Tag: Academy of Art University

Pixar Storyboard Class Week 2: Economy of Storytelling

This semester I am taking ANM 499 Digital Storyboarding for Feature Animation with Pixar Story Artist Kristen Lester. I am chronicling my experience on the blog for myself and for those interested in learning more about storytelling. I highly recommend trying your hand at the assignments we were given, as well as watching the films assigned. Happy boarding!

*In order to fully discuss Kristen’s notes, I detail events that occurred in the films we watch. Watch the film, then read on to see how we analyzed the film.

Image courtesy of http://moviescreenshots.blogspot.com

Today we started class watching the montage scene from The Hudsucker Proxy. An excellent film released in 1994 written by Joel and Ethan Coen and Sam Raimi, The Hudsucker Proxy chronicles the rise, fall and rise again of Norville, played by Tim Robbins, an idealistic young man fresh out of Muncie College of Business Administration. He has an excellent idea “you know, for kids!” that he wants to share with the world that becomes the hula hoop. It’s like watching a live action cartoon, and proved to be a great movie to analyze. There are many excellent sequences that propel the story forward.

Some of the take aways Kristen mentioned were to have a scene ask a question, then give an answer. For example, in the Proving Room scene, we first see men behind giant windows, then we see men in hazmat suits jumping behind sandbags. We are asking ourselves “What is a proving room?” “What’s with the hazmat suit guys?” Then the camera cuts to a mannaquin with a bomb strapped to him and a hula hoop around the waist. We realize they are going to blow up the mannequin to see what happens to the hoop. The filmmakers could have showed the mannequin first, but they instead opted for us to ask a question, then the answer is revealed later.

In the same montage scene, the shopkeeper throws out all the hula hoop, and the red one rolls through the street on a magical journey to the footsteps of a small boy. We watch the event that eventually pans down to the hula hoop’s POV, as though we are the hoop itself. In this way we are like both the hula hoop and, in a way, Norville, we just want someone to believe in us. We, (the hula hoop) want to reach our full potential.

The montage works because it conveys a lot of information in a condensed period of time. It is a story within a story.

Next, we learned a set of useful terms to help us in our storytelling process.


Always have something build to something else. Ask yourself, is every shot giving a new piece of information that’s adding to the story?¬†Each shot should have its own moment, an opportunity to build humor, intensity or emotion for example. Also, the emphasis should have the most contrast.


Why say it in 5 shots when you can say it in 3? Why not 1? Always try to move the story forward.


This refers to clarity of the idea, not the drawing. Rough sketches are fine as long as they convey the story point. A beautiful drawing is pointless if the story doesn’t shine through. Again, does every scene work?


How are you telling your story? For this, we briefly discussed The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. Glove and Boots made a fun video about it too. We didn’t mention the Glove and Boots film in class but I love it so here you go:



Ultimately, everything you’ve done is for naught if the story is not something that people want to watch. Are there interesting and unexpected reversals? Good staging? Our job as filmmakers is to entertain and educate. That’s why we shell out the bucks for movie tickets.

Last and certainly not least, we each pitched our homework assignment from last week.

Our assignment was to take this image:


And create a story using only 6 cuts and no more than 30 images. She allowed us to use B and C cuts so you can ignore that part at the end of the image. Everyone submitted very imaginative stories. She emphasized the necessity of making appealing drawings that are loose so that we focus on who the story is about and their POV rather than an omnisicient POV. She also discussed the importance of putting the camera in the best place to tell the story and paying attention to the 180 rule, which everyone breaks from time to time. The 180 Rule, of the Rule of Left to Right, can be remembered this way: if a character is on the right, they should always be on the right. This will keep you from crossing the line. Kristen went through all of our stories, one by one, and shortened them. Cut out the fat. It was amazing. Turns out you don’t need that many drawings to tell a story at all.

