The Shot Tells the Story: The Wall-E Wrap Up

      24 Comments on The Shot Tells the Story: The Wall-E Wrap Up
All images © 2008 Pixar Animation Studios / Walt Disney Pictures.

Yes, I’m alive.

Sorry for the delay in this last post, but I was having one of those craptastic weeks where you want to curl up in a ball, shut down your blog and feel like you suck at the very thing you’re trying to teach people about.

But I’m better now.

Much better. And I won’t be shutting down anything, thank you very much. : )

So back to business and Wall-E and all that fun stuff.

This is a bonus post to the long ass series ‘The Shot Tells the Story’ where I used the movie Wall-E as my lesson plan. You can find all the links to the breakdowns of the six shots I discussed in the introduction post.

For this post, I wanted to grab a short sequence and take it shot by shot, exactly how it is in the movie. That was easier said than done because even a short sequence could end up making a mega-long post.

So a few things to keep in mind.

First off, this doesn’t start at the beginning of the sequence. I started a little further in. So there are no really wide shots straight off the bat. There’s only one and it’s later on. You wouldn’t start a sequence like this without going wider sooner, OK?

And I only grabbed one frame for each scene. It would have been nice to see more, but it was getting way too long.

This means looking at the shots the way I have them, there appears to be some jump cuts and stuff. There really aren’t because in some of the shots, Wall-E ended up leaving the shot at the end. So it’s a kind of ‘condensed version’ of the sequence.

But that’s OK because this is really all about the shots and not the action or anything.

Cool? Good.

So let’s see a full sequence and what the shots are saying.

(And see if all of my previous posts made any sense or not.)

“Oh, there they are.” Here we have a Long Shot. This is in the middle of montage-type sequence so it stays on these for a while.

It’s showing Wall-E going through assorted objects in the junk pile. Lots of fun stuff going on here and nice little gags throughout.

“Oh, there they are.” This shot was good for these because it’s wide enough to see where he his and close enough to see Wall-E and his actions. The audience plays the observer. We’re hiding out in the junk pile watching him.

“You need to see this and only this.” Then, zoom! Right in for an Extreme Close-Up of the little box and the sparkling diamond ring. It’s a nice break from the wider shots and you need to get this close to see the tiny object.

“I’m gonna show you something.” Then it’s on to the Medium Shot. Why? It’s close enough so we still see the ring box and wide enough to see the upper body of Wall-E.

We need that room for when he tosses the ring and plays with the box. We don’t need to go any wider.

“Look at me.” It’s all relative, remember? So this is a Full Shot on the cooler. It gives enough space around it for us to see the objects being thrown into it.

Too close and our eyes wouldn’t catch them.

“Look at me.” These could have been jump shots (because they’re both Full Shots), but they work because they change the angle of the camera and the angle of the cooler. So it’s cool.

“I’m gonna show you something.” Now it gets a little closer for more tossing. Notice this ‘cooler bit’ is in three shots.

Three is the magic ‘funny number’. He’s been tossing many things into the cooler. The last one gets closer and drives it home. It makes it amusing.

“Look at me.” Now we have a Full Shot of Wall-E. It serves to make us watch how precisely he places his blocks of trash row by row. We need to see his full body and his ‘legs’ for this.

“Look at me.” Another Full Shot. It’s important we see what he’s holding, yet wide enough to get the action of the extinguisher going off. Works great.

“Oh, there they are.” This Long Shot on the trash pile and the cooler gives lots of ‘air’ to see the extinguisher come flying in and out of shot.

It shows us he had no intention of getting it in the cooler.

“Where are we?” Finally! Now we have our Extreme Wide Shot. Like I said, there was one of these much earlier on. I just couldn’t show it. It reminds us of ‘where we are’ like a good Extreme Wide Shot should.

“Oh, there they are.” We’ve seen Wall-E working all day and now he gets to this refrigerator. We need the space to get the whole thing in because it’s important.

“You need to see this and only this.” Nice and close with an Extreme Close Up from inside the fridge. Very ‘in our face’. Then the doors fall away to reveal the next shot.

“This is important.” Which is a Close-Up of Wall-E. We see his eyes adjust and him stare off-screen. We get the sense something is up.

“Oh, there they are.” Now we’re back wider. The timing of him staring and then approaching the fridge gets our curiosity up. What is in that fridge?

“This is important.” Another Close-Up of Wall-E staring. Yes, this certainly feels important.

“You need to see this and only this.” This shot changes from a Close-Up of Wall-E to an Extreme Close-Up of the plant. The change in focus makes it so, even though we still see him in the background.

We really need to see this plant.

“Look at me.” All relative again. Since nothing else enters the scene, I feel this is a Full Shot of the plant. Take it all in. We also need to be wide enough to see it’s growing in a pile of earth.

