The Importance of Story Reels

In which Colin examines Pixar's use of story reels to ensure the quality of their work.

In this video blog, John Lasseter answers the question “who wrote the story of Up?”.  Well, Pete Docter and Bob Peterson if you’re interested, but that’s not what prompted me to write this.

What’s of far more interest to me is his description of the story writing process Pixar use and, specifically, how important story reels are to their creative process.  They use the script to create storyboards and from those they create story reels which use still storyboard drawings to construct a rough pass of the scene as it would appear in the finished movie.

They then watch and re-watch, and re-watch, and re-watch the story reels – making constant revisions to them, until they’re convinced the story is working perfectly.  Only once they have the confidence in the story will they put the sequence in to production because, as John Lasseter says: “if a story reel is working fantastic and you put it into production it gets a hundred times better; but if a story reel is not working it’ll never be improved by all this animation.”

At Denki we’ve discovered a similar principle at work in the development of our games.  Once we have an idea that excites us we put together a rough-and-ready concept prototype to prove we have a way of extracting ample fun from it.  We iterate this version for as long as it takes to prove the fun.  Only once we’re absolutely convinced by the concept prototype do we consider commissioning a “Pilot” version.  A well crafted Pilot increases the fun by another order of magnitude, and a Commercial version increases the fun further still; but if the fun isn’t contained in that initial prototype you never create it through production.

In short: production can amplify fun, but it can’t create it.


PS: If you’re wondering why we keep referencing Pixar, it’s because we’re pretty sure they understand the creative process better than almost anyone else on the planet at the moment.  Ten hit films in a row does not happen by accident and we aspire to bring that approach to the games industry.