Sebastian Thrun, Eric Darnell, Udacity Talks

Sebastian Thrun introduced him as, “A great artist, a great technologist, and a super creative person.” He then asked him, “Are you a creative, a technologist, a content person, a cook, or a comedian?” To which Eric Darnell responded, “I’ve basically been a content person.”

And that is how Episode 4 of Udacity Talks began!

Returning to the host’s chair was our own Sebastian Thrun, and sitting opposite from him was Eric Darnell, Chief Creative Officer for Baobab Studios. Sitting between them was … a bunny. But not just any bunny. This bunny happens to be the star of “Invasion!,” which is Baobab’s first Virtual Reality release!

To back up slightly, Eric Darnell is someone who has spent a lifetime melding the twin arts of technology and storytelling, and he’s done so on an impressively large scale. He directed the first fully computer-animated film for DreamWorks (Antz), and from there went on to be the director and screenwriter for all four of the Madagascar films, which together have grossed over $2.5 billion at the box office!

And so there he was, sitting with Sebastian Thrun, a bunny between them, discussing “Invasion!” And, he had some news. Big news! First off, the bunny has been named Zoe. But that wasn’t the really big news. The big news, is that the final version of “Invasion!”—with Ethan Hawke as narrator—goes live today for both Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR!

(Sebastian followed that announcement with a little bit of big news as well, that we are launching a Virtual Reality Nanodegree soon. But that’s another story…)

You can watch the whole video of their talk below, and you are encouraged to do so, because what it contains is nothing short of a master class in creativity, passion, vision, and commitment. If you saw our piece on Medium yesterday, you got a clear sense of the kind of inspiration that was on offer, but to hear the conversation play out in real time is truly a joy.

Eric’s insights around the practice of storytelling are remarkable, and he places Virtual Reality on the same plane as literature, theater, and film, as a medium that brings with it its own challenges and opportunities. Each demands of its practitioners a nuanced understanding of the medium’s potential, and a masterful grasp of the tools required to achieve the storyteller’s goal of having a great story, telling it well, and engaging the human emotional response.

“At Baobab studios what we’re trying to do is find the tools that we can use to have a great story, and tell it well, and have characters that audiences fall in love with, and do it in a context where the viewer is a part of the story. where they feel like they’re right there, where they’re motivated to take action, but action that helps take the story forward in a real specific way, in a way that we’ve sort of pre-designed for the viewer.”

Please enjoy this episode of Udacity Talks. It is highly recommended for anyone who feels within themselves a passion for both content and technology. We leave you with one last quote:

“The best thing is, as Joseph Campbell says, just follow your bliss. Find the things that are most exciting and interesting to you, because then you’re going to do your best work, and you’re going to learn the most, because you care.”


Please make sure to RSVP for the next episode of Udacity Talks, featuring Anand Rajaraman! Anand is a serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and academic based in Silicon Valley.