“This is important.” Another Close-Up. The plant is out of focus, so it’s all about Wall-E and him staring. So many close shots definitely make us feel all of this is important.

“This is important.” Wall-E scooping up the plant. At first we almost think he’s going to crush it. But no. He’s going to take it home, of course.

“I’m gonna show you something.” This shot was a toss up. It is close but because of the angle and Wall-E’s arms, to me it feels like more like a Medium Shot.

I guess “this is important” was getting redundant. But it still IS important. So yeah, it could be a Close-Up.

“This is important.” Definitely important. Definitely a Close-Up. The gentle touch he gives the plant tells us so much about the human-ness of Wall-E.

His instincts even tell him “this is important”.

So there you have it.

Better late than never, right?

I hope you enjoyed this Wall-E series as much as I did. I didn’t even get sick of him!

It was a great movie to break apart and take a closer look at. Especially that first half. It really proved what I believe as far as visual storytelling goes.

“The Shot Tells the Story.”

Read the Storyboard Blog by RSS Feed or by email because I haven’t a clue what I’m going to write about next.

24 thoughts on “The Shot Tells the Story: The Wall-E Wrap Up

  1. Level_Head

    Very nice. I will come back to this, for several reasons — not least because your blog is a pleasant place to visit. This was the sequence that allowed me to speculate that Wall•E’s towers contained approximately seven million cubes, and took just under two years each to build. Pixar went to some trouble to put those clues out there (and many others) — we see the passage of time and how many cubes he can place in those hours.

    They did an excellent job — and so did you.

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  2. Nick

    Great Series! I love coming back to your blog for tips on story and interesting articles. Keep it up.

  3. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    @ Level_Head – Did you read about the estimated ‘cubeage’ or did you just figure it out yourself? That’s quite an interesting bit of trivia nonetheless. 🙂

    And I hope you do continue to visit. I enjoy your thoughtful comments! Thanks.

    @ Nick – And I hope you continue to come back too! The end of the Wall-E series certainly does NOT mean the end of more posts. Thanks for the kind words. 🙂

  4. coffeedrinker

    I hope you got all the rest you need! Many thanks for finishing this, I can’t wait to share it with my students 🙂

  5. Level_Head

    These are my own guesses. My write-up on the topic is here, with how I reached those numbers using the shots you highlight above:

    The combination of the “Look at me” full shot of Wall•E stacking, plus the sequence of “Where are we” (and in this case, “What am I doing”) shots of the foundation layer, let me get to a base dimension of 150 cubes on a side for this tower.

    I’ve not seen any comment on sizes or cube counts from PIxar, and I’d love to. I just discovered a couple of days ago that they confirmed my estimate of nearly five kilometers (three miles) for the length of the Axiom. Many were saying that there was no possible way that it could be that big, but a Pixar animator commented about the juxtaposition of cockroach physics and “five-kilometer-long ships landing”. I’d estimated 4.54 kilometers, so I was quite pleased.

    I don’t draw, but I’m finding myself reading your work and thinking about the mental “where are we” that readers must go through in written works. Your descriptions of developing a sense of place, and of changing the audience’s focus, have already influenced my writing.

    I’d encourage any other non-artist readers to take your descriptions and concepts to heart as well. Even advertisers must work in the same conceptual world, and such storyboarding, properly done, greatly improves an ad’s impact on the audience.

    A trivia bit for one of your shots above: We see Wall•E drop several items into the cooler, including that boot and the trophy cup. But apparently, the trophy cup was of only marginal interest to him; by the time he puts the plant in the boot, the trophy cup has been discarded.

    Perhaps he’s holding out for an Oscar instead. I sincerely hope he’s able to get it.

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  6. Friar

    Did you see the Simpsons this week?

    A Wall-E type robot eats Homer, and spits him out as a Homer-Cube.

    (Just thought I’d let you know…). 😉

    That movie must be doing all right, if it’s spoofed on the Simpsons!

  7. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    @ coffeedrinker – Yes I am now well rested. And gleefully unemployed again. It’s all good. I hope your students enjoy it. Let me know how it was received. 🙂

    @ Level_Head – That’s awesome you figured that out (or crazy…I’m not sure yet 🙂 ). And thanks so much for your feedback from a non-artist. You have no idea how much I appreciate it.

    Because that’s what I’d like to do…also help screenwriters with the visual aspects of their stories. Very cool that it helped you! 🙂

    And that trophy bit may have just been a slip in continuity. Good eye.

    @ Friar – I haven’t watched the Simpsons in quite a while. It seems to have lost the “funny” in the last few years. But very cool about the Wall-E reference! 🙂


  8. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    That’s good to hear. I only own Season 5 on DVD and it’s SUCH a good one. They were in their prime back then. 🙂

    I just always forget to watch now!