For example, here is my original story:

ZiegfeldMurders01 ZiegfeldMurders02ZiegfeldMurders03ZiegfeldMurders04ZiegfeldMurders05ZiegfeldMurders06ZiegfeldMurders07ZiegfeldMurders08ZiegfeldMurders09ZiegfeldMurders10ZiegfeldMurders11ZiegfeldMurders12ZiegfeldMurders13ZiegfeldMurders14ZiegfeldMurders15ZiegfeldMurders16ZiegfeldMurders17ZiegfeldMurders18ZiegfeldMurders19ZiegfeldMurders20ZiegfeldMurders21

And here it is after Kristen’s cuts:

ZiegfeldMurders01 ZiegfeldMurders09 ZiegfeldMurders14 ZiegfeldMurders16 ZiegfeldMurders21

You get the same meaning in fewer shots. Still exciting, fewer drawings, story point is still intact. This is the essence of economy of storytelling – simplifying the story into ONLY the images you need. AMAZING. And time saving.

For our second assignment, we are using Late Night Hashtags by the one and only Jimmy Fallon, my favorite talk show host and future host of The Tonight Show. Our assignment was to turn the following hashtag into an amusing story in 10 images or less:


My friend yawned and a rubber band from his braces shot out of his mouth and hit a lady in the face. #awkwardpromstory

You can watch the whole clip here:

You’ll see my story in the next post! ‘Til next time storyboarders…

The Hudsucker Proxy image courtesy of http://moviescreenshots.blogspot.com





Pixar Storyboard Class Week 1: Cinematic Punctuation

I have the great fortunate to be taking ANM 499 Digital Storyboarding for Feature Animation with Pixar story artist Kristen Lester. On our first day of class she told us a little about herself. She is quite an accomplished artist. She went to Sheridan, which I almost attended, and she worked on films like Everyone’s Hero and Epic and shows like my personal favorite, Sym-bionic Titan.

After class introductions, we dived right into what makes a good story. In her words:

“What makes a good storyboard? It communicates something.”

Once you the point of the story, you can us certain tools to communicate what you want to say. And those tools are things like composition, camera angles, perspective, and the like.

Shots, according to Kristen, are like cinematic punctuation. Different meanings are created using different punctuation. See how the meanings change in the following sentence – Woman without her man is nothing – with a little creative punctuation:

Woman, without her man, is nothing

Woman: without her, man is nothing

See the difference a little punctuation can make?

In film cinematic punctuation are the types of shots used to tell a story, such as a wide shot, medium shot, close up and extreme close up.

Shot choices are used to communicate something, to show people what and where they should look and what they should pay attention to. It shows what’s happening, where to look and who is important.

How you string the shots together are what is known as cinematic grammar.

As an example, she showed us a clip from Jaws, the classic 1975 Steven Spielberg film. Brody, played by Roy Schneider, waits anxiously on the beach, looking out for the shark, trying to see it among the throngs of unsuspecting beach goers.

Jaws01You’ll notice that everyone in the background is having a wonderful time, while Brody waits, staring out to sea. Waiting. Watching.

Jaws02Even when people get in his face, Brody’s attention is split as he watches the water.

Then, as Jaws attacks and people scream and panic, the camera ZOOMS in on Brody as his worst fears are realized.

As Kristen explained, wide shots are used in the first few shots as the crowd frolics on the beach so that you see and feel Brody’s anxiety. Individual shots are included to track people so that you ask yourself in terror “Who will be eaten?” Brody focuses on them all, and the stress that he experiences becomes our stress.

The key to all of this is that every shot and angle is on purpose.

And that’s the point – be intentional with your shots. Don’t have shots simply to have shots. Ask yourself, what do I want people to feel? And how can I use these shots to convey this feeling and move the story along?

For our homework, we were assigned to board out a scene from an illustration she gave us that could use 6 cuts and up to 30 frames. And for our film analysis, she assigned The Hudsucker Proxy, a great Coen Brothers film that more people need to watch. Great stuff.

More to come about this assignment in Week 2’s post!

Images courtesy of www.cinemasquid.com