Finding Story Ideas – A Simple Trick (Making an Animated Movie)

Writer’s block

Coming up with story ideas is always hard. But there are ways to make the process much easier and get over this “writer’s block” many people experience.

The Problem is that when facing an empty white page people often freak out and go blank. That is because the thought that you can do anything is scary and will often push you into inaction. This is why when I need to come up with ideas I like to use the Restriction Method.

The restriction method

The Restriction Method is exactly what it sounds like. People need restrictions. They love them. The Restriction Method in a nut shell is: “Draw a tree using only triangles” will encourage more action and creativity than “Draw a tree.” When you restrict yourself in the creative process you can find things you would never have found otherwise.

How did I use this to find an idea for my movie?

Since I will be doing this animated movie all by myself I knew I had to have restrictions. So I decided to write them down.

  • The movie will have only two main characters.
  • It will take place in 1 location
  • It needs to be humorous.
  • It will be under a minute.

I already have a stronger starting point then most people just by setting up those rules for myself, but I took it a step further. Since I am not so good with 3D modeling, I decided to restrict myself even more.

Ball and a cube

Ball and a cube

The main characters: A ball and a cube

Yes, I have decided that my two main characters would be a ball and a cube. No eyes, no legs or arms. Not only would that make my 3D modeling and rigging process a lot easier but it would also be an amazing challenge as an animator to bring life into such basic shapes.

So I have all the rules set up. It’s time to come up with the actual story.

The thought process for building the story

I started thinking and breaking down the elements in order to build the story.

What’s the main difference between a ball and a cube? Well, one is round and the other is flat. Where would those differences make a difference? The first thing that came to mind was walking. If you don’t have any legs or arms it will be a lot easier to move around as a ball rather than a cube. So I already have a conflict between the characters: A cube who is slowly trying to walk down a path and an arrogant ball zooming around, showing off, while the cube is struggling.

That’s a great start. I have established a conflict between the two characters and found an interesting dynamic. But then I had to find the twist. Not a shocking twist but something that changes things around. I asked myself: In what case would a cube have the advantage over a ball? The answer was clear: A slope. In a downhill slope the ball would roll quickly but going up the hill would be harder.

The story is working

I have a cube and a ball walking down a long road, and while the cube is struggling to move forward, the ball is rolling around freely and mocking the cube. When they reach a hill, the cube climbs easily (since it has flat sides) but the ball cannot get enough momentum to follow.

Will the cube help the ball after its display of arrogance and selfishness? That’s for me to decide, but look at that: I have a story. I would never have thought about that had I not restricted myself in the process.

You can watch the finished film here.

pixar_bookHow Pixar does it

Pixar’s stories almost always work so fantastically. If you’re wondering how they do it every time, we have actually analyzed the story structure of most of their films and boiled it down to an amazing book, the can teach you a lot about great storytelling.

Next step: Writing a script

Making an Animated Short (FREE ebook)

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