Pixarian Storytelling: Introduction
Everybody at the company [Pixar Animation Studios] is constantly striving to learn new things, and push the envelope in their own core areas of expertise.
Emma Coats in her 2011 blog post and tweets
What a magical place! Creative people coming together and expanding their expertise through their own love of learning. I’m obviously in the wrong field!
I’m sure there are few people in the world who do not know Pixar and Disney (unless you didn’t have a childhood). With Disney making fantasies since 1923 and Pixar helping for 31 of those years, the two set a standard for animated storytelling that has never really been surpassed (in my opinion). While Disney takes more of a magical angle on classic myths, legends, and fairy tales (with awesome hair, singing, and glitter), Pixar takes an unorthodox approach to reflecting on those things that make us human–even when we’re monsters, robots, and toys instead. (Ask no questions.) That’s why, when a former Pixar storyboard artist posted some ideas about how to tell a story, it went viral.
Though she actually posted the short tips as aphorisms (statements of truth or wisdom) to inspire writing, they were quickly misinterpreted as “rules”. This, in itself, has created quite some controversy in the social media world (as everything does) but has also galvanized some great resources for how to become a better writer.
That’s what I want to go over: how can these “tips” take our writing to the next level?
I do not work for, in collaboration with, or as a representative for Pixar in any way. I am merely a fan of their stories! This post includes affiliate links that will lead you to other websites, resources, and videos that I do not own. Read the full disclosure here.
Pixar’s background is just as inspiring as the movies it creates. In its time on our screens, it has explored recycled traditional motifs–like grief and hope (in Up), loyalty and friendship (in Toy Story), compassion and preservation (in Monsters Inc.), and even the terrifying possibilities of mankind’s eventual self-destruction (in Wall-E)–in such non-traditional ways. I recommend that you learn the story of its humble beginnings; its history is a perfect reflection of the movies they produce.
Such reflective creativity is fostered in so many dynamic ways, and it is reported that everyone is supportive of growing creatively. (You know, like how the world should be and stuff…freaking storytellers. Doing great things in life and sh**.)
In an environment that expects its participants to learn, it only makes sense that when Emma shared her ideas, they came with a Pixar feel. However, the Pixar branding of her words was a complete misnomer inferred because of her former employment with the company. Considering this, it’s important to understand two things:
- These “rules” are Coats’s, NOT Pixar’s (from what I understand).
- These are not rules at all! Think of them as guidelines for writing practice.
Unfortunately, these adages became a double-edged sword that enabled some to be better writers while threatening others to give up hope. There are so many responses–positive and negative–that rooted in the compilation to this list. I, however, want to address the more helpful ones.
“Pixarian Storytelling” Resources
“The 22 Rules of Storytelling, according to Pixar”
Cyriaque Lamar posted the tweet compilation to i09 in 2012. When I first found this list on Pinterest, I immediately saved it because I knew I had to come back and consider each one. When you visit the article itself, there isn’t really any commentary included with it, which lends itself to more credibility in my opinion.
Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling (that aren’t really Pixar’s) Analyzed
Stephan Vladimir Bugaj responded to the tweets with a blog series that analyzed and reflected on the “rules” shortly after they were posted. I think it is very important to note (again) how he makes it clear that Coat’s tweets are not actually “from Pixar”. She worked for Pixar, where these were surely encouraged, though not explicitly “taught” as a fact/rule for writing. In the same way that she shared her inferences about how to write well, Bugaj gives his analysis of her inferences based on his 12 years of working for Pixar, as well. What started as a blog series for him eventually conspired into a free e-book (yay books).
Download the E-book — Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling Analyzed
“Pixar Storytelling Rules” Videos
While these videos by Bloop Animation are a little more abstract, it breaks down the “rules” into 10 overarching concepts. He uses examples from Pixar movies, demonstrating how they put their own wisdom to use. If you can get past the monotonous narrator (sorry dude, but it’s totally true), I think the series is worth your while to check out as a storyteller. It definitely was for me!
More About Animation & Stories — Bloop Animation YouTube Channel
Now, to help me better understand these tips, I’m–
Don’t you mean help US better understand?
Yeah, that’s what I said. *clear throats* To help you all better understand these tips, I’m going use my WiP as an example. Maybe putting the techniques in a story context will make sense…
Isn’t that bad writing, or something?
Yeah, but bear with me for a moment…
When I was in college, I watched this Indie movie called The Demon, Lo. What I love about Indie films is that they are able to follow their own rules. Because they don’t fit a certain genre in cinema, they don’t have to make the Black person die first when the White people want to split up, or have DDD-cup girls be killed while naked to be horror; the young girls don’t all have to be rape victims to be dramas, and the couples don’t have to be hot to qualify as an interesting romance. Really, they can be the polar opposite, and it still works. It’s great, let me tell ya!
Though the filmmakers were amateur, the base idea and philosophy the movie posed was far from such. I was at a point in my life when I wanted to put a name to my ideas and find others who may possibly understand what I was trying to. Between this movie, and reading Paradise Lost in a lit class (though I never finished reading it), everything I believed in at the time was (metaphorically) vandalized by the badass kids in my head who have nothing else to do but make my life a living hell (I promise the doctor said I’m okay). I admit: It was absolutely fantastic.
Those stories inspired me to write about an idea that feels almost impossible to finish (and I still haven’t). It forces me to consider so many things I was never challenged to think about–and maybe even censored from doing so–when I was a child. The idea of true love crossing the lines between good and evil.
My story is about a demon who never had true love.
Uh, Ashley, demons don’t love.
Well, they feel everything else. Even in the Bible, demons display a range of emotions, and two stories inspired my story and illuminated just how much conflict shapes a person. Why can’t they feel love, too?
So, this lust demon has made it his mission to get this Christian girl to sin (mostly with lust), and most likely destroy her soul. It challenges her values and livelihood. She is forced to learn so much about people, God’s creations, and what it truly means to be “human”–even when you’re not. To this day, I still haven’t finished this story, but I really want to.
Okay, I digress.
Anyway. Knowing that will make sense as you read through the series.
Start below; click the image to check out the post addressing that Pixarian idea.
How do you feel about Pixar movies and rules when you read it from a writer’s perspective? Do you think these “Pixarian rules” are something you can use in non-inspirational stories (like horror and erotica)? Let me know in the comments below.
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