Season 2 – Episode 05

Designing for Stillness & Genius
in Film, Video Games

with Mark Osborne & Tracy Fullerton

Artwork by Ionut Caras

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Perhaps you want to bring more magic into the world in the form of an animated film or video game. Inevitably, such a significant undertaking will face big challenges. What gives filmmakers and game designers the drive to persist over the years it takes to complete such substantial projects—when there is no guarantee or reward or recognition?

Today, Jeffrey goes behind-the-scenes of wonder-making with filmmaker, animator, director and producer Mark Osborne, whose film The Little Prince received France’s prestigious César Award for Best Animated Film, and game designer, educator and Game Design Workshop author Tracy Fullerton, who serves as Director of the USC Games Program and Professor and Chair of the Interactive Media & Games Division of the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Mark and Tracy explore the collaborative nature of the work they do, explaining how their respective teams foster curiosity and generate unexpected ideas via play, affording special attention to craft and detail along the way. Mark describes his commitment to doing justice to The Little Prince, and Tracy offers insight around the personal connection her ‘book club’ developed with the award-winning Walden, a game. Tracy and Mark share their favorite elements of wonder in The Little Prince and Walden, discussing the painstaking effort involved in taking our breath away. Listen in to understand how their work brings Thoreau and Saint-Exupéry’s themes into the 21st century and learn how to keep your own team inspired and agile by way of an open, inclusive work culture.

Our Guests

Mark Osborne

Mark Osborne is the two-time Academy Award®-nominated director of the first ever animated feature film adaptation of the classic French novella The Little Prince. The film debuted in May of 2015 at the Cannes Film Festival, and moved audiences, performing as both a sincere adaptation, and a loving tribute to the iconic and celebrated work of literature.

Osborne was also a director of 2008’s critically acclaimed animated summer blockbuster Kung Fu Panda, which has netted a worldwide box office of more than $630 million to-date and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature of the year.

Osborne studied foundation art at New York’s Pratt Institute before earning his BFA in experimental animation from the California Institute of the Arts. His thesis film, Greener, won numerous awards and screened at more than 40 film festivals worldwide. In 2004 Osborne was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship to assist in the production of another personal stop-motion short film, The Better Half.

» Happy Product, Inc.

Tracy Fullerton

Tracy Fullerton, M.F.A., is a game designer, educator and author with twenty-five years of professional experience. Her most recent project is a game called Walden, a game based on Henry David Thoreau’s experiment in living at Walden Pond. She is currently Director of the joint USC Games Program, which is a collaboration between the School of Cinematic Arts and the Viterbi School of Engineering. Tracy is the author of Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Designing Innovative Games. This design textbook is in use at game programs worldwide. Her research lab, the Game Innovation Lab, is a leading center for game design research.

Tracy’s work has received numerous industry honors including an Emmy nomination for interactive television, best Family/Board Game from the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, most “sublime experience,” the “Impact” and “Trailblazer” awards from the Indiecade Festival, ID Magazine’s Interactive Design Review, Communication Arts Interactive Design Annual, several New Media Invision awards, iMix Best of Show, the Digital Coast Innovation Award, IBC’s Nombre D’Or, Time Magazine’s Best of the Web and the Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Entertainment Power 100.

» Tracy Fullerton

Key Takeaways

[6:14] Young Mark and Tracy at their best

  • Mark living in Star Wars fantasy world, exploring arts
  • Tracy making contraptions/clubhouses in dad’s workshop

[9:33] How Tracy’s young genius informs her work now

  • Put together teams, ‘free to be ourselves’
  • Curiosity of kids pushing new frontiers

[13:44] The collaborative nature of animation

  • Work in arts requires ability to think and act like kids
  • Unexpected ideas emerge from working in teams

[16:52] Mark’s inspiration for the frame story in The Little Prince

  • Creative riddle to celebrate power of book
  • Idea to use stop-motion for book, CG for larger story

[22:05] The concept behind the Walden video game

  • Translation of book (i.e.: activities Thoreau experienced)
  • Virtual simulation of woods becomes character in itself
  • Parallels between issues of Thoreau’s time and today

[27:24] The personal connection Tracy’s team had to Walden

  • Started as ‘book club’ with no prospect of funding
  • Met weekly, paper prototypes early on

[30:10] The challenges Mark faced in creating The Little Prince

  • Pressure to do justice to book, team had to care
  • Daily crises and decisions based on guesswork

[42:18] The universal themes of The Little Prince

  • Parenting as balance between aviator, mother
  • ‘Life raft in poisonous world’

[46:25] How Walden applies in the 21st century

  • Care and concern for environment, climate change
  • Thoreau as activist with concern for issues of time
  • Divisive conflict baked into daily experience

[48:56] Mark’s favorite element of wonder in The Little Prince

  • Called on colleague for hand-made techniques
  • Discover right ‘chemistry of elements’ for stop-motion

[52:33] Tracy’s favorite element of wonder in Walden

  • Dynamic system (light, wind, colors change with seasons)
  • Shift of colors and music based on relationship with nature

[57:06] How to create openness and inclusiveness on teams

  • Reason to care about what making (i.e.: believe again)
  • Afford ownership of portion of process

[1:02:14] What Tracy and Mark are pursuing in the coming year

  • Tracy taking Walden to classrooms
  • Mark devoting focus to new project

Caras Ionut

Caras Ionut was born in Romania in the late 70s and is currently devoted to photography. Ionut loves the things that happen around so he always has a camera to capture moments, and then turn them into dreams and positive images of what he wants. We leave you to judge for yourself and be surprised with this wonderful work.

Are you a Wonder Designer?

We’re inviting you to share with our community of listeners how you are a wonder designer this season.

​​​​​​​It’s easy and takes just 3 minutes of your time:

In 15-30 seconds or less, state your name, where you live, and your url if you wish, and state in 1-3 sentences one way you are a Wonder Designer.
Make it personal and personable. Not a pitch. Not a teaching.

For example, “Hi, Jeffrey and Tracking Wonder. My name is Abigail Madley. I live in Towanka, Washington, and you can find me online at One way I am a wonder designer is by shaping educational experiences for elders that bring them more joy and happiness in assisted living.”
“I am a wonder designer because everyday I am fostering more connection with strangers in the city where I live.”
“I am a wonder designer because I am encouraging more open listening at the startup where I work.”
“One way I am a wonder designer these days is by having my three children sing for their breakfast. It makes a hectic morning pretty funny.”​​​​​​​
​​​​​​​Listen back to your submission, and when you are happy with it, click send!

​​​​​​​Your response could end up on the Tracking Wonder Podcast this season.

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Each week brings you in-depth conversations with leaders, stories from change-makers, and provocative ideas from artists and scientists – all designed to inspire you to shape your best work with more possibility, impact, and – yes – wonder.