Monday, May 13, 2013

Dispatch #7 - "The Science of Story"

by Lupe Fernandez
The "First Commandment" is the story "must appeal to emotion."

Last Friday at the Chabot Science Space Center in the hills of Oakland, Ca, your Foreign Correspondent attended the Center's "Future Friday Lecture Series." The guest speakers were Jim Capobianco, Derek Thompson & Kevin O'Brien, artists at Pixar Animation Studios. Their work included Wall-E, The Incredibles and Ratatouille.

The artists introduced themselves and talked about their childhood inspirations.

Kevin O'Brien
Kevin or "Kevo", as his colleagues called him, was "a space nerd." His mother allowed him to stay home and watch the coverage of various space program launches like the launch of Apollo 15.

Jim Capobianco
Jim loved Star Wars. He was inspired by the appearance of different creatures in one location. Jim acknowledge the influence of Jungian archetypes and Joseph Campbell. "Story is embedded in our guts. It's primal." Storyboards use cinema language.

Derek Thompson
Derek traced the story linage from John Carter by Edgar Rice Burroughs to Star Wars to present science fiction film stories.

The artists experience working in the Pixar community involved seeking "design solutions for character performance in the story." When they were presented with the challenge of the pod sequence from Wall-E where Eva thinks Wall-E is dead, they worked on "problem solving."

(c)Pixar Storyboard

The scene had no dialog and depended on their visual skills.

The artistic team's goal was to "crack the problem." The scene came first, not who did what. "The story board was the frame of the house," they said, "The bones of the story. The undercarriage." All the artists accepted that their "artwork is tossed...designs changed...artists has to let go."

After their talk, someone in the question asked how they made story work in a "Pixar committee."

One of the artists remarked that they were "told the characters" must "connect with the audience."

"Nobody sees the storyboard (work) on the screen. But the scene works." There's "great satisfaction," even they "work on other's (artists) work."

These insights are valid for our work as writers. Of what use is an elaborate fantasy world, if the characters fail to convey human emotion. These men have develop thick skin working with revision after revision to serve a greater "Prime Directive" as Kevin said.

"The story must appeal to emotion."

Some thoughts to consider, courtesy of visual artists Jim, Derek and Kevin.

Next up for Pixar is Good Dinosaur and Inside Outside, a journey into a girl's brain.


  1. Fascinating. It also made me see how writing partners could work together. Thanks, Lupe

    1. My point exactly.
      Another Space Nut

  2. Sounds like a fun and fascinating event. See if they'll take you to Pixar next!

    1. I wonder if Pixar will crossover into the horror market and make a film called "Ratatouille - The Revenge".
      Night of the Living Breakfast

  3. So well put with great illustrations along the way. That old devil emotion. Gotta have it, or the earth won't turn, movies will be duds, and books won't sell.


    1. Thanks for the patronage Nancy.
      Will Wear a Sandwich Board to Sell Book

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


We love hearing from you.