  9. Level_Head

    I’ve never watched an episode of “The Simpsons”; I watch almost no television. But I do note that WALL•E has been apparently the most awarded and recognized movie of 2008.

    The list of awards is astounding, and folks have been keeping it up here if you’re interested:

    You picked a good one to dissect.

    It would be interesting to see exactly what the storyboards for the plant sequence — with those crucial changes of focus — look like.

    There’s an interesting bias in the movie that, no doubt, first arose in the storyboards. The Axiom’s shots — interior and exterior — are something like 96% right-handed. The outside views from the commercial to the approach in space are all from the right (the starboard side). The interior shots are almost all midline or to the right — the only Lido deck shot that is at all left of center is the shot of the kids and nanny bot, where she tells them to “remain calm … remain calm”. It’s only a few feet to the left, and there’s little detail.

    There IS a left side: part of it is shown briefly during the landing sequence, and during the spacewalk. But I needed a left interior shot looking at the bridge (and the spindle going up to it) — and was bemused by the right-hand bias.

    Since these are exquisitely detailed three-dimensional models, it is not likely a requirement that it be that way. Do you ever find yourself having to mentally shake yourself out of a rut, to look at things in the storyboard from new angles? When you have matte paintings to contend with, you of course have limitations.

    Perhaps this is a topic, since you do a lot of work in the animation world: storyboarding for paintings versus models, and the constraints that the artist must keep in mind.

    Best wishes.

    And to quote Billy Joel: “You may be right: I may be crazy.” ];-)

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  10. steph

    I will never tire of Wall-E, or your series posts like this. I love them! They really change the way I watch movies.

    Which one is next? Bolt? 🙂 I’d love to hear what you thought of it. I’ve seen it twice. I loved their use of different perspectives for one event, like the blowup scene at the beginning, and the one of him leaping over something in slow-mo (we see side, top, etc.). Cool. The freaking pigeons were HI-larious!!

  11. t.sterling

    You mentioned three being the “funny number” and it reminded me of possibly the first DVD commentary I ever watched for a movie which might’ve been Disney’s Atlantis… it was an animated flick a couple years ago. I actually really liked it, I’m not sure why… but does there need to be a reason to enjoy something?

    Anyway, in the commentary, something that stuck with me was the director (I think) saying that someone told him that if you want the audience to remember something, show it to them 3 times. Such an event happened for this movie focusing on some girl’s bracelet thing. I couldn’t tell you why it was important, but I can tell you that I remember it. I felt the same about the WALL-E and EVE holding hands (which was done more than 3 times… I think) but WALL-E’s eye thing, when he moves them up and down. That’s something I caught on too immediately and made me think of the number three. I was curious if you heard something like that too?

    I know this belongs in a different post, but I showed the Iron Giant to my parents and they really liked it a lot. It surprises me because my dad groans at most animated movies, and my mom never heard of this one and it didn’t feature cute characters like WALL-E or songs like Beauty and the Beast (which is her favorite). Anyway, just though I’d share. And I’ve watched the WALL-E about 10 times last week. I decided to stop so I won’t get sick of it. Impossible.

    Don’t work too hard. And no being a blob either.

  12. Level_Head

    T.Sterlinh: “I felt the same about the WALL-E and EVE holding hands (which was done more than 3 times… I think)”

    You know the amazing thing? We all have this feeling — but it never happened at all. Not once during the movie do we see Wall•E and Eve voluntarily join hands.

    He grabs her arm in the storm — he grabs her arm again on the park bench. He offers to take her hand but is refused several times. She offers to take HIS hand in the garbage airlock, and he refuses her (to get the discarded boot).

    At the end, she takes his hand, but he’s unconscious.

    During the credits we see that they are holding hands (by the tree), but we don’t see the moment of joining.

    Only at the last moment, when the two “sprites” come together at the last second of the credits, do we see the couple actually join hands.

    The “three times” business on eye movement makes sense. They did this with the fire extinguisher, too — once on Earth, once in Life Pod L9-12, and later the same extinguisher for the Define Dancing sequence. From a storytelling perspective, I appreciated the placement of the fire extinguisher up front that would be so significant later on. (And wondered how the bra would figure in. Perhaps it’s just as well that the bra was a … false front, so to speak.)

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  13. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Wee! Such great comments and I’m heading out for a few days of R & R. So I won’t be as detailed as I would like. 🙂

    @ Steph – I’d love to do one on Bolt. Maybe when it comes out on DVD I will. I can take another direction and talk about action shots or something.

    Could be a good one for that. So glad you like these, thanks. 🙂

    @ T – Yeah, if the filmmaker is showing us something a few times, it probably means it’s important and they really want us to take note and remember it. Yet another useful tool.

    It’s much like with ‘Tarzan’ with them placing hand against hand throughout the film.

