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Pixar offers free online lessons in storytelling via Khan Academy (techcrunch.com)
503 points by ehudla on Feb 18, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 93 comments

A respected book on this subject is McKee : Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting.

The principle is simple, each atomic item (a moment / a beat etc.) in the story needs to represent a polar change in human values (e.g. Love->Hate, Hope->Despair etc.) - atomic items are grouped into higher levels (scenes), which again have an overarching change in values, and again these levels are grouped into even higher levels (acts etc.) which repeat the same pattern. Finally, at the top level - the story itself from the beginning to end also has the value change idea.

One of the things McKee taught me - if a scene, beat or moment doesn't have a change in values - then it's probably not interesting (filler) and you should think about cutting it.

Hope this helps anyone interested in story structure... I highly recommend reading McKee.

Can you describe what a polar change in values would be on a small scale (moment/beat)? I can kind of understand at the scene level but even then I don't feel like most stories have many scenes with polar changes. I must not be interpreting this correctly...

I picked a really random scene from the screenplay of the Lord of the Rings, Fellowship. Here's just the opening lines, setting us up for the real scene payoff later.


Nighttime. Boromir wanders up to a painting on the wall, depicting Isildur cutting the Ring from Sauron's finger and his sword breaking. He looks in awe at it,


then suddenly turns as he hears a faint noise.

(Changes from peaceful to alarm)

He sees Aragorn reading and looks at him quizzically.

(Changes from alarm to puzzled. B though he was the only human in with the elves. )

BOROMIR: You are no elf

(B politely tries to get information)

ARAGORN: Men of the South are welcome here

(A politely replies with absolutely no information about himself)

BOROMIR: (nods) Who are you ?

(Changes to directly asking)

ARAGORN: I'm a friend of Gandalf the Grey.

(A still doesn't say who he is. Says he a good guy though)

BOROMIR: (nods) Then we are here on a common purpose.

(Says he's also a good guy. Plays a status move to establish his leadership. )

B: (he pauses) friend.

(Offers friendship)

Aragorn just looks back at him.


Boromir turns, a little confused. He notices a statue of a lady holding an elven shield with broken sword pieces on it....

(Attention shifts off Aragorn)

Boromir: The shards of Narsil (he picks up the hilt part of the broken sword) The blade that cut the Ring from Sauron's hand...

(B opened the scene by looking at memories of old ledgends. Legends just changed to reality. )


So behind what looks like a polite conversation between strangers, beat by beat what the character expects to happen as a result of his actions does not happen. We've established that Boromir's confidence is only skin deep, that the legends are real, and that Aragorn is a heck of a mysterious dude. In about 30 seconds, this will reverse and the audience will finally know who Aragorn is and why he is that way....


That was a great illustration. Given the the content, it primed me up on LOTR thinking. When I glanced back at your username I read it as Daniel Elf. Hehe. Also, I wouldn't mine seeing elf be spelled elvf for a change of pace.

And then there's a movie like Clerks which has a lot of filler, but ends up being endearing. Most of the dialogue is just people saying funny random stuff.

If you enjoyed that approach, it's worth checking out the Nouvelle Vague/New Wave films.

Channel Criswell did a decent short intro:


Clerks actually has a lot of polar changes in that filler, though. As the topics of conversation change, your mind goes with it and your emotions shift. Similar to other "geek out" movies.

Of course, if it didn't it would just be boring. But it does have things that are funny for the sake of being funny.

if everything is a polar change, nothing is a polar change.

having a boring conversation about nothing doesn't make it a series of polar changes.

On the contrary, and just pulling a number out of my butt because I haven't watched in in awhile, I'd say there's like 20 conflicts and resolutions throughout the course of the plot. Maybe this makes the movie more of an epistolary than the three-act structure that movies are normally compared against, so zooming out until some overarching consistency emerges is not always the most faithful mode of analysis.

Yes, but don't hang on it too much. Some part of story telling is, for instance, also to stay in that moment, enjoy it, explore it. Or to put it in another way, sometimes the change doesn't have to come from you, it happens inside the reader/viewer/player, like when studying a painting. Always enforcing change can be too harsh on the other people's mind.

The downside for consumers is that once you know the patterns that storytellers follow, it becomes one of those 'can't unsee it' things that just stand out in movies. It's only the few good movies that manage to draw you into the story despite the obvious story telling pattern.

On the other hand, knowing how something is made can let you appreciate it on a whole other level, because you're aware of all the constraints and how they were satisfied (which is an art unto itself).

