Storytelling for Animators – Craig Caldwell FMX 2018

📝😮💡 What makes people care about your stories?

Professor Craig Caldwell talks about likability, story structure and setup, the writing process for animators and more…


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Caldwell has been teaching storytelling at the University of Utah. He worked as Head of Creative Training at Electronic Arts, Tiburon Studio and 3D Technology Specialist. At Walt Disney Feature Animation he was a story consultant on productions like Mulan, Tarzan, Chicken Little and Bolt.

Here is a summary of some important points from the video above – valuable storytelling tips (not only) for animators:

The first story idea isn’t it

At Pixar they know that they have to dig deep to find the story idea that is truly special. The first, surface level ideas are usually not interesting enough or have been done before.

Dreamworks focuses on an original, unusual idea. Pixar on the other hand think that the development is the what makes an idea special. Think about Ratatouille… A rat wanting to be a chef sounds like a strange idea, but the story they developed out of it makes it work.

Put your ideas on paper

To really find out if your story is working you have to get it out of your brain and into the world. Some ideas seem so much better when they are still floating in your head. Check as early as possible if they still seem as good to you on paper. Show them to people, observe how they react. This is the best way see if your idea even has a chance.

Watch out for clichés

No one wants to see the same worn out ideas being played out over and over again. In most cases, clichés are something to avoid. However, you can make them work by giving them a twist. Make them fresh again and your audience will applaud instead of yawn.

Listen to problems, but find your own solutions

Once you put your work out there for others to see, expect some critical feedback. This is a very important step in developing your ideas. Some people may offer you solutions to the problems they see with your story. It’s important to remember that you do not have to take these solutions being thrown at you, but you do have to address the problems being presented to you in some way. If your story isn’t working, you have to fix it. Even if it hurts.

Making likable characters

Likable characters are those that we can identify with in some way. We could identify with a character’s personality, their life situations, their struggles and so forth. One great way to make characters instantly identifiable is to put them in an unfair situation, because we’ve all been in a situation where we’ve felt wronged or unjustly treated.

Punish unlikable characters

Not all of your characters have to be likable. Villains can be despised by your audience, arrogant side-kicks can be annoying, but in order to make these characters watchable you have to punish them for their actions. When justice is served or karma is returned, your audience will still feel good about these otherwise unrelatable characters.

Great conflict, great storytelling

To have a great story, you must have conflict. Here are two great ways to put your main character directly into conflict: 1) Put your character in a situation or place that they don’t want to be. This begins the immediate struggle of trying to get out of the situation and can lead to creating change either in the character’s environment or inner self. Or 2) pair your main character up with their direct opposite. These characters will try to get away from each other as soon as possible, so it’s important to give them a strong reason why they cannot be separated. This will create tension that will help move the story along

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