Exclusive: The Storyboards of WALL-E

Story Artist Derek Thompson on the process of prep.

by | July 17, 2008 | Comments

Derek ThompsonDerek 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.

I work as a Story Artist on WALL-E and I work with a small team of story artists helping our director, Andrew Stanton, facilitate and create the vision of the movie. We essentially draw the movie, redraw the movie, redraw it and redraw it, over and over again for many, many years.
In the old days we used to present storyboards pinned to a board, but more recently we’ve started doing them frame-by-frame on the computer as part of something called a story reel. There’s a mental button that gets pushed when you see a tonne of drawings pinned to a board. You tend to get ahead of yourself. So it’s really nice to have control, now, in the presentation, so that we can step through and feed the images to the director one by one.

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.

Most of the work done on the story reels on the computer is made up of storyboards in sequence. A good deal of After Effects work is done on top of that. Certain camera moves, compositing the Hello Dolly stuff, explosions, lighting effects – that work would go to our After Effects guys who were facilitating those moments.

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.

For WALL-E, there’s a lot more information packed into the boards than there normally would be. Every pose, every position, every beat of the acting has to get drawn out, because when this is all cut together into our story reel, you’ve got to be able to sit as an audience member, with a clear objective and a blank slate, and understand what’s going on.
How do you make hand signals and body language that conveys, “I like you,” or, “Let’s go over here,” or, “Don’t go into that red barn!”? There were all these little hurdles and pitfalls that would emerge. How do we wrap our heads around that? A very small team of us worked for years, sequence by sequence, fleshing out all of these story points.
Typically a Pixar film will have between 50 and 75,000 storyboards generated for the entire production. WALL-E was north of 125,000 drawings. That’s a phenomenal amount of drawings for a team of about six most of the time. We’d swell to 8 to 10 for a push, for a few weeks, and then for the last few months we were probably down to about three or four.

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.

And lots of moments remained unchanged from very early on. The sequence you can see in these boards was as it is now even before I started working on the film three years ago. In fact, a good chunk of the first act was already pretty-well realised in storyboards when I started and most of what changed was the second and third acts of the film, which went through numerous iterations.

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.

Andrew likened it to a paleontological dig, where at a certain point you know you have a dinosaur but you don’t really know what kind of dinosaur you have yet. Finding out what kind of dinosaur we’re building is part of what making these things come to life is all about. I love that discovery process.

WALL-E Week on RT and IGN

RT – Pixar’s and Stars’ Favourite WALL-E Moments

Sigourney Weaver, Angus MacLane, Ben Burtt, Jim Morris and Andrew Stanton share their most memorable moments from the film.

IGN – WALL-E Explained

Get an insight into the animation process as WALL-E Directing Animator Angus MacLane.

RT – Inside Pixar – A Photo Tour

Rotten Tomatoes’ cameras are given a look inside animation mecca as Pixar opens the doors of its Emeryville, CA campus to us.

IGN – The Pixar Philosophy

Key WALL-E staff including Andrew Stanton, David DeVan and Derek Thompson tell IGN what it’s like to work at Pixar.

RT – The World of WALL-E

To celebrate RT’s freshest film of the year, we bring together eight WALL-E crew to talk about the film’s journey from concept to completion.

IGN – At the Heart of WALL-E

Director Andrew Stanton explains, in his own words, why the WALL-E experience has been a special one and how he crafted the film.

RT – The Storyboards of WALL-E

Story Artist Derek Thompson gives RT readers an exclusive look at the storyboarding process on the film and shares some boards.

IGN – WALL-E UK Review

Critic Anna Smith delivers her verdict on Pixar’s latest and adds to the film’s fresh Tomatometer…

RT – Ben Burtt’s WALL-E Sound Masterclass

The world’s most renowned Sound Designer exclusively teaches RT readers the basics of building WALL-E‘s world of sound.

