Storytelling: The Pixar Way

Ronnie del Carmen and Mark Meily (Contributed photo)Ronnie del Carmen and Mark Meily (Contributed photo)Pop Quiz: What is the synopsis of 'Shrek 3'? Next, what is the synopsis of 'Toy Story 2'? To a lot of people the second question is easier to answer. Both were great animated films but it just seems that the Pixar movie is more memorable than the Dreamworks one. The only reason I can think why this is so, is that Pixar movies tell better stories. In fact, the two companies can even have the same plot and yet Pixar still stood out with "Bug's Life" over Dreamworks' "Antz".

I had the opportunity to visit the Pixar studios in Emeryville, California, a few miles away from Oakland. We know of course, that there are many Filipino artists employed by Pixar and yes, even their receptionist is Pinay. One of the Filipino artists, Ronnie del Carmen, one of Pixar's Heads of Story, became a friend when former colleagues of Ronnie in an ad agency in Manila introduced us. When we finally visited the Bay Area, I gave him a call asking him to fulfill a promise that he'd give me the ten-cent tour of Pixar.

During the tour, I saw how a Pixar film is made stage by stage through storyboards, maquettes, character sculptures and illustrations. According to Ronnie, a Pixar film takes an average of four years to make. I was so awed and commented -- "Four years? That's how much time Pixar animators need to render animation in the computer?" Ronnie smiled and answered that that was probably the case years ago but now, or at least how long he's been with Pixar, it takes them four years not to render but to write, re-write, plan and lay-out the story of each film. Rendering time, thanks to today's computers, takes only as much as a year. Perfecting the story is what takes most of the time to complete a Pixar film. Four years.

This is Pixar's secret sauce -- a strong and compelling story. A writer or director presents his story to the creative team for them to discuss, argue, debate and even trash each story element just to give it the acid test.

With Pixar there will always be at least one unforgettable scene for every audience. It is not surprising that even a sequel becomes an original with the Pixar storytelling method.


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