I'm always amazed how Community episodes work, after reading about the Harmon story circle (he wrote Community) I'd assume that I would have the same issue - that you could spot the structure, but somehow it always sneaks up on you.

Very Interesting! This will work great for creating good presentations.

Thanks for the recommendation, will definitely check that out!

My question is: How do you make boring things interesting on the fly.

For example:

If you are asking me - how was your day ? I will tell you: Well, I switched on the computer, did some x and y, ate lunch, continued and switched it off again.

Some coworkers of mine can go you on and on about their day and it stays entertaining. There are some things that they do differently, eg focus on people and emotions. But still I have such a hard time drawing out the banalities of everyday into an exciting adventure.

This skill is super valuable - anyone having similar problems and ideas on how to improve it?

Some things to consider:

What made today different from another day? What, as someone asking, would I not know? I know you probably went and typed on a keyboard and ate lunch, but I don't know that you finally solved that bug in production and feel awesome or that Steve from accounting turned up late, giggling, with Dave and they've been making excuses to see each other at work for the last few weeks.

What's different? What's changed? Over time these things fit into a larger story, the buildup of Steve and Dave's romance has been happening for weeks.

What's relatable for the person asking? If I'm another dev then telling me about that new library you got to use that's fun might be interesting, for others maybe not. Although you can often find interesting ways of talking about it to someone who is inquisitive, I talk a lot about bits of tech to my wife and explain how things work and why things are as they are, sometimes it's relevant to what she's doing. In return she's explained a lot about NMR machines and biology to me.

For practice, perhaps, I'm a developer but probably not using the same tech stack. How was your week? Since I don't know anything about your office or things, imagine you'd already told me what had happened the week before. What's changed, what's new?

Finally, it's also OK if not much really happened. But if nothing really happened, was that good or bad for you? Why? Was it a quiet week and that's different, or are the quiet weeks becoming less interesting? Is it quiet but there's a buildup of expected work coming in a few weeks?

This is the only answer to the question that was asked. And it's a good answer.

What 1337biz might also want to consider from the other answers is the attention to detail. To both find detail in your description of the day, as well as in the details of the person you're talking to. Facial expressions change, breathing changes, eyes shift. There's a constant flurry of happening upon which you react, by altering your story. In IanCal's case about talking about bits of tech to their wife, for example, the wife could be seen trailing her eyes away slightly, meaning she might now already understand what a framework is, or she might frown, when it's just a little bit too technical, or her eyes might shine, when she wants to know more.

I am probably underestimating that there are a million and one different ways to convey something with just one eyebrow, and luckily the human mind is quick to extra-, and interpolate these meanings.

Jack Hamm has an excellent book. This [0] has a copy a page on muscles of the face ( "Muscles of Expression")

[0] https://terahdrawing.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/facial-express...

Fascinating! Any experience in training expressions? I already fail most of the time putting on a decent smile for pictures...

Mundane actions need interruptions to become exciting and there have to be references to stuff you've mentioned earlier have somewhat of a story.

Lame: I was going to school as usual. After I had arrived the bell rang and our biology teacher entered the classroom. He showed us a movie about wolfs.

Better: I was going to school when all of a sudden a wolf started hunting me. It almost got me the second I entered school but fortunately I managed to close the door behind me just in time. When the bell rang our biology teacher entered the classroom and showed us a movie about wolfs! Can you believe it? I grew incredibly nervous when the narrator began talking about wolfs attacking humans. While the movie was still running I turned my head away from the screen for a second and glanced through the door's window. At first I wasn't sure what I was looking at. I only sensed movement. But then it became clear that the wolf which had followed me earlier this morning was strolling down the hall. Somehow he must have managed to sneak in....

Of course, you don't need a wolf chasing you to have material for an exciting story but the general principles still apply I think.

Well, so what do you do if there was no wolf chasing you around?

Because the question of your parent is: How do I tell mundane things in an entertaining way if nothing entertaining or exciting is happening in my life?

One could argue: Then do something exciting, but I think what your parent poster wanted to say is: Some people still manage to tell stories about everyday things but make them interesting nevertheless. They don't experience something exciting in particular.

Your example is good, but it actually only works because of the wolf chase.

> They don't experience something exciting in particular.

yes, but that's (somewhat) besides the point. The trick is to look for value in what you've got.

