Pixar Animation Studios is somewhat of an anomalous entity in the way it constructs its stories. By rejecting the promiscuity of its cohorts, which frequently engage multiple writers for each script rewrite, Pixar’s story department functions as a coherent unit. In many respects, it is similar to a television writers’ room with multiple creative minds fleshing out stories (committee writing), rather than a single writer addressing notes from a development executive. Shakespere’s underlings thrived with this process as do many theatre companies.
There is a core group of writers at Pixar which generates ideas and writes collaboratively. This process has allowed the individual writers to grow simultaneously and to develop an indelible grasp of each other’s sensibilities.
Names like Peter Docter, Andrew Stanton and Andrew Lasseter consistently appearing in Pixar’s writing credits. They are creative executives who freely encourage the cross pollination of story ideas with artists, compositors and directors to stimulate the creative process.
Given that it takes an average Pixar film around five years to make it to the screen, story is at the heart of everything. An idea could be as simple as “a house being transported by balloons” which formed the basis of “Up”.
The first few days of the development process involve spitballing any permutation and possibility of the story, often in a retreat in rural Northern California. This is a no holds barred brainstorming session which affords the writers the opportunity to make mistakes, and lots of them. Through this concept churn, the premium story cream eventually rises to the surface.
After a few days, key scenes and plot points are defined, so that the story spine takes form. After this process, storyboard artists begin illustrating characters and backgrounds. A rough dialogue track is also laid down for senior executives called the “Brain Trust” to watch. The Pixar team create a rough story reel which forms the basis of further script drafts.
This process can take over a year. The story and script need to be locked down before the actual computer rendering can occur to create the final movie. Given the complexity of the animation process, there is no room for reshoots or rewrites.
All story ideas are stored, no matter how underdeveloped. Given that the entire story department is present at inception, the stories can subconsciously ruminate to future development if or when the studio decides to move them into production.