Illustration by Modicum designer John A.

Take a note from Pixar: How to make your brand’s video memorable

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

This age old idiom rings true when it comes to Visual Language and the Art of Storytelling. According to Fast Co. Design, Visual Language refers to “a system of communication using visual elements.”

Pixar Animation Studios, arguably the most famous computer animation film studio, has teamed up with Khan Academy to create Pixar in a Box. Pixar in a Box gives a behind-the-scenes look at how some of our favorite animated movies were created. These films are filled with visual cues such as line, shape, space, and color, which are choices carefully made by designers to help tell a story.

It all starts with a line

A simple line is the core building block to any animation and can transform from something static to something dynamic through the line quality. Lines can show the viewer direction, they can have weight, and they can change shape with added pressure.

Take Merida from Brave for example. Just by looking at her hair, you can tell a lot about her character without knowing the story. Claudia Chung, the simulation supervisor for Brave, said: “We created these great individual ‘breakaway’ curls that really add to her wild spirit.” Merida’s hair shows that she is a free spirit and not someone who can be contained.

Source: Pixar

Changing Shape

Basic shapes are another core building block to animation, and certain shapes have certain emotional connotations. The three most common shapes used in character development are squares, circles, and triangles.

This can be clearly seen in follow up film to Monsters Inc., Monsters University. Characters shaped through squares are seen as powerful, strong, and stable, like Sully. Circles are seen as soft, friendly, and safe, like Mike Wazowski. Triangles, which are pointy and threatening, often showing action, speed, and tension, like Dean Hardscrabble.

Source: Pixar
Source: Pixar
Source: Pixar

Bringing it all together

Artists meticulously combine lines and shapes in space to complete a story. In this example from Ratatouille, you can see how in both scenes Remy the rat is looking at the Eiffel Tower, but the story encapsulates a different emotion.

In the first scene, the usage of lines in the window creates a physical barrier between Remy and his dreams. The artist also uses perspective to show how small Remy is compared to his big dream.

In the second scene, the perspective is switched, and now Remy is the biggest item in the frame, making him the first thing you see, and the most important. He is now the same size as the Eiffel Tower, making his dreams now seem tangible.

Source: Giphy
Source: Giphy

Pixar movies always seem to stick out in our minds year after year because of their emotional impact.

So, how can you apply this same logic to your business?

Take a look at our case study with CDK. Cyber security in cars is quickly becoming a serious threat, and CDK had tons of data to prove it. All they needed was to win over the audience and get them onboard. Purposeful and subtle animations can convey a coherent narrative that will stick with the consumer-just like Pixar movies.

We set the first part in the safety-video-era of the 50s to give a clear and cheeky context and then, in the second part, transitioned to today. The message is clear: times may change, but driving always has its dangers — today, they’re just way more complex.

This screengrab, taken at 00:30, shows how a combination of basic lines and shapes can create a clear story. This story involves direction, motion, and emotion. Recent hacking stunts have shown that we are vulnerable and that accidents can happen not only in the physical world but in the cyber world as well. Through the lines on the road to the lines surrounding the car, you can tell that the car is going forward in motion. The window frames not only help create the logical perspective of a car driving through, but it also helps frame the car. This makes it the center of focus and therefore the most important aspect of the scene.

Source: Modicum

Deliberate visual cues can bring your story to life and are the reason why Pixar movies have such an emotional impact on the masses. Pixar creates a narrative that people will remember, and your brand can too.

If you need design work for your brand, our award-winning designers have got you covered.

Originally published at on July 26, 2017.