A more mundane example:

Lame: It was so hot this morning that I didn't want to go to work but I knew that I had to. During lunch I heard from my colleague from the other team that their boss had bought ice cream for them this morning. Too bad I wasn't on their team.

Better: It was so hot this morning that I didn't want to go to work but I knew that I had to. The bus I was sitting on drove past an ice-cream vendor. "Man" I thought to myself, "it is so frustrating that I can't get off the bus right now to buy some ice-cream". During lunch I heard from my colleague from the other team that their boss had bought ice cream for them this morning. Too bad I wasn't on their team! When I then finally got out of office the ice-cream vendors were long gone but I still had an an ice-cream hunger to satisfy. So I went to McDonald's and ordered a McSundae. The guy behind the counter sighed and told me "Sorry, we're out of ice-cream since 10 am" I then gave up on my quest for ice cream and thought to myself: "For tommorrow, I need a plan..."

In the "lame example" you just complain about two things (the heat and you being in the "wrong" them). In the "better example" you turn your appetite for ice-cream into a story instead.

So like: Getting the ice cream is the goal, work is the conflict, other team has ice cream makes the craving more intensive and hopefully, there's some resolution to this journey.

The other thing that makes the anecdotes better is avoiding thinking/emotional statements. Also using smiles and metaphors to give the listener something some color. Try to tie it back to an experience they’ve probably had.


How can it be so hot in the morning that you sweat right after the shower? My first shirt? I immediately sweated through it. On the bus I sweated through the second one too. The only open seats were the ones in the sun. That plastic was on fire! I had to shift around in my seat until it cooled enough for me to sit still. At one of the stops I spotted an ice cream cart. The smoke from the freezer floated out as the dude was reaching in to grab one of those drumstick cone. I would have bailed on work, bought the cart, and took a nap inside if we didn’t have that meeting scheduled.

A couple hours ago I saw John walking with an ice cream cone. I was like “Where’d you get that?”. Turns out his manager has an ice cream social every week. I tried to crash it, but the break room had nothing but empty cartons in the trash. At this point, it’s like God himself is telling me “Go forth my son, find some ice cream.”

So I went to Dairy Queen to get some Blizzard action. You know what? They were out of ice cream! I’m like “How can you be out of Ice Cream? Dairy is in your name!”, He’s smirks and said, “We still have cheese.”. CHEESE?!?!. So I ordered cheeseburger. It’s was good.

Interrruptions are an easy way to increase attention. But it can't be the only thing. Or how do you explain a person studying a painting for hours. There is not the slightest change happening (to the painting) and yet it can be fascinating.

cJ0th. This is so spot on

One tactic is to insert a challenge that had to be overcome, the conflicts that arose in the solution and then the final resolution.

This is standard fare in Nova documentaries where the topic can often be fairly dull. eg: documentary is about dinosaurs, they find a dinosaur fossil, extract it from the surrounding rock and take it back for cleaning and research. Pretty dull stuff.

But if you blow up some minor crisis: Scientists are extracting the large fossil but oh my, the plaster-cast looks like it may break (crisis). What can they do ? They gather in a room to decide, there are conflicting opinions (conflict). Finally one person makes a decision - they will wrap the plaster-cast in a wooden cage and use a fork lift. But will it work !? (drama). Tension builds as the forklift truck raises the plaster-cast - and, sigh of relief, it works. The fossil is safe (resolution).

The above scene is completely unnecessary for the documentary but inserting it grabs the viewers attention.

This formula works when giving fairly dull presentations - find something that blocked you in your research, explain the options you had and the choices you had to make and how you finally overcame that minor crisis.

Knowing this formula will, unfortunately, ruin your Nova viewing experience since they use this technique every time.

Sorry for the generic answer but that is the best thing you can work on to improve that skill: focus on the journey, not the end result.

Another way to put it, and I think it was a quote by Stephen King but I cannot find it back at the moment, is that if you want to convey something don't spell it out, make the person listening/reading your story see/feel it for themselves by the way you describe it.

>> This skill is super valuable - anyone having similar problems and ideas on how to improve it?

In my very limited experience, I think this skill is made up of two components: finer details [1] and emotional expression. [2]

I find drawing to a be a great way to learn the art of going into finer details. For emotional expression in animation, you will need to study the classic principles of animation. [3]

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Drawing-Right-Side-Brain-Definitive/d...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_expression

[3] https://www.amazon.com/Tradigital-Blender-Animators-Principl...

