Pixar in a Box: The Art of Storytelling at Pixar Studios

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Pixar is one of the most beloved animation studios in the world. It’s a major American animation company renowned by both critics and the moviegoing public for their incredible movies, TV shows, short films, and more. Now, we get to go behind the scenes and learn about storytelling from the Pixar pros themselves. All thanks to Khan Academy and Pixar in a Box (from Disney’s Imagineering in a Box).

Pixar in a Box: The Art of Storytelling at Pixar Studios [Source: Build a Better Mouse Trip]
Pixar in a Box: The Art of Storytelling at Pixar Studios [Source: Build a Better Mouse Trip]

What is Pixar in a Box?

Pixar in a Box is a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how Pixar artists perform their work.

With Disney funding, Khan Academy partnered up with Pixar Animation Studios to build Pixar in a Box. It show how Pixar artists use storytelling principles to create their incredible films year after year.

Through video lectures, immersive drills, and hands-on experiences, young people (all of us, really!) can discover how, during each artistic phase, Pixar designers use their skills to solve issues related to design, story, and more along the way.

The Khan Academy web platform takes advantage of every page in a lesson and encourages users to comment or discuss, making for excellent collaborative learning.

Is Pixar in a Box Free? How Much Does It Cost?

Here’s the best part of it all…

Disney’s Pixar in a Box has the goal of providing everybody, anytime, with world-class education on storytelling, animation, and more, with Disney’s assistance.


In order to create this free online program to see behind the scenes and learn how Pixar artists do their work, Pixar Animation Studios teamed up with Khan Academy, the popular online learning platform

Let’s take a look at some of the different sections and modules that you get for free in Disney and Khan Academy’s Pixar in a Box!

What Is the Art of Storytelling?

Any artistic situation, aesthetics, or contact for emotional motives may be described as art. Because storytelling is an art form, this is what storytellers aim to accomplish.

Storytellers of all types hope to share stories through the art of storytelling and communicate with their audience, finding understanding, and bringing them to another universe characterized by the story.

6 Pixar Elements of Storytelling

According to Pixar, there are six key aspects to storytelling. Here they are in a nutshell from the course itself.

Note: The quotations below are all directly from the Pixar in a Box online class descriptions.

Element #1 — Storytellers — “What makes a story great?  What makes someone a good storyteller?  Storytelling is something we all do naturally, starting at a young age, but there’s a difference between good storytelling and great storytelling.  In this lesson you’ll hear from Pixar directors and story artists about how they got their start and what stories inspire them, and you’ll begin to think about what kinds of stories you might want to tell.”

Element #2 — Character — “Characters are at the heart of every film Pixar makes; they’re the individuals we follow on the journey of every story.  But how does Pixar come up with those characters, make them more than just generic ideas, and really bring them to life?  In this lesson you’ll explore how character development drives the storytelling process at Pixar, and you’ll start thinking about creating characters for your own stories.”

Element #3 — Story Structure — “Every story that is told has a foundation, or structure.  For example, one of the most basic story structures is “it begins, something happens, and it ends.”  But a story’s structure can be complex, and if used well you’re not even aware of it.  In this lesson you’ll learn how Pixar structures their films, and you’ll start laying the foundation for your own stories.” 

Element #4 — Visual language — “While telling almost any story involves words, characters and structure, making a film involves another aspect of storytelling that Pixar thinks a lot about: visual language. Visual language refers to how imagery is used to convey story ideas or meanings. Perspective, color, and shape can all be used to support a story by guiding the audience to see and feel certain things. In this lesson we introduce you to some basic principles of visual language, and you’ll get to apply those principles to your own stories.”

Element #5 — Film Grammar — “Making a movie requires an understanding of the principles and terminology of cinematography, like camera angles, editing, composition, and movement of the camera and characters. This is also known as Film Grammar, and like actual spoken grammar, it is a language used to tell stories in a visual way. Each scene, shot, and frame is considered and crafted using this language. In this lesson we explore the basic Film Grammar used in cinematography and how Pixar approaches its use in storytelling. You will also use these principles to plan shots for your own film. “

Element #6 — Pitching and Feedback — “Pixar films take years to make, and the finished version you see in the theater may be very different from the way it was originally envisioned. The filmmaking team refines the films through the parts of their process called pitching and feedback. Pitching is the process of telling your story in very rough form, using storyboards or other rough imagery. After you pitch, you get feedback, which is basically hearing from the people you’re pitching to what they liked and didn’t like. This helps the storyteller assess what is working about their story, and what is not.”

And all this is just the tip of the iceberg! They also cover a ton of other topics, including:

  • The Art of Lighting
  • Simulation
  • Color Science
  • Virtual Cameras
  • Effects
  • Patterns
  • Rigging
  • Animation (naturally enough!)
  • And more!

Is Pixar in a Box Made for Kids or Adults (or Both)?

Pixar in a Box is a beautiful program that reveals the mystery behind Disney and Pixar’s film production methodology and technique.

With that in mind, it’s truly a great way for students to learn about story and what makes some stories work well, maybe even better than others.

Using the Khan Academy platform, you can monitor your student’s development in real time and see how they’re progressing.

That being said, anyone under the age of about 13 or so may not benefit as much, as the explanations are meant for students at a certain level of education and general life experience.

Even so, Pixar in a Box is also great for anyone (at any age) that wants to learn how to tell stories better and more effectively.

With their incredible experience, the animators and artists at Disney and Pixar Animation Studios have an incalculable gift.

The fact that they’re sharing these wonderful skills and tools of the trade with the world is wonderful, and I personally love every second of it.

Wrap-up: Pixar in a Box

Pixar in a Box is a great program that can be helpful and useful to anyone that wants to learn about stories or learn to tell stories better.

From young children to students and adults, everyone has something to gain from experiencing Pixar in a Box.

Watch the full Pixar in a Box course playlist right here on D Is For Disney:

Or, you can also check it out on Khan Academy right here to see for yourself: free Pixar in a Box class.

Have a magical day!

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