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“The average international gross per Pixar film is more than $550 million” according to the new article in Wired this month. I am a huge fan of Pixar films, and find the emotion that is baked into their animated films breath-taking.

I had the pleasure of attending a brilliant talk by Matthew Luhn at GDC this year which went a long way toward helping me to understand how they make their films so emotionally rich. No expense is spared when it comes to the quality of the storytelling and I believe that this is one of the secrets to Pixar’s multi-blockbuster successes.

Luhn started by explaining the history of stories and how ancient the roots of storytelling are. Different cultures have always been influenced by their environment, and use stories to entertain and educate.

Storyboards as a plan are incredibly important pre-investment in a film. The storyboarding process starts with the Director’s idea, from this a story structure is created.

Story Artists like Luhn need to be multi-skilled as writers, actors, comedians, draftsmen, salesmen, editors and cinematographers, working closely with Directors to help communicate the vision for a film.

Beatboards are developed, these are clear drawings for key moments of the film, similar to children’s book illustrations, beatboards often include many deleted scenes as the drawings determine which scenes would not work.

Character development is a key part of the process. The characters are given identifiable human traits that people can relate to and identifiable human occupations, nationalities even, the process of character development can lead to actual scenes in the movies. Characters are invoked out of thin air using a short thought process; It is… what is the character’s physical appearance? You are…what is the character’s relationship to you? Thou art….what did this represent/embody to you? I am…be the item, personify it, describe what the item’s life is like. For example, in the case of Toy Story, the characters came from some of the Story Artist’s childhood toys.

The story starts with a controlling idea, an idea distilled into one sentence. We were asked to distill a favourite film into one sentence…. a young boy from a sheltered childhood on a remote planet loses his family and in so doing discovers his untapped potential and the dark secrets of his heritage…. I am sure you can guess mine!?.

The entire project is outlined up front by starting with story ideas to figure out if the story will work prior to animation and production.

Every good story follows the same structure…try this out on your favourite film, try it out on a Pixar animation even!

Once upon a time….and every day…. Exposition; characters are introduced, the rules of the story world are set down.

Until one day….. Inciting Incident; an event that causes the story to start in earnest and action to be taken.

And because of that….and because of that…. Progressive Complications; problems/issues that get in the way of completing the action, these escalate during the film and help facilitate the story’s learnings.

Until finally… Crisis & Climax; everything comes to a head and learnings are used.

And since that day…. Resolution; the story works itself out for the good or the bad.

The moral of the story is…. Theme; the ultimate learning.

The ultimate business learning from this talk for me was about quality. Quality is so important to consumers and as technology advances, consumers expect the level of quality in all areas of their lives to be higher and higher. I think it is a lesson that all businesses need to take on board to be successful.

About Me

COO/CFO at Mind Candy Ltd, an exciting entertainment company creating brands with a digital heart. Most recent Mind Candy offering is for little kids and big kids alike!

At Mind Candy, responsible for defining and delivering innovative ways of increasing company efficiency and maximising shareholder value. With responsibility for company finance, ops & HR. Member of the six strong management team, board observer and Company Secretary, fully qualified Chartered Management Accountant (FCMA) and Associate Member of the CIPD.