    That’s awesome your parents liked the Iron Giant. I’m not surprised. It really has a wide appeal because it’s just good storytelling.

    And as it happens I’m an unemployed bum again. Long story that I may or may not write about. But I’m off to get rid of some of my ‘blobbiness’. 🙂

    @ Level_Head – Great observations. Even though they never ‘really’ held hands it was the multiple references and attempts that made it stick with us. So as T pointed out, it still feels like they did.

    The bra was just one of many ‘one off gags’ that are only there for the moment and moves on. But you can see the fire extinguisher went on a little longer and ended up with him tossing it FAR away. So it stuck with us longer and we made the connection later.

    These ‘call-backs’ are another awesome storytelling tool that I’d like to talk about it future posts. (You give me good post ideas buddy!)

    As far as 3D boarding goes, in short, yes I have staged things to make things easier for builds and the like. I’ve set up shots so they only take place in one corner of a room for example.

    Then they didn’t have to build a whole room but a ‘set’ with just one corner. Saves them time and money and they love that I thought about those things. With more low budget projects, these things matter. 🙂

    Thanks everyone!

  14. steph

    Oh yeah, I forgot it’s not out yet. Duh. Okay, well, I look forward to whatever comes next – but after your R and R!

  15. cheeks

    woooah! how come you notice it. nice work you’ve given me a wisdom how they develop it and why they use those shot and now I understand I can’t wait to apply it on my own project… thanks ’til next time

  16. Level_Head

    May I offer one more aspect of storyboarding shots before you move on from WALL•E?

    The ending if the story uses a visual metaphor of darkness and light that was, in my opinion, inspired. I don’t know if it originated in the storyboards; I’d think it likely did.

    It’s a part of storytelling that rises above merely drawing shapes on paper — and it’s the sort of crucial thinking, in literally framing the story, that would let those who can do this rise above the ordinary.

    Here’s what I’m talking about: It is the metaphor of shadow and light, representing forms of loss and recovery. Let me describe this aspect of the scene near the ending:

    The rebuilt Wall•E rolls out of the truck, and the distraught Eve watches for a moment and flies to him.

    Wall•E has stopped in the shadow of a vehicle. Eve, near him, is in full sunlight. In fact, she turns him sideways slightly to get his attention; this move keeps her in the light whereas the space in front of him before was partially shaded.

    She tries desperately to bring him back, to no avail. He is still, very much, lost in the dark. She lifts his head up, tenderly, and for a moment Wall•E’s head is in the sunlight — but it is only temporary. As soon as she lets him go, his head drops back into shadow. We see them from a distance, momentarily — she glistening white, Wall•E so dark that he is merely silhouetted.

    The shadow line falls exactly between them, even on the extreme closeups.

    After her kiss goodbye, when Wall•E’s stored memory and personality returns and he is back to himself, his head lifts into the light, this time for real. A moment later, he rolls forward out of the shadow he’d been in, and is fully in sunlight for the first time in this scene.

    The light and shadow aspects, once noticed, become obvious, and I thought it helped evoke the intense feelings of this moment in a very clever and subtle way. I think that even if you’re not consciously aware of it, the lighting will still affect your perceptions of the scene.

    From a storyboarding aspect, this is brilliance, it seems to me. I’d enjoy seeing your treatment of it.

    What do you think?

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  17. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    @ Steph – The R & R was good. Still gotta think of something…even though I have a few ideas. 🙂

    @ cheeks – You’re very welcome! I’m glad these posts have helped you out. 🙂

    @ Level-Head – Frankly, when I storyboard (for TV) I don’t pay *that* much attention to lighting unless it’s something very specific that I want.

    I would assume that you’re right in this instance and the light and shadow for that scene was all planned in the storyboarding stage.

    You are the observant one!

    And this kind of play with light and shadow definitely affect the mood and feel of the story. It can play a big part in visual storytelling. Though this scene is more subtle and could very well be missed the first time around. I doubt I noticed it at first because I tend to focus on action and acting while I watch.

    But I think that’s how it should be. The first time you see a movie, you shouldn’t be ‘noticing the lighting’. It should just be part of the mood and helping to tell the story. 🙂

  18. Pingback: The Shot Tells the Story: Dissecting Wall-E | Karen J Lloyd's Storyboard Blog

  19. Miles

    Wow! This wrap-up really came full-circle. Reading through this post after going the previous ones really gave me an understanding of how and when to use different shots, as well as what they say to the audience. It makes me wish I could have been in your class! (I guess I sort of am anyway)

    Great series as usual!

  20. Denny Cahill

    What a movie. So happy you picked this because for my project I want to have very little dialogue, some great tips here i can use Wall-E is a great example of subtle animation to really drive a whole film I love it. And I think I can now see when to use these shots which will make my project flow so much better Thank you so much! 😀

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