many of us, shaped our very notions of heaven and hell, but perhaps more impressively, as the poet’s 750th birthday passes, his major work shows no signs of falling into irrelevance. No matter how many of us now have different visions of the afterlife than he did, and no matter how many of us have no visions of it at all, we keep reading Dante — whether in Italian or English, whether in the Senate or on the internet, whether on Earth or in space.

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in CinemaFollow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

3D Printed Zoetrope Animates Rubens’ Famous Painting, “The Massacre of the Innocents”

In the 17th century, the Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens painted “The Massacre of the Innocents” (see below), an artistic depiction of a very brief Biblical passage in The Gospel of Matthew. The passage recounts the story of how Herod the Great, a Roman client king of Judea, ordered the execution of young male children in Bethlehem, hoping to avoid losing his throne to a newly-born King of the Jews. And it reads like this:

Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted,
Because they are no more.”

In the 21st century, Sebastian Burdon and Mat Collishaw have now come along and created “All Things Fall,” a 3d zoetrope that brings the “Massacre of the Innocents” to life. Using a 19th century optical technique that produces the illusion of motion, the zoetrope virtually animates the gruesome Biblical scene. You can watch it play out, eerily, above.

According to Burdon, it took “6 months to do all the 3d modeling and animations” and involved “creating over 350 character figures, environment elements and architecture. A pretty stunning effort.


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The Music of Avant-Garde Composer John Cage Now Available in a Free Online Archive


You don’t know avant-garde music unless you know John Cage. And now we have another rich, easily accessible online resource that can help us get to know John Cage better. The new site is called Making the Right Choices: A John Cage Celebration, and it has its origins in the celebration of Cage’s 100th birthday put on by conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony in February 2013.

This Cage-devoted, Knight Foundation-funded site, in the words of Hyperallergic‘s Allison Meier, “presents a comprehensive overview of his career, from a watering can poured on national television to a rhythmic solo piano performance inspired by lost love,” material from Cage’s life and career as well as material inspired by it, and of course “video and audio from the 2013 performances in Miami Beach, including some familiar and some obscure pieces from [Cage’s] influential and experimental career of both music and staged silence.”

You may remember when we featured Cage’s 1960 performance of Water Walk on I’ve Got a Secret. The site doesn’t fail to include that classic television clip, but it also offers videos on the staging of Water Walk today, from its direction and background to its rehearsal to the theatricality of its performance to the placement of the cameras filming it. You can find these and many other audiovisual explorations of the nuts and bolts of Cage’s work at Making the Right Choices‘ catalog of videos.

“John Cage genuinely wanted to open up the beauteous experience of sound for everyone,” writes Tilson Thomas in a piece on the composer. “Much of his work could be described as kits to be used in the creation of a performance that relies on the perceptions, imaginations and choices of the musicians. It was a spiritual mission for him to create the opportunity for the performance to exist while at the same time to interfere with it as little or as subtly as possible.” That challenge Cage set for himself keeps his work fascinating to us to this day — and as Tilson Thomas and the New World Symphony surely found out, it remains as much of a challenge as ever for those who pick it up today.

Visit Making the Right Choices: A John Cage Celebration .

via Hyperallergic

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in CinemaFollow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch the Hardcore Original Ending to Kevin Smith’s 1994 Cult Hit Clerks

I’m not sure if it’s still the case today, in fact, I’m almost sure it isn’t, but in my day the ethos of an entire generation could be tidily summed up by reference to a handful of movies. Or at least that’s what we were led to believe, those of us who came of age in the early-to-mid 90s, when films like Richard Linklater’s Slacker (watch free online), Ben Stiller’s Reality Bites, and Kevin Smith’s Clerks achieved almost instant cult status as totems of middle class ennui—that of overeducated narcissists and directionless dreamers and cynics with serial romantic disasters and a gnawing sense of the dwindling returns on their heavy investment in cultural capital.

Of this ad hoc trilogy of 90s slackerdom, it’s Smith’s 1994 low-budget, black and white paean to the lives of low-wage convenience and video store clerks, their clueless customers, and a comic duo of stoned hangers-on that perhaps holds up best, and this is because the film’s comedy—ranging from gallows humor to gross-out slapstick to observational geekery—seems most grounded in the everyday experiences of real, absurdly bored, working stiffs everywhere. So it’s for the best that Smith decided not to finish the film with the original ending he shot, which you can see above. In it, the movie’s main character, Quick Stop clerk Dante Hicks, is killed in a robbery. The last image we see in this version’s harrowing dénouement is of his corpse, awkwardly wedged behind the Quick Stop counter.

