This Story by Design blog is a collection of learnings, processes, observations and inspirations I’ve collected across my career.
In my posts I’ll share lessons learned from some of the animation industry’s best directors, storytellers and craftspeople I’ve had the privilege of working with over my 16 years at Pixar; I’ll compare my experiences moving between feature CG animation, computer games and tech, including my approach to art directing the BAFTA-nominated game, Counterspy, and designing Google Doodles; I’ll give observations and analysis of visual storytelling in feature film and animation and discuss my thoughts on experiential design for VR; I’ll post inspirations and anecdotes, answer commonly asked questions and hopefully feature some wisdom of industry peers more knowledgable than myself.
A few reasons for starting this blog:
When I taught two courses on Production Art for 3D Animation at the Academy of Art in San Francisco several years ago, I found the time commitment too great between teaching, working full-time and being a parent of young twins. But I discovered that I truly enjoyed teaching and helping others, which perhaps stemmed from being largely self-taught. I also quickly realized I couldn’t teach what had I learned through doing without a more academic understanding of how and why I was taught to do things this way. Teaching became as educational for me as for my students, if not more even more so.
Over time my continuing desire to teach led to my lecture series on Cinematic Design and Visual Storytelling which I have taken to universities, companies, events and conferences around the San Francisco Bay Area. With this blog I intend to expand these concepts around a wider framework of visual-emotional storytelling to encourage a more meaningful approach to visual design informed by emotional or narrative considerations over simply aesthetic or stylistic ones.
I believe what elevates a well-crafted work beyond thee conventions of technique, form or genre is emotional connection, with the capacity to emotionally move an audience as the heart of true artistry. As I have always been drawn to the creative work of artists who express their own voice and points of view, I believe the more honest, original and meaningful an expression the artist brings to their work, the more truthfully, personally and meaningfully it can resonate with an audience.
With this blog I propose that successful visual storytelling is equal measures art and craft—that is ART as WHAT idea is being said, and CRAFT as HOW that idea is visually expressed. With so much attention already paid to the ‘How of Craft’, with its answers, rules, guidelines and conventions, I hope to bring some attention to the more nebulous ‘What of Art’, which in my experience is usually a process of first finding the right questions to ask.
At a personal level I am using this blog as an exercise to further develop my own artistic voice and better craft my thoughts on emotional design. I am very much still a student and I am not sharing my particular experiences and perspective to prescribe answers or assert myself as an authority. Rather I want to encourage thought and discourse on good design, and if I can offer any value, insight or inspiration to artists and storytellers, it would be to dare you to seek out your own artistic voice that you might create expressive work more meaningful to both yourself and your audience.
And if you just happen to get to that place, let me know what it feels like!