That question is also fascinating me. If you experience a very random, normal event, like waiting in a queue, it is boring as hell. But if you watch it in some artist's work (e.g., a Tarantino movie) it's so fascinating. There is more to it than the details of what happens itself.

I think you'll find once you're excited about something, the story telling comes naturally.

A truly boring day can't be exciting. Honestly, I think the only answer to this is the most obvious. Stop having boring days.

Do things you enjoy and you'll gather talking points for people who also enjoy those things. Explore and enjoy more types of things, and you'll be able to interact with more people.

Maybe read an article/book or watch a video at work about something new that you'd enjoy sharing. Personally, I'll sometimes watch PBS Space Time on Youtube and share what I learned with people who also have their mind blown easily. It's a ton of fun.

For me, when I started keeping a simple journal (3-4 lines mostly), daily, it assisted me in not being boring. I made sure if there was a conversation I jotted it down, names of people too. When I write the next day I often read a few pages prior. My "changes" day to day can now be seen by me and thus become top of mind and make good conversation content.

My nature is to not think anyone is interested in my day cause it is boring as hell to me.

I also found my listening ability greatly improved by simply jotting stuff down..

This thread is awsome by the way.

Thank you for bringing that up. I really need to start doing this to become better aware of the 'material'. Do you just note dow the occasion or also highlight emotions etc?

Sex and violence. Every good story has it. I am not referring to the obvious of "having sex and fighting," but every piece of conflict has some element of one or the other and sometimes both. And obviously, that means conflict is essential to every good story.

Nobody wants to watch The Village of the Happy People.

The mundane becomes exciting with conflict.. either physical, emotional or both.

But how do this on the fly if you are telling somebody about a work project or some idea you have been tinkering about in your free time? Or when they are picking some random time in your life ("how was highschool for you?"). I have read quite a few books and a bunch of videos on YouTube but they always focus on prepared story telling.

Direct link to Pixar In A Box : The Art of Storytelling


This is a departure from the usual blackboard videos of KhanAcademy right? I haven't watched enough of them to be sure.

I've also noticed that Coursera has a load of courses that are not free anymore. So it might explain why Pixar chose KhanAcademy. Is it the last resort for free education?

I'm really sad about Coursera as it was the platform that made me discover cryptography with Dan Boneh. And now I'm wondering if the platform's new spin on monetization is the reason Dan Boneh is not releasing Crypto II.

I've found that a lot of the time Coursera is just making it difficult to register for free for courses, but if you find the right page it's still an option. Go to the specific page for the course, not any collection that it may be in, and when you click 'enroll' look for the tiny 'audit' link.

Me too I'm waiting for the "Crypto II" since few years, what happened to it :)

Hey folks we'll be putting out new story lessons every ~6 weeks - there will be 6 in total

Awesome. I'll keep it bookmarked.

Is there a special reason as to why you're putting these out there? Trying to attract talent, or making the world a better place?

Thanks! It already helped me get over a writer's block.

Its interesting how storytelling has really been important for people in all time periods. I imagine this being one of the most important skills for early cavemen wanting to gain respect among their peers.

Dan Harmon, the co-creator of community and Rick & Morty, and also something of a guru on storytelling uses the analogy of the stone-age hunter to illustrate the most basic structure that underlies pretty much every story can be mapped to a story about going out, finding food, killing it and bringing it back home.


Immediately Ctrl+F'd to see if anyone mentioned Dan Harmon.


Pixar stories always descend into violent and frightening scenes.

It's probably a Hollywood expectation - "it's not a movie without a flat out terrifying villain"!

Kids that I take to see Pixar movies quake in fear - that's not good kids entertainment.

I stopped worshiping Pixar storytelling when I realized this.

So don't go learn from khan academy how to emulate Pixar, learn to tell kids stories without fear and violence.

As long as we're sharing anecdotes, I've been watching Pixar movies since I was quite young - Toy Story was the first movie I saw in the theaters, at the age of four - and I have consistently loved them. Toy Story was my favorite movie for years as a child.

There are some mildly scary or tense scenes in many Pixar movies but I think children are more receptive to that kind of experience than you think they are. There is definitely a question of age appropriateness / maturity that you would want to think about before showing one to a very young child, but that's the responsibility of you as the adult, not Pixar. Kids movies aren't one size fits all. And it certainly doesn't feel like a valid criticism of the quality of the storytelling to say that some children are scared by them; tension and investment in the outcome by the viewer are hallmarks of good storytelling, not bad.