It’s an ending that makes little sense tonally. Despite the movie’s detours into the macabre, it never gets serious enough to justify this kind of heaviness. As Mental Floss puts it, “the alternate ending to Kevin Smith’s breakthrough film turned a lighthearted vulgar comedy [see above] into a dark tragedy of Ingmar Bergman-ish proportions.” Actor Brian O’Halloran, who played Dante, thought as much. “I hated that ending,” Rolling Stone quotes him as saying, “I just thought it was too quick of a twist.” I guess it’s a good thing for Smith (and O’Halloran) that he finally agreed, since without the Clerks universe’s main character, there may have been no Clerks 2, for what it’s worth, though Jay and Silent Bob would certainly have gone on to their post-Clerks revenge.

Smith’s choice to keep it light also speaks to the spirit of the time—or the spirit of these filmed representations of the time, which are ultimately about a lack of resolution, a meta-lack of resolution, that becomes its own brand of tragicomedy. Clerks is loosely modeled on Dante’s vision of purgatory, but feels more like Samuel Beckett transposed to suburban New Jersey. The characters in Smith’s films forever live their lives in what post-hardcore band Fugazi so anthemically called the “waiting room”—the kind of place where, in the midst of a personal crisis, the most logical thing to do is debate the ethics of killing off independent contractors on Return of the Jedi’s Death Star.

The Clerks alternate ending appears on the 10th anniversary DVD of the film. You’ll probably agree the movie works much better without this fatally abrupt turn, but watching it gives us a glimpse of a world where death—always hovering on the edges of slackerdom—intrudes to break the spell of terminal inaction and emotional paralysis.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Books Found on Usama Bin Ladin’s Bookshelf: Chomsky, the Illuminati & More


Yesterday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released “a sizeable tranche of documents recovered during the [2011] raid on the compound used to hide Usama bin Ladin.” The release includes lots of documents, but surely the “highlight” is the list of books (and other English-language reading material) found on bin Ladin’s bookshelves.

If you can believe the CIA’s data dump (even after reading Seymour Hersh’s recent challenge to the US narrative of the bin Ladin raid), then it seems like bin Ladin wasn’t much of a fiction reader. No, non-fiction was his thing. And, above all, he spent time reading books that allowed him to supposedly “know thy enemy” — to make sense of America’s political, religious, and military motivations in his own way.

Bin Ladin read some fairly respectable books that might sit on your own bookshelves at home — books like The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy, Obama’s Wars by Bob Woodward, and The Oxford History of Modern War by Charles Townsend.

A good number of the books helped confirm his already dark view of America. Not one, but two of Noam Chomsky’s books sat on his shelves, right alongside titles like: The Best Democracy Money Can Buy; Black Box Voting, Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century; and Imperial Hubris.

And before you get the impression that UBL’s reading tastes skewed left, you’ll want to examine the conspiracy theory books that resonate with America’s hard right — namely, Bloodlines of the Illuminati by Fritz Springmeier and Eustace Mullins’s Secrets of the Federal Reserve.

Then there are books that, putting politics aside, are simply all doom and gloom. See, for example, The 2030 Spike: Countdown to Global Catastrophe.

The more you look at the list, the more you’ll get a feel for bin Ladin’s psyche. See the full list below:

  • The 2030 Spike by Colin Mason
  • A Brief Guide to Understanding Islam by I. A. Ibrahim
  • America’s Strategic Blunders by Willard Matthias
  • America’s “War on Terrorism” by Michel Chossudovsky
  • Al-Qaeda’s Online Media Strategies: From Abu Reuter to Irhabi 007 by Hanna Rogan
  • The Best Democracy Money Can Buy by Greg Palast
  • The Best Enemy Money Can Buy by Anthony Sutton
  • Black Box Voting, Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century by Bev Harris
  • Bloodlines of the Illuminati by Fritz Springmeier
  • Bounding the Global War on Terror by Jeffrey Record
  • Checking Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions by Henry Sokolski and Patrick Clawson
  • Christianity and Islam in Spain 756-1031 A.D. by C. R. Haines
  • Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources, and Strategies by Cheryl Benard
  • Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins
  • Conspirators’ Hierarchy: The Committee of 300 by John Coleman
  • Crossing the Rubicon by Michael Ruppert
  • Fortifying Pakistan: The Role of U.S. Internal Security Assistance (only the book’s introduction) by C. Christine Fair and
  • Peter Chalk
  • Guerilla Air Defense: Antiaircraft Weapons and Techniques for Guerilla Forces by James Crabtree
  • Handbook of International Law by Anthony Aust
  • Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance by Noam Chomsky
  • Imperial Hubris by Michael Scheuer
  • In Pursuit of Allah’s Pleasure by Asim Abdul Maajid, Esaam-ud-Deen and Dr. Naahah Ibrahim
  • International Relations Theory and the Asia-Pacific by John Ikenberry and Michael Mastandano
  • Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since World War II by William Blum
  • Military Intelligence Blunders by John Hughes-Wilson
  • Project MKULTRA, the CIA’s program of research in behavioral modification. Joint hearing before the Select Committee on Intelligence and the Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research of the Committee on Human Resources, United States Senate, Ninety-fifth Congress, first session, August 3, 1977.
  • Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies by Noam Chomsky
  • New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11 by David Ray Griffin
  • New Political Religions, or Analysis of Modern Terrorism by Barry Cooper
  • Obama’s Wars by Bob Woodward
  • Oxford History of Modern War by Charles Townsend
  • The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy
  • Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower by William Blum
  • The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly Hall (1928)
  • Secrets of the Federal Reserve by Eustace Mullins
  • The Taking of America 1-2-3 by Richard Sprague
  • Unfinished Business, U.S. Overseas Military Presence in the 21st Century by Michael O’Hanlon
  • The U.S. and Vietnam 1787-1941 by Robert Hopkins Miller
  • “Website Claims Steve Jackson Games Foretold 9/11,” article posted on (this file contained only a single saved web page)


