What is a story, a tale well told or the elements in it? To tackle this conundrum, CG Overdrive 2009, Singapore, held a session on the craft of storyboarding by Pixar Animation Studio’s story artist, Alexander Woo.
In an hour-long session, Woo, whose company has produced endearing animation flicks like Cars, Ratatouille and Wall-E, discussed the idea of the story as the king in a film. A quick overview from the master storyteller himself:
What is a story?
“We all have a story to tell. And because of that it is really difficult term to define. One might say a story is a sequence of events in a chronological timeline. More precisely, a story is a sequence of events structured in a way that gives you some sort of meaning and coherence.”
Figuring the elements of the story
“The first element of a story should be the setting, then the characters, followed by the conflict, the foils and the change… all of which are equally important.
The characters are protagonists, antagonists or sometimes the mentor characters. A situation too can be the antagonist. But what makes a story unique is the perspective.
Foils are characters which make unconventional decisions and how these decisions affect their lives is rest of the story. But without a conflict, the story would get really boring, just a bunch of facts put together. Therefore, there has to be some kind of internal or external conflict.
Next is the change. Either the character/s or the setting of the story undergoes a change. For example, in the film, Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks is a simple guy and he remains the same throughout the film. But as the film progresses, the world around him changes because of his simplicity.”
Structuring a story
“A basic story has a three-part structure. The first act is the set up of the story. The second is the progression, where all the conflicts are brought out and decisions are made. Finally, the third act is the resolution.
A story can be narrated in a few minutes or hours, but in real life it may span over a couple hours or days. So, the best way to structure a story would be to strategically place the events together in the way they happened.”
Story is the king
“The story is like a king in the game of chess and like in chess, decisions need to be centered around the king because saving the king is your priority. But this necessarily doesn’t guarantee the success of a film. What makes a good story is highly debatable.”
Elements of a movie
“Acting, performance, sound, music score, editing, special effects, etc, are the key elements of a film. A story needs to be at the center of these elements and needs to be the one informing all the other elements.
If it is not so and if you put art direction in the center, you might get a beautiful, but a very boring film. Similarly if you put special effects at the center, you will get a Matrix 2. But if you give the story its due importance, supported by special effects, you will get The Matrix. Ergo, all these elements have to reinforce the story and not vice versa.”