I think somebody here has completely lost touch with what it's like to be a kid. Why would someone not want to teach their kids to manage and overcome their fears in a safe environment?

Pixar is following a tradition that goes back to the origins of story telling. Ever read Grimm's fairytales? They're even worse. Scare the kids! Teach them to overcome their fears in a safe environment so they don't grow up to be irrational and superstitious. They need to be innoculated against these things so they don't grow up with allergies that stunt them later in life.

You should look at the old Disney classics, they're scary. Pinocchio is super sketchy. I think this is what makes them interesting - kids like being scared too.


And many Disney classics are watered down versions of the folk tales they're based on.

>So don't go learn from khan academy how to emulate Pixar, learn to tell kids stories without fear and violence.

To prepare them for life in the magical unicorn fairy-land?

Besides, have you read the original Brothers Grimm stories and such?

> To prepare them for life in the magical unicorn fairy-land?

Sure, good point. In the video where the story artist talks about simba talking to his dead father, she said that it traumatized her but that she grew up a little after that.

> Besides, have you read the original Brothers Grimm stories and such?

I know we don't know much about what's the best way to raise kids. But history doesn't always teach good lessons.

I don't take my kids to movies to prepare them for life, I take them for fun, to be entertained.

Yes, in a magical unicorn fairyland.

Sounds like you either don't have kids or you're prepping them for doomsday.

>I don't take my kids to movies to prepare them for life, I take them for fun, to be entertained.

Yeah, let's produce more fragile snowflake adults that can't handle life, and can't understand movies and art either, unless it is merely "entertainment". Because that has worked so well in this past few generations.

>Sounds like you either don't have kids or you're prepping them for doomsday.

Or you know, am using millennia old best practices of preparing them for life, for which art, storytelling and (this last century) movies has been one of the best ways.

Instead of feeding them the art-equivalent of McDonalds, which is bad for their soul and for their upbringing.

There is no such thing as a story without fear, sex or violence.

Three little pigs: violence Little Red Riding Hood: violence with a hint of sex Sound of Music: sex with the fear of violence from the Nazis.

ALL good stories must have conflict. All conflict originates from sex or violence.

Here's the most basic story in the Aristotlian tradition:

Get a man in a tree Throw rocks at him Get him down again

One could argue about what level of explicitness is appropriate for kids -- but there's no such thing as a story without fear, violence or sex.

Look at Fox and the Hound or Bambi, Peter Pan, Cinderella, Snow White -- all varying degrees of sex and violence and the fear and anticipation of each.

> All conflict originates from sex or violence.

What about The Big Short? No sex or violence there. Or what about Spirited Away? I'm sure there's some ostensible violence here and there, but the conflict in that film I think comes from things being out of place, not from overt danger.

Sex and violence are overrepresented in media because they are easy. A writer who has drank too much coffee and is out of ideas for the 10th day in a row can put some sex or violence up without thinking much and get a reaction. That doesn't mean these things are the only source of conflict in the world, or in storytelling. Just the easiest.

I think you are taking sex and violence literally, or interpreting it to mean physical sex or violence.

Hatred, for example is a form of violence. Sex and violence are the primary colors of a storyteller's palette.

Highly recommend Lew Hunter for a better explaination than I provided: https://books.google.fr/books?id=7VUihxcjzecC&pg=PA22&lpg=PA...

What is your definition if conflict then? If you broaden your definition of violence to include all kinds of conflict, then all you're saying is "all conflict is conflict".

Are there mainstream stories that don't have an element of fear in them? Even love stories have fear of loss, or fear of unrequited love, or similar as a facet.

Disney/Pixar probably are just emulating European classical storytelling that we find in fairy stories?

Take a 6 year old to see"A bugs life" and watch the kid instead of the movie.

When you see the child in absolute terror, ask yourself "is this the right way to entertain a child, through pure terror?"

Or do the same thing with the Pixar movie "Up", a fabulous and gentle movie until it gets the mandatory part where they go all out to scare the living shit out of the kids watching with attack dogs.

> When you see the child in absolute terror, ask yourself "is this the right way to entertain a child, through pure terror?"

Maybe instead of reaching all kinds of dubious conclusions based on anecdotal evidence on how children look like during certain parts of the movie, you should instead ask the child, after the movie is over, whether he liked it or not. I think you will find that the vast majority of children greatly enjoy most Pixar movies.

The claim that Pixar movies, or the levels of violence depicted in them, are harmful to children or to society, has zero evidence in support of it.

