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Major vs. minor beats

Discover Pixar's storytelling process using story spine, major beats, and minor beats. Learn how to break down stories into detailed parts, create impactful scenes, and develop storyboard sequences. Enhance your story by understanding characters' actions and emotions, and apply film grammar tools for a captivating narrative.

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Video transcript

- Hi, I'm Louis Gonzales and I'm a story artist here at Pixar. I'll be your host for this lesson and I'm joined by a few friends. - My name is Lee Unkrich and I am a director here at Pixar Animation Studios. - My name is Andrew Jimenez I've been at Pixar since 2000 and I am a digital story board artist, graphic artist, and director. - Hi I'm Katherine Ringgold, I'm a film editor at Pixar. - My name is Brian Kalin O'Connell, I'm a story teller here at Pixar Animation Studios. - As you saw in the previous video, you can make a story both interesting and impactful using the tools of film grammar, framing, staging, motion, and editing. But before you can apply any of these tools you need to know, in detail, what story you wanna tell. So let's rewind back to lesson three on story structure. In that lesson you broke down your story using the story spine. The story spine lead to a series of beats, where each beat is a key moment in your story. To be clear, from now on we'll call these story spine beats, major beats. When we need to understand our stories in more detail we flushed out each of these major beats into one or more scenes which are collected together into sequences. A scene is the part of the story that takes place at a particular time and location where our character learns something new to carry them forward in the story. For example, a major beat in Cars 3 is when McQueen visits the Thomasville raceway. Within this major beat we have several scenes, such as the scene where Smokey is training McQueen. Then a scene where McQueen races the old timers and that's followed by a scene where McQueen loses to Cruz Ramirez. Now let's hear from our artists how they think about breaking the story down into scenes and sequences. - In Cars 3 there is a sequence where, it's a montage, where McQueen is training. So it's lots of fast cuts and it's changing the location of where he is but the whole thing is him getting better and stronger and working towards getting to his race. - And a sequence isn't always a scene, just like one localized scene in one location. Sometimes it covers, kind of, a particular arc of the story or section of the story that might take place in multiple locations. - But if it's a same moment that characters are all sharing in, that's a good place to break it or if it's a moment where the emotional space is the same for these characters. That's a good place to also break it out. - It's interesting for me because I know a scene, for me, gets too long when I'm trying to pack in too many story points. And that's why it's also what's challenging is to have an overview of your project. Because if you try to cram too many ideas into one scene it gets too much, so your scene has to grow. And it gets too long or it's too much information in a short amount of time so your audience just gets dizzy. So it think it's, to be very clear, well what is the goal of this scene, is really just for the character to learn this so they go do this. - When we think we're happy with the scene breakdown we then further break each scene down into a series of smaller ideas called minor beats. For example, the scene where McQueen races the old timers has some minor beats like, Mcqueen begins by racing cautiously. Then McQueen discovers he can't get ahead of the old timers so then he learns to go and have fun which gets him past the old timer. In film making our job is to further breakdown each minor beat into one or more shots. A shot is a visual representation of a character's action in time. For example, this clip consists of three shots. Here's the first one, here's the second, and here's the third. And these individual shots can take many forms. They can be very wide or very close, they can be very still or incredibly dynamic. Once we know the shot breakdown, we draw a storyboard. That is a sketch to represent each shot. We can change them very quickly to maximize the impact of the story. It's simply a matter of rearranging the sketches, drawing new ones, and throwing away ones that don't work. By the end of this lesson you'll storyboard a sequence for your own story which will give you a chance to practice using the tools of film grammar. But first we need to pause and think more deeply about the story you wanna tell including how to break it down into scenes and shots. That's the purpose of the next set of exercises.