Pixar films tell great stories. Toy StoryFinding NemoWALL-EUp. These and other films have together grossed $ billions and won many awards. For example, WALL-E, one of my favorites, earned $533 million at the box office and several awards, including an Academy Award for best animated feature. How do they do it? Pixar story artist, Emma Coats, says that every Pixar film follows the same narrative formula, which involves six sentences (#4 in a list of 22 storytelling tips). Pixar’s formula seems to be derived from one developed by Kenn Adams, teacher and author, who posted his version (with eight steps) on his blog, Back to the Story Spine

This is how it works. Each sentence begins with a few words followed by a blank space to be filled in by the storyteller. You can use six steps or eight:

  1. Once upon a time, there was …
  2. Every day …
  3. One day …
  4. Because of that …
  5. Because of that …
  6. Because of that …
  7. Until finally …
  8. Ever since then …

Those of us in the humanities wishing to be better communicators, especially with video, can adapt this narrative formula to tell our stories.

This formula is used in many fields, from the humanities to the hard sciences: for example, science journalists will outline content about how researchers make observations that lead to new hypotheses, experiments, and a more refined understanding of an ecosystem—suitable for an audience of science students, even lay peoples. That’s just to show how impactful this method of storytelling can be… if thoughtfully adapted to your medium

The Pixar formula is similar to an older storyline, the so-called “Hero’s Journey.” The nine-step Hero’s Journey features a protagonist who encounters a catalytic event, which propels her to take action and to eventually achieve a goal. The Pixar formula is a bit more generic and has several steps, but also involves a conflict and a resolution. Even briefer is the ABT (and, but, therefore) model promoted by Randy Olson.

Take your pick. All of these narrative formulas can aid scientists in telling stories that people can understand and remember. If you want to make a video about a science topic but are having difficulty coming up with a story, give one of these formulas a try.


2 responses to “The Pixar Storytelling Process”

  1. I had never heard about the Pixar formula. Thanks for sharing! I was struggling to find a way to write a story for children and I think this can be a starting point!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Curious, right. Pixar has a remarkable Ted talk, as well as book, on the subject that goes into rich depth and is a outlet necessary for any storyteller, educator, or content generator.

      How are your classes this year? Honestly, it’s great hearing from you. I was pretty sure no one read these posts 😹 How are your holidays coming along?


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