What’s the difference between taking a photo and telling a story visually? Our upcoming Visual Storytelling Festival is a full day of workshops and activities from professional storytellers. To get you in festival mood watch these videos from 3 of the world’s most inspiring storytellers – Pete Doctor, Pixar storyteller and director of Monsters Inc; Jimmy Nelson, creator of the Before They Pass Away project and National Geographic Photo Director David Griffin.

Introduction to Storytelling from Pixar

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

The modern masters of storytelling, Pixar, encapsulate the spirit of Maya Angelou’s famous quote, often reducing grown-up audiences to tears with the deep connections their stories create. A key to Pixar’s success is the development of complex and relatable characters who draw us in with their constructed and flawed personalities.

Pete Doctor is the Director of Inside Out, Up and Monsters Inc but these hugely popular stories weren’t always well received by test audiences. Original edits of Monsters Inc left viewers confused and disconnected. Pete explains the point when he realized what was missing from these stories – the connection.

“What I figured out is that it’s actually not about a monster who scares kids, it’s about a man becoming a Father. That was what was happening to me. So why write about what you know? It’s because probably what happened to you made you feel some particular way. And what you’re trying to do really when you tell a story is to get that audience to feel that same feeling.”

> Visit the Khan Academy website for more storytelling training from Pixar

Jimmy Nelson’s Before They Pass Away Project

“Before They Pass Away” is a project from storyteller Jimmy Nelson which has so far captured the stories of 35 unique tribes from 44 countries. Driven by an urgency to capture the history of humanity before the members of these tribes pass, Jimmy reveals the self-exploration at the root of the project and the depth of his emotional connection to the characters and their plot.  

“If you’re not energized by life you collapse on the couch and indulge in someone else’s life. When you have energy you want to make your own movie. Ultimately this is a very personal journey of wanting to feel and survive and feel alive. When you start to cry you start to feel. And when you start to feel, you know what you want to communicate.”

In this video Jimmy explains how reindeers and a late night vodka fueled bathroom disaster in a tent on the side of a mountain in Mongolia created the connections he needed to capture the stories of his companions. Impacted by alopecia as a child, Jimmy learnt deeply how our visual appearance impacts how others treat us and has turned this pain into motivation for his journey.

“I truly believe by being vulnerable, we can communicate with anyone.”

> Visit Jimmy Nelson's Website

How Photography Connects Us

National Geographic is more than just a magazine, known globally for the iconic images that document the world around us. Photo director David Griffin uses examples from photo journalists at the top of their game to show us that capturing the right story every time can’t be the accident that so many of us rely on.

“Photography carries a power that holds up under the relentless swirl of today’s saturated media world.  Photos emulate the way our minds freeze a significant moment.”

David sends photographers to war zones, the depths of the ocean and the peaks of mountains with instructions to capture stories that connect the audience to these places. In this video David shares his most memorable examples including the story of Annie, an elephant slaughtered by poachers for her ivory. The crew were documenting the animals of Africa using infrared triggered cameras to capture lions and crocodiles with some interesting results – but not the iconic photo story National Geographic is known for.

Capturing a moon lit photo of a herd of elephants by a watering hole changed the direction of the story and they named the matriarch who held their attention Annie. In the national park, the crew and the animals were protected by the rangers who keep the poachers away, introducing these antagonist and protagonist characters to the narrative. The plot got interesting when the elephants migrated away from the park and Annie, along with 20 of her herd, were killed and stripped of their tusks. The images connected us to Annie, created empathy for the rangers and anger for the poachers, punctuated by a deep sadness at the loss of these creatures and their experiences that we’d been encouraged to feel.

> Visit the National Geographic Website