Are you familiar with Hansel and Gretel?

Hansel and Gretel are a young brother and sister kidnapped by a cannibalistic witch living deep in the forest in a house constructed of cake and confectionery. The two children save their lives by outwitting her.

I don't think I was older than 5 when it's been first read to me.

One might think that one is an exception rather than the norm, so here's the beginning of another one[1] (more a ballad than a fairly tale, but no one would think it's weird if an 8 years old read it).

A king is hunting in a forest and encounters a house. He asks for water and a beautiful girl opens the door. He asks to marry her, but she says she needs to ask the step mother, who's in town at the moment.

The king returns later, asks the step mother, she offers him her own daughter, but the king orders her to bring the step daughter to the castle the next day.

The next day the step mother and her daughter take the step daughter to the forest, where they kill her, take out her eyes, and cut off her limbs.

The daughter then impersonates the step daughter and marries the king.

And so on. It ends relatively "well", with the step daughter being brought to life again, and the murderers "blinded, their limbs cut off and thrown to the wolves".

1 - https://cs.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zlat%C3%BD_kolovrat

Folk tales were initially not aimed at young kids at all but for the entertainment (and maybe also illustrating morals) of adults.

When the tales are adapted for the kids, the violent themes are often tempered down. The story themselves are often changed. Just visit a book store to see the numerous adaptations are 'Little Red Riding Hood'.

Also, for young kids, the book is filtered through the interpretation of parents. So they can mellow down certain parts based on their kid's sensitivities. Also, in books, the really gory parts are often left to the imagination and not every scene is pictorially represented. Fortunately or unfortunately, each and every fact has to be shown in some form in the movie. Movies tend to be more visually stimulating than books and tend to pull in the kids more.

On the other hand, books have the luxury of being able to provide stories tailored to each age group. Movies have no such luxury if they are to be financially viable.

Also each movie wants to have a villain more scarier than all the ones before and visuals (earthquakes, huge torrents of water anyone) much grander. You invariably endup with something frightening for kids.

But above all, kids' imagination are more volatile and fertile than ours. Their view of the world is incomplete and hence their interpretations of the same scenes could be radically different and unpredictable. Case in point, My four-year-old was frightened of 'My Neighbour Totoro', especially, the scene of Totoro on the tree at night and the catbus :) .

A lot of these stories were not exactly kid's stories. Most folktales were probably told and retold by people of all ages, simply because of their entertainment value.

I'd argue that this is still my face every time I'm on a rollercoaster, but I feel like I enjoyed it when it stops.

It'll depend a lot on the child.

Sadly true, perhaps many little kids are brought up on intense violence and might not be scared by Pixar films, which is really sad.

I think it's more that some children don't bridge the metaphor to relate cartoon violence to real life or perceive the characters as "real" in any way rather than solely being a story of habituation.

I think you bring a good point, and it's a shame you're getting downvoted (although it might be because of the tone you use).

But in one of the video, one story artist is talking about her first experience with the lion king and how traumatized she was by simba trying to talk to his dead father. And then I understood one thing:

I always thought that for you to make a long lasting mark into the world, you had to build a castle. But there are other ways: make cute animations targeting kids, but sneakily insert traumatizing sequences.

With the possible exception of Frank, the combine harvester, I don't think there's anything remotely scary or frightening in Cars.

Fairy tales used to be very dark and cruel - just look at older prints of Grimm's fairy tales. I guess it goes with the genre.

I hate to be negative (well, not really, but maybe a little, since this is free), but I've always found Pixar storytelling to be contrived, cliched and the worst kind of sappy with lame attempts at humor.

So this is more like "Max Martin offers lessons in songwriting" than e.g. John Lennon(or Tom Waits or Jack White or Chuck D. or James Murphy, or whatever unique voice you fancy).

>, but I've always found Pixar storytelling to be contrived, cliched and the worst kind of sappy with lame attempts at humor.

Instead of an abstract complaint, it would be more instructive if you could provide concrete examples of children's films that are: not contrived, not cliched, not sappy with no lame humor.

>Instead of an abstract complaint, it would be more instructive if you could provide concrete examples of children's films that are: not contrived, not cliched, not sappy with no lame humor.

Where to start? The works of Miyazaki, as somebody already mentioned. Anything by Tex Avery. The Nightmare Before Christmas. The Triplets of Belleville. James and the Giant Peach. The Illusionist. And tons of others (haven't even delved into anime). And if we get to overall children's films, e.g. not just animation, there's a whole range too. Heck, old (2D) Disney films were much less contrived as well.

