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  • Writer's pictureLuke Nyswonger

Embracing a Beginner’s Mindset: Lessons from Glen Keane in the Era of AI

As a child of the 70s and 80s, I, like many others, grew up captivated by a host of Disney films. Memorable classics such as The Rescuers, The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver & Company, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast filled my childhood with wonder and joy. Later in life, I had the pleasure of revisiting these beloved films with my daughters and adding new favorites to our collection, including Aladdin, Pocahontas, Tarzan, Treasure Planet, and Tangled. It wasn’t until later that I discovered the creative genius behind many of these enchanting, animated masterpieces: Glen Keane.


Ariel the Mermaid

Glen Keane is a legendary animator, author, and illustrator who has played a significant role in shaping the world of animation, particularly through his work at Walt Disney Animation Studios. He has been instrumental in bringing to life some of Disney’s most iconic characters, such as Ariel from “The Little Mermaid,” the Beast from “Beauty and the Beast,” and Tarzan. During this period, he helped shape the Disney Renaissance, a time of creative resurgence for Disney animation marked by the release of several highly successful and critically acclaimed films.


His dedication to pushing the boundaries of animation, embracing new technologies, and maintaining a beginner’s mindset has not only inspired animators but also professionals across various industries.

“I’ve always felt like, in my heart, I’m still that 19-year-old kid that started at Disney. I just want to learn. I want to keep growing.” — Glen Keane, in a 2017 Academy Conversations interview.

In 2017, I had the privilege of attending the DevLearn Conference, where Glen delivered an inspiring keynote speech titled “Embracing Technology-Based Creativity,” which still resonates with me today. Perhaps no industry has been disrupted by technology more than animation, as the hand-drawing of the past has been almost completely replaced by computers. In his talk, Glen shared his experiences and insights about the creative process, the importance of embracing change, and the value of maintaining a beginner’s mindset when approaching new technologies and challenges. Glen’s message aimed to inspire the audience to embrace the possibilities of new technologies and innovations in the learning and development disciplines.


DevLearn 2017: Glen Keane
DevLearn 2017: Glen Keane
“Technology is like a three-year-old at a fancy dinner. You know it’s going to misbehave.” — Glen Keane, DevLearn 2017

Some of the key takeaways for me were:

  1. The Creative Process: Glen underscored the intrinsic connection between creativity and innovation, emphasizing that they fuel each other in the world of animation. As an animator, he consistently pushed the boundaries of what was possible, employing novel techniques and methods to breathe life into cherished characters. He demonstrated that a willingness to experiment and take risks is integral to the creative process, ultimately leading to groundbreaking advancements.

  2. Embracing Change: His career spanned a period of rapid transformation in the animation industry, as it shifted from traditional hand-drawn techniques to digital animation and virtual reality. Rather than resisting these changes, he embraced them wholeheartedly, adapting his skills and expertise to stay ahead of the curve. This adaptability allowed him to thrive in an ever-evolving landscape and maintain his status as a leading figure in the field.

  3. Beginner’s Mindset: Perhaps the most compelling message from Glen’s talk was the importance of cultivating a beginner’s mindset when tackling new challenges. By remaining curious and receptive to learning, he fostered an environment of continuous growth and development, both personally and professionally. This mindset enabled him to constantly reinvent his approach to animation, thereby ensuring that his work remained fresh and relevant in a rapidly changing world.


Glen Keane drawing the Beast
DevLearn 2017: Glen Keane drawing the Beast
“Be creative and keep looking at the world as a kid. When is the last time you played make-believe?” — Glen Keane, DevLearn 2017

These key takeaways from his talk offer valuable insights that can be applied not only to animation but also to various disciplines and industries, including those that are now dealing with the disruption of Artificial Intelligence.


Glen Keane drawing Ariel - generated by AI
Bing Image Creator: Glen Keane drawing Ariel
 

The rapid advancements in AI have ushered in a new era of change and disruption across various fields, including coding, marketing, technical writing, and more. Articles abound such as ChatGPT is coming for your job, and that’s good and Want a New Job? You May Be Required to Know ChatGPT to Land It and ChatGPT spells the end of coding as we know it just to name a few.


As I revisit Glen Keane’s powerful presentation in my mind, I recognize the parallels between his experiences and the transformations currently taking place in this new era of AI. Just as Glen embraced the technological shifts within the animation industry, professionals in many domains must now cultivate a sense of curiosity and a willingness to learn in order to adapt and thrive in this rapidly evolving landscape.


Personally, I am staying curious and learning as much about this technology as I can. I started by trying to understand more about how to leverage it for my homebrewing hobby which I've been writing about and eventually led to the launch of homebrewing.ai.


I am now actively experimenting with various AI tools such as ChatGPT, Bing Chat, Bing Image Creator, Bard, MidJourney, DALLE, OpenAI Platform, and Azure OpenAI. My exploration has even extended to deploying base LLMs and fine-tuning them, writing small apps on top of the APIs, as well as developing skills in prompt engineering. And I’m extending that into my day job at Microsoft to better understand how I can solve business problems with the technology. While I don’t claim or aim to be an AI, ML, or Data engineer, I firmly believe it’s crucial to grasp the fundamentals of these technologies. In today’s world, it’s more important than ever for individuals to enhance their skills and adapt to the technology, ensuring it works to their advantage rather than dictating their work.

“You have to be willing to take a step into the unknown. That’s where the real excitement is.” — Glen Keane, in an interview with Animation World Network.

The ongoing disruption brought about by AI presents both opportunities and challenges for those who are willing to embrace the change. By adopting a beginner’s mindset and remaining open to acquiring new skills, professionals across various fields can stay ahead of the curve, ensuring their work continues to be relevant and impactful amidst the rapid technological advancements. In turn, they will be better prepared to harness the power of AI and influence the future of their respective industries.


 

I’d like to leave you with a captivating video from the conference. Throughout his keynote presentation, Glen engaged the audience through live drawing and storytelling, detailing his journey with technology. In a memorable finale, he put on a VR headset and proceeded to create a 3D rendition of Ariel as the theme song played in the background. This striking display showcased how an expert in their field can embrace change and adapt to new technologies while staying true to their craft.



“I’m not nostalgic for the past. I’m excited about the future. Animation is a constantly evolving art form, and I want to be part of that evolution.” — Glen Keane, in a conversation with Cartoon Brew.

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