The keys to Pixar's short film storytelling

We all have our favorite Pixar short films. And there are a key reasons why we do: they’re conceived, crafted, and told in incredible ways that strike a chord with all of us.

Pixar has done what few film companies have been able to do: continue to break records with each new release. In this day and age where the audience is moving toward streaming and on-demand services, Pixar’s reign as the world’s leading animation mogul is nothing but admirable.

And, like we’ve seen, that admiration is largely impart due to their endearing storytellings. Especially around character development in their short films.

Emma Coats, one of Pixar’s former lead storytellers, famously Tweeted out 22 of her quote “nuggets of narrative wisdom” back in 2012. While there’s no doubt every single one of her anecdotal pieces of advice is worth more than rubies, these 10 really rose above the rest:

1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

2.Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about until you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

3.Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

4.What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

5.Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

6.When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

7.Discount the first thing that comes to mind. And the second, third, fourth, fifth – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

8.Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

9.What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

10.You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

But, as with any successful multi-faceted media company, Pixar shines on all fronts. How they portray their characters in these intense, yet short fashions only helps them enter the hearts of millions.

Engaging storytelling, especially in short film, is like living in a warm house:

You need four-walls and a roof (story structure), decorations and furnishings (visual languages), an understanding of your home (film grammar), and, most importantly, the ability to split wood (work ethic).

And who doesn't want to watch a Pixar short film from within a warm, toasty house?

(Feature image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

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