To me, all those well-regarded films feel like they are full of cliches. Tvtropes lists dozens and dozens of examples.[1][2]

But I'm not arguing with you. I had a different standard of "cliche" in my head so I misunderstood how you categorized originality before you listed your examples. That's fine. I tend to think that everything is cliche and derivative[3][4] and therefore, those attributes don't bother as much. However, I realize that others weigh it differently.

[1] Miyazaki: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Anime/SpiritedAway

[2] Tim Burton: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/WesternAnimation/TheNi...

[3] 7 basic plots: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Seven_Basic_Plots#Receptio...

[4] Hero's Journey: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero%27s_journey

>To me, all those well-regarded films feel like they are full of cliches. Tvtropes lists dozens and dozens of examples.[1][2]

I find the TvTropes examples lacking (or worse, BS). I mean their list has stuff like: "Adaptation Expansion" (that the story was based on a poem Burton had once written), "Black Comedy", "The Blind Leading the Blind", "Bogeyman", ""Cassandra Truth", etc. Those are supposed to be cliches?

Those are more like listing all possible states of matter, and calling some part of the universe a cliche for containing them.

So, yeah, TNBChristmas is not some abstract surrealist image sequence -- it's a story and contains aesthetic concepts and narrative similarities with other stories, starting from the Iliad. Those are not cliches -- and I'm not convinced TvTrope author even knows what a cliche is.

Same, or worse, when discussing Miyazaki:

"Adults Are Useless: Well, Chihiro's parents are, hence the need to rescue them"

"Big Eater": Chihiro's parents when they transform into pigs. Boh eating chocolate.

They even mention "Bittersweet Ending" as a cliche (and I'm sure they have: Ambiguous Ending, Happy Ending, Sad Ending, etc thrown at other movies too).


What I objected to is also not about the "hero's quest" or "the 7 basic plots". Rather, a good movie (or literary work for that matter) is not about the plot at all, the plot is a merely a vehicle, and the movie transcends it. Pixar movies are all about the plot, and they are also all about the plot unfolding linearly and predictably, with big arrows pointing at any "critical moment".

I'd like to offer as examples anything by Miyazaki, although they aren't just for children. Sometimes the initial plot setups are a little contrived or cliche, but they aren't material to the films.

Yes, both Pixar and Disney come of as cynical in their approach to storytelling. It's the same manipulative beats over and over again. Just because these movies are targeting kids doesn't mean they have to be mediocre.

Storytelling is a really valuable skill. However, it seems to me that it is one of those abilities that some people just seem to be born with and that it is inherently difficult to learn. Can anybody offer anecdotal insights into whether or not this is something that you can become good at through practice?

More and more I've come the opinion that there is no skill someone is just 'born with' that cannot be learnt. It may be the case though that some people are exposed to events and circumstances that help them practice from such an early age as to have a huge headstart above others.

Anecdotally, I never thought I'd be able to draw, I used to think drawing (and art in painting, etc) was just something I wouldn't be able to do, though it's surprising and encouraging what you can do after dedicating some consistent time to practicing.

Also something I've started learning about recently is the art that goes into public speaking (from the Washington Uni Coursera course).

With knowledge broken down and explained by professionals, the mysterious becomes reachable through reasonable amounts of practice.

At the same time, some people are just more talented. No matter how much I try, I'll never be that strong compared to other guys. I can barely bench press above body weight ONCE. It took me years to achieve a 210 lbs max. I've taken time off and even after months of working my way back I'm still not back at this strength level yet.

Why can't the same be applied to skills that have a more mental component? Some people just don't get it.

Get on a decent program and eat more. Physical strength is an example of a skill that is absolutely a matter of hard work, not being born lucky.

There is a genetic component for sure; not everyone can become an elite athlete or lifter. However, with consistent training on a decent program (like you say), I would believe that nearly everyone who does not have a disability could get to a point where they can deadlift 2.5x ideal body weight, squat 2x, and bench 1.5x. And if you get here, you are physically strong.

I don't do specific training on those lifts, but I am approaching those targets. Hard work, eating right, and appropriate training.

To me, eating right means a good balance of carbs, fat, and protein. I target my ideal body weight in lbs x 1.5 as grams (about 260g of protein a day). I don't always get there, but I try to get to over 1/3 of that by early morning with some overnight oats with added protein powder, a protein shake post early morning workout, and something with protein for breakfast right before I start work). If I am building, I eat around 3k calories a day. If I am cutting, I try to stay around 2k.

