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Pixar has skilz - and Here they are

Love Pixar and these tips have been around for a few years now, originally Tweeted in '12 by Emma. I happened on them again today and find them just as valuable now as they were the first time I read them through. -- Keep in mind though - These are not Gospel, nor were they meant to be. Laying them out on your desk and checking them off is not their purpose, nor how Pixar views them. They are tips from collective experience, and you should find plenty of room to add to the list from your own experience.



The first time I saw For the Birds was at a Spike and Mike Animation Festival down in La Jolla. There were several solid entries that year, but Pixar's took it -- and it was close to the middle, which left the rest in tough positions. I have no idea what animation takes. A Bug's Life used almost 10 times the computing power that Toy Story required. On average it took 3 hours to render each frame of the film.CARs is said to have taken 10 hours per frame. High-quality animated films are produced at a frame rate of 24 frames per second (fps). For a 90 minute film, that's nearly 130,000 frames of animation. At Pixar, an individual animator is expected to produce 100 frames of animation a week. Which gives us an idea about how committed they are when talking about 'rewrites'.
Don’t skimp time on your outline -- Try as many versions as you can before going for that first rough draft.  This is where you figure out the heart of the story.  You're still going to have to write a lot of drafts, but if you figure out what you're ultimately trying to communicate, it will make those subsequent drafts easier to problem-solve and improve.


Keep the visual story in mind -- Once you start working with drafts, start thinking about the story as images in real time, feeling out the beats and rhythms and letting what you learn  inform your subsequent written drafts.  Coleman says that at a certain point it's all part of the same process, visual drafts meshing with written drafts and vice versa, and as visual storytellers we have to take that same attitude to heart.


Don’t be afraid to see the story as always being a work in progress -- With today’s technology making it easier and easier to mix pre-production with production with post-production, use that to your advantage.  For example, edit your footage as you're shooting, seeing what can be improved while still in production.  Don't be afraid to let your actors' performances suggest different possibilities within the story, it's all just memory files, so keep the camera rolling and let them try different takes.

The Line By Line Tips


  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  2. You gotta keep in mind what's interesting to you as an audience, not what's fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
  3. Trying for theme is important, but you won't see what the story is actually about til you're at the end of it. Now rewrite.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You'll feel like you're losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  8. Finish your story, let go even if it's not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
  9. 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.
  10. Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you've got to recognize it before you can use it.
  11. Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you'll never share it with anyone.
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it's poison to the audience.
  14. Why must you tell THIS story? What's the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That's the heart of it.
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don't succeed? Stack the odds against.
  17. No work is ever wasted. If it's not working, let go and move on - it'll come back around to be useful later.
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d'you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can't just write ‘cool'. What would make YOU act that way?
  22. What's the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

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