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Stories without words

I’m fascinated by Pixar’s ability to tell beautiful stories without words. If you want to become a better storyteller, studying what they do is a great place to start.

One of my favorite examples is at the beginning of the movie Up. There’s a wonderful montage that tells the story of Carl Fredricksen and his wife, Ellie. Not a single word is uttered, but it’s beautiful, powerful and moving.

Some things I noticed…

  • The montage uses just one, simple melody. Notice, though, how the tone, tempo and styling changes based on the mood of the scene.
  • Colors and lighting play an important storytelling role. Happy scenes are brightly lit and cheery. Sad scenes aren’t just dark and shadowy. The colors themselves are duller and less vibrant.
  • Simplicity is a great storytelling vehicle. The folks at Pixar do a great job at directing you to a single facial expression, a single action, a single piece of body language, to drive the story.
  • Repetition creates familiarity. The hammer smashing the glass jug. The role of the “My Adventure Book.” The use of balloons (which of course is foreshadowing of a bigger plot twist).

To learn more about how Pixar does what it does, check out this rare look inside Pixar Studies. For another great example of a story without dialogue, check out It’s Time.

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Have any questions or comments about this post? Email me at or contact me on Twitter at @ChrisFerdinandi.

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