Hard work means getting my heart going, sweating, and tracking and increasing my percentages. I enjoy crossfit style workouts. I track what my training max is, and lift an appropriate percent of that for given sets. Do varied lifts. Olympic lifts, power lifts, gymnastics, etc.

Appropriate training. Find a program and stick with it a while. A 5/3/1 program can be solid. I got a lot out of a cycle of juggernaut training on my back squat a while back. I went from 240 lbs to 305 lbs in a short window where I thought I had plateaued. I'm currently at 345 lbs. I'm in no rush to add the last 35 lbs to that to hit my 2x target, but I'll get there. If I wanted to get there faster, I'd be back on 5/3/1 or juggernaut again.

> I would believe that nearly everyone who does not have a disability could get to a point where they can deadlift 2.5x ideal body weight

There's no way I can deadlift 500 lbs, not after I injured my back anyway. But my best pull after 3 years of lifting was 335 lbs. My best squat was 285 lbs. Both at 196 lbs body weight.

> bench 1.5x

no way I can ever bench 300 lbs, I'm way too far from that mark. I can't even do 225 yet. If I got 210 after 3 years of lifting, it's safe to say my max is probably 250 or 270 or somewhere there, but not 300

I was on several programs for extended periods of time.

I was on starting strength for 7 months, got pretty fat, but also made most of my gains. I stalled multiple times after 6 months so I deloaded for some time and started lean gains. I only improved my deadlift on leangains after 11 months, and ended up spinning my wheels. I only lost weight at the end when I cut my calories more.

I tried UD 2.0 after this and got tendonitis in one of my calves and elbows.

Since about 6 months and many years later, no matter what program I did I only got marginal gains. Maybe bench would go from 185 max to 210 in 2 years.

I took time off and a year later I haven't gotten back to 210 bench. Part of why is because I've had shoulder impingement. So fixing the issue with posture and doing some myofascial release I've gone back to around the strength I had 6 months after I started working out. Probably in a few months more I can just get back to where I was previously.

At the same time, some people in high school are benching 300+

While I'm sure they exist, I've never met any young kids who were particularly good at telling stories. As with all things, some people have more natural talent than others, but I don't think anyone is very good right off the bat.

Think of it like any other art. Not everyone is equally good at it, but with practice, everyone gets better.

How many young kids have you met?

I used to be a Cub Scout (ages 7-10) leader in the UK. There were definitely certain children who could spin a yarn effortlessly. Though I can't rule out that being nurture it seems more likely to be based on a natural propensity.

Even in toddlers, with almost no language, some seem particularly adept at entertaining, which to me is a precursor for story-telling.

That's not being a novelist though, I think that's a different skill altogether. Novelists can be terrible story-tellers in person.

As a parent I've made up a few stories on the spot, it's really hard. Indeed just the telling part, with a story you think you know well (eg, for me, The Three Bears) is hard work.

I'd take stand up comedians as an example. I remember watching interviews of now well recognized comedians recount how they started out doing terribly. but through persistence, learned the craft and became professional storytellers.

Well, the one asking about this is a "dead" account, but still:

>That said, besides Rodney Dangerfield, I can't think of to many comedians whom got better with age.

Louis C.K. obviously.

I'm not sure about the "born with" part, but I think exposure to good storytelling in early childhood might play a significant role in whether you grow up to become a good storyteller. A consistent theme among famous writers is that they loved to read from a very young age, their parents used to tell them lots of bedtime stories, etc.

Maybe this early exposure to fiction influences a developing mind in a way that's much more difficult to achieve once you have grown up. Learning to jump seamlessly between Narnia, Hogwarts, the Hundred Acre Woods, Victorian England, Medieval Europe, the Arabian Nights, and back to the real world is a bit like learning a new language, a new culture. Children learn new languages much more easily than adults do, and the languages you learn in your childhood stick with your accents for the rest of your life.

There are two things involved.

The first is a good imagination. Most people are born with a good one. Imagination tends to be more born with and can be harder to improve.

The second is understanding how to take what you see in your head and tell it to others. This is the part that needs help. Speech class for oratory story telling, art class for telling stories with images, English class for telling stories with the written word and many others. (These also can overlap.)

The basis behind story telling may be innate but the ability to share with the world is something that needs a lot of practice and training to be smooth.

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