Tag Cloud

Awards Valentine's Day strong female leads south america television Black Mirror latino Anna Paquin true crime Pride Month Lifetime Christmas movies Turner social media TIFF Oscars werewolf Amazon Prime Comedy Central harry potter Grammys IFC Film Tubi American Society of Cinematographers composers Peacock Holiday Star Wars sequel free movies Food Network Star Trek Winter TV TNT indie cancelled crossover Netflix Avengers name the review technology WarnerMedia cooking Captain marvel Chernobyl Comic Book dramedy Tumblr PBS Photos spain cancelled TV shows Shudder anthology ITV Hallmark singing competition justice league Apple TV Plus zero dark thirty Masterpiece Acorn TV Lucasfilm diversity RT History 21st Century Fox Musicals Warner Bros. Crackle CBS All Access Emmys casting WGN Discovery Channel psycho toy story Sci-Fi vampires NBC 2020 BBC Nickelodeon 20th Century Fox VH1 CW Seed Comics on TV X-Men ABC Family FXX independent Mary Poppins Returns DC Universe Baby Yoda directors finale Heroines Schedule See It Skip It GLAAD cops Family Turner Classic Movies Hulu sports Country police drama CBS Polls and Games Paramount Network based on movie green book Spike HBO Max Academy Awards LGBTQ Opinion robots dc A24 National Geographic comic Best and Worst Horror Sony Pictures crime drama Rock Martial Arts Cosplay Video Games NYCC Elton John talk show docudrama 2018 Box Office E! Year in Review GIFs Biopics canceled TV shows sag awards Mystery unscripted Winners APB Hallmark Christmas movies YA MSNBC 007 disaster Binge Guide dragons crime E3 Mary Tyler Moore ghosts Red Carpet Arrowverse Toys AMC aliens nature Lifetime DGA TCA Winter 2020 Calendar ratings DirecTV movies cinemax 24 frames Classic Film Action Disney Plus First Reviews hispanic supernatural Dark Horse Comics CNN Epix adaptation Writers Guild of America quibi Teen SDCC Disney streaming service children's TV Infographic BBC America joker Rocky TLC book batman Emmy Nominations The Purge TCM Trivia doctor who MCU Fantasy Rocketman zombie Christmas crime thriller cancelled TV series game of thrones YouTube Premiere Dates tv talk Tomatazos Crunchyroll series Song of Ice and Fire cats Vudu VICE Adult Swim festivals Marvel Disney Interview Sundance Now El Rey Disney Channel Superheroes USA Network space christmas movies cars travel MTV Certified Fresh hist Western game show Freeform Summer mutant science fiction Holidays The Arrangement what to watch 2015 versus binge Starz discovery renewed TV shows rotten movies we love Ghostbusters OWN Sundance RT21 The CW Quiz award winner reboot Disney+ Disney Plus Universal cancelled television Sneak Peek YouTube Premium Fall TV Walt Disney Pictures adventure Countdown OneApp FOX romantic comedy Kids & Family mockumentary Pixar canceled elevated horror TCA 2017 Pop biography period drama Film Festival teaser TBS Bravo Reality TV renewals The Witch DC streaming service ESPN Britbox Mindy Kaling SundanceTV First Look Watching Series FX medical drama History Spring TV 71st Emmy Awards Stephen King dceu Mudbound transformers Set visit TruTV Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Character Guide halloween screenings Showtime TV Election Rom-Com TCA A&E Tarantino Awards Tour animated foreign sitcom GoT video Sundance TV facebook Superheroe natural history streaming PaleyFest DC Comics Reality Competition SXSW Syfy revenge Endgame Lionsgate USA IFC Films Nat Geo Pirates Esquire serial killer Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt cults kids psychological thriller jamie lee curtis HBO slashers Drama Pet Sematary Cartoon Network YouTube Red The Walking Dead Marvel Studios Trophy Talk Amazon Prime Video blockbuster theme song Brie Larson comics Fox News Spectrum Originals witnail TV Land 2016 Nominations Ovation screen actors guild blaxploitation CMT Apple TV+ Paramount political drama Logo Television Academy golden globes breaking bad Podcast Netflix Christmas movies Cannes stand-up comedy New York Comic Con Super Bowl politics Amazon Comedy romance miniseries 2017 richard e. Grant war Animation Ellie Kemper spy thriller 45 zombies Creative Arts Emmys Trailer anime cartoon Mary poppins Marathons thriller Women's History Month President boxoffice Columbia Pictures Extras comiccon LGBT spinoff Apple San Diego Comic-Con 2019 Marvel Television spider-man Thanksgiving BET Musical ABC Music spanish language historical drama Shondaland