Animation students hone their storytelling craft with Pixar

The participating fourth-year animation students pose with Kristen Lester (front, fourth from left) and Derek Thompson (front, third from right) during the workshop at Sheridan’s Trafalgar Road Campus in Oakville.

Last November, 25 Sheridan fourth-year animation students were invited to hone their storytelling skills during a two-day workshop with the masters in the business — visiting story artists from Pixar Animation Studios.

“At Pixar, our focus on story is very specific,” says Beth Sasseen, Pixar University Relations Manager. “Through these workshops we want to help future storytellers grow, who will in turn help Pixar tell different, diverse stories. We have many Sheridan alumni working at Pixar, so running the workshop here was a natural fit.”

Sheridan animation alumni have found great success with Pixar, including Domee Shi (Animation, 2011), who won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2018 for her directorial debut, Bao.

Workshop leaders, story artists Derek Thompson and Kristen Lester (Animation, 2004), challenged the students to develop and storyboard a short story and pitch it to their peers during the workshop. Storyboards are sequences of simple drawings that help quickly communicate a film’s scenes and narrative. Thompson and Lester guided the students through critique sessions of each other’s work in the style of Pixar’s peer feedback approach, demonstrating how to mine for new details that could reveal more twists, humour and emotional impact in each story. Above all, Thompson and Lester encouraged students to remain authentic and true to the spirit of their own stories.

The Pixar team hopes the workshop will empower the participating students with the skills they will need to make their unique creative voices stand out as they prepare to enter the industry — and notes that the future looks bright for these young animators.

"We have many Sheridan alumni working at Pixar, so running the workshop here was a natural fit."

– Beth Sasseen, Pixar University Relations Manager –


Storyboard frame from Isabelle Caron’s short story Trikz.

Storyboard frame from Isabelle Caron’s short story Trikz.

Storyboard frame from Justin Leal’s short story Wet Bug.

Storyboard frame from Justin Leal’s short story Wet Bug.