Derek Thompson joined Pixar in January 2005 to work as a Story Artist on WALL-E. Prior to making a home at the company’s Emeryville campus, Thompson spent 14 years working in comic books, illustration, video games and live-action feature films.
Here, exclusively for RT readers, Thompson explains the process of the Story department and presents a look at some of WALL-E‘s storyboards.
The goal of the story reel is really to work out the problems and the kinks in advance of the rest of the departments at the studio jumping in and doing their part. It’s a fairly economical and focused way for a small team to iron out the story problems so we don’t discover, halfway through animation, that things don’t work.
There wasn’t much in the way of actual CG pre-visualisation or animatic type of stuff. As certain sequences come closer to being on target, they’ll move down the line and become the domain of the Layout or Animation teams and those essentially become the animatics – but it’s much more specific hard data that’ll actually end up in the final shot. Our goal is to map it out so that when it gets to that stage it’s less about reinventing the wheel and more about bringing it in cinematically.
It’s really remarkable working with Andrew, who could have great sequences that really worked but he would know how to step out of himself and be objective enough to know what he had to lose to make the story work. The movie changed quite a few times in the years I’ve been here. It’s strange, having seen it from so many different standpoints, but hopefully everything feels purposeful, intentional, and designed with emotional and quality storytelling in mind.
One of the things that I’ve been surprised and delighted to see is that you can really see all the work we did in the finished shots, even though there’s a lot of artful stuff that’s embellishing and bringing things to another level. That’s one of the mixed bags about storyboarding – it’s not a glamour job where you get to see your finished thing up on screen – it’s very skeletal.
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