Dan Colman is the founder/editor of Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn and  share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox.

Take a Free Course on Film Noir; Then Watch Oodles of Free Noir Films Online

tcm course

Cinephiles, if you have some spare time in the coming months and feel like watching, say, over 100 film noir movies from the Turner Classic Movie (TCM) vaults, then you will be delighted with Summer of Darkness, which will devote every Friday, from June through July, to 24 hours of noir classics and rarities. And suppose you’d like a reward, like a certificate that proves you not only watched those movies, but properly studied them? Well TCM has that covered too, offering a free nine-week course in “The Case of Film Noir” to run concurrent with the series. It’s free to sign up, and the course runs June 1 – August 4. Says TCM:

This is the deepest catalog of film noir ever presented by the network (and perhaps any network), and provides an unprecedented opportunity for those interested in learning more to watch over 100 classic movies as they investigate “The Case of Film Noir.”

The course is being taught by Richard L. Edwards, Ph.D. who co-hosts the Out of the Past: Investigating Film Noir podcast and also teaches at Ball State University in Muncie, Indianapolis.

For those who don’t have TCM, or even cable, don’t worry. The network promises to post links to online public domain films. Or, better yet, you could jump right into our collection of 60 Free Noir Films Online, which features public domain classics by Orson Welles, Fritz Lang, John Huston, and many more.

Have a hazy, dangerous summer and watch out for femme fatales!

via Flavorwire

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

French Student Sets Internet on Fire with Animation Inspired by Moebius, Syd Mead & Hayao Miyazaki

The internet over in Japan was lit ablaze last month by a student film. Titled “Celles et Ceux des Cimes et Cieux” (“Girls and Guys from the Summits and the Skies”), the short is a gorgeously animated trailer for what looks like an amazing yet-to-be-made feature film. Created by Gwenn Germain, who is studying at the French art school Créapole, the animation is also a love letter to legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. You can watch it above.

“I’ve been told by a friend of mine that all the movies that I’ve made are essentially the same!” That’s what Miyazaki said to me during a roundtable for his children’s movie Ponyo. Though the stories vary from movie to movie, his world is immediately recognizable and remarkably consistent. He creates universes that are wondrous and mystical. He has an almost shamanistic reverence for nature; rocks, trees, rivers, and oceans all seem to be alive and aware. And he populates his world with shape-shifting creatures like the ravenous masked blob No-Face in Spirited Away; the Great Forest Spirit in Princess Mononoke, which looks like it was yanked straight out of Japanese mythology; and perhaps his most delightful creation, the Cat Bus from My Neighbor Totoro, complete with headlight eyes, a Cheshire grin and a warm, womb-like interior. It was this whimsical creation that reportedly impressed The Emperor himself – Akira Kurosawa.

It’s no wonder why Japanese netizens went crazy for “Celles et Ceux des Cimes et Cieux.” Germain’s short seems sprung from the same world as Miyazaki. The giant bugs look like something out of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. The ambiguously European architecture looks like something from Kiki’s Delivery Service and those purple amorphous worms look like something from Spirited Away.  Heck, Miyazaki himself even seems to be in Germain’s short – that bearded old guy at the end of the movie is a spitting image of the famed animator.

Germain credits other influences aside from Miyazaki: Syd Mead, the concept artist who created those flying cars in Blade Runner and the city of the future in the upcoming Tomorrowland, and particularly the boundlessly imaginative French illustrator Moebius. Their influence might not be as obvious as Miyazaki’s, however.

In any case, I am seriously looking forward to seeing a feature length version of “Celles et Ceux des Cimes et Cieux.”

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

Mesmerizing Timelapse Film Captures the Wonder of Bees Being Born

From National Geographic comes this: A short timelapse film that lets you watch “the eerily beautiful growth of larvae into bees.” Shot by photographer Anand Varma, the mesmerizing video starts with the larvae of worker bees just hatching from eggs, then follows their maturation into adult bees. The video covers an 11-day process in one short minute.

You can get a behind-the-scenes account of the making of this video over at Nat Geo. When you’re there, you might also want to check out these pretty amazing portraits of bees.

via Kottke/This is Colossal

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