The art of storytelling

This topic is an exploration of the storytelling process at Pixar.

What makes a story great?  What makes someone a good storyteller?  Storytelling is something we all do naturally, starting at a young age, but there’s a difference between good storytelling and great storytelling.  In this lesson you’ll hear from Pixar directors and story artists about how they got their start and what stories inspire them, and you’ll begin to think about what kinds of stories you might want to tell.

Characters are at the heart of every film Pixar makes; they’re the individuals we follow on the journey of every story.  But how does Pixar come up with those characters, make them more than just generic ideas, and really bring them to life?  In this lesson you’ll explore how character development drives the storytelling process at Pixar, and you’ll start thinking about creating characters for your own stories.  

Every story that is told has a foundation, or structure.  For example, one of the most basic story structures is “it begins, something happens, and it ends.”  But a story's structure can be complex, and if used well you’re not even aware of it.  In this lesson you’ll learn how Pixar structures their films, and you’ll start laying the foundation for your own stories.

While telling almost any story involves words, characters and structure, making a film involves another aspect of storytelling that Pixar thinks a lot about: visual language. Visual language refers to how imagery is used to convey story ideas or meanings. Perspective, color, and shape can all be used to support a story by guiding the audience to see and feel certain things. In this lesson we introduce you to some basic principles of visual language, and you’ll get to apply those principles to your own stories.

Making a movie requires an understanding of the principles and terminology of cinematography, like camera angles, editing, composition, and movement of the camera and characters. This is also known as Film Grammar, and like actual spoken grammar, it is a language used to tell stories in a visual way. Each scene, shot, and frame is considered and crafted using this language. In this lesson we explore the basic Film Grammar used in cinematography and how Pixar approaches its use in storytelling. You will also use these principles to plan shots for your own film.

Pixar films take years to make, and the finished version you see in the theater may be very different from the way it was originally envisioned. The filmmaking team refines the films through the parts of their process called pitching and feedback. Pitching is the process of telling your story in very rough form, using storyboards or other rough imagery. After you pitch, you get feedback, which is basically hearing from the people you’re pitching to what they liked and didn’t like. This helps the storyteller assess what is working about their story, and what is not. Pixar goes through this over and over - storyboarding, pitching, getting feedback, re-boarding, and re-pitching - to hone in on the story they really want to tell. Once the film is working in storyboard form, it moves on to Editorial, the department responsible for adding dialogue, music, and sound effects, and figuring out the timing for the entire film. In this lesson you’ll learn how the storyboarding, pitching, feedback, and editorial processes work at Pixar, and you’ll start to apply these ideas to your own stories.