A Story Artist Story: Interview With Matthew Luhn (Part 3)

Aaaaannnnnd here we are with Part 3 of my interview with Pixar Story Artist Matthew Luhn.

You can find Part 1 of Matthew’s interview here. And Part 2 here.

Hope you dig it. I know I did.

Do you have your own kind of process of how you think through a sequence?


But I’ve gotten better at it. When I get my script, I pretty much just let it sink in a little bit. Just kind of think about it. It’s really an 80% thinking and 20% drawing kind of thing. I don’t want to just sit there and hope that my doodles might turn into a sequence.

Lately what I like to do is, from the sequence I just start thinking of those ‘key moments‘. I kind of think of them like ‘beat boards’ and I develop thumbnails from those shots or those moments in that sequence that I know that I want to be there.

I sometimes find that when I just start at the very beginning and go straight ahead, I start wasting time doing A’s and B’s and getting into the details. Because I know when I get to the end I’ll go, “Oh great. Everything else I did at the beginning, I’ve changed my mind on.” Then I have to go and change it.

So if I just get those key moments down, I kind of use those at the ‘tent poles’ to putting up the circus tent sort of thing. Then I can start putting in those little in-between moments to string it all together.

What’s your favorite kind of sequence to work on?

Probably comedy and character based stuff. That’s what I usually get too. I’ll get the ‘idea-guy-comedy-problem-solving’ stuff.

I’ve gotten better at where I’ve told myself that I want to keep versatile, so I’ll take on action based sequences once in a while. But my heart really is with the funny stuff. And they know that.

What’s your best piece of advice for people who dream of being story artists in feature animation?

I would say if you’re in high school and you’re young, I know that you’re passionate about getting right into story but to just remember that those basic life drawing, draftsmanship kind of classes are really good for you.

And they will pay off even if they may seem boring at first. Being able to do that and being able to transfer those images inside your head onto paper as best you can.

I would also say doing improv helps out a lot with idea development. Being able to come up with ideas with limitations.

And then the other thing I would say is the more you actually storyboard, the better you’re going to get at it. The easiest thing to do to get better is to just go on the internet and go to one of those free scripts websites and print out just a couple of pages of a movie script and board it out.

Don’t just copy what was already done in the movie. Do your own version. You’ll learn a lot from that.

Watch movies and freeze frame through shots and sketch them up on paper. Listen to the commentary of why the DP made the decisions they did with the shots. That’ll help out.

And also the biggest thing is just being in an environment with other story artists, especially ones that have more experience than you do. You will learn from them.

There’s only so much you can do sitting in a room by yourself storyboarding. You need to be around other people who know what they’re doing and who do it well. That’s where you really learn.

That’s why it’s great when you’re able to take a class at university or college and have someone who’s experienced at storyboarding as your teacher. Cause you’re going to learn.

What should you have in place before applying to a big studio? Do you think you should start with television and work up to feature? Or do you think people can get right in?

Well, I’ve seen people get pulled in, even in the last couple of years, right out of college.

But I think that every different studio has a different type of ‘sensibility’ of how they make movies. During the time those great Disney movies were being made, there was also the Warner Bros. Studio. And they were making these irreverent, offensive cartoons for their time compared to the happy fairy tale Disney stuff. It was just a different kind of sensibility.

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