James Baker – Pixar

This week we had James Baker a freelance visual development and story artist who has worked on such features as Finding Nemo, Cars, Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up, The Boxtrolls, Toy Story that Time Forgot and Inside Out. Quite the portfolio.

It was really interesting to hear from the perspective of a story artist; you can find a lot online about the technical sides of CG films, but you do not often hear from the story artists. It was also great to hear some of the stories that James had from working in the industry, stories that you would not usually hear. For example, James was the voice of the crab in Finding Nemo.

When researching James I found his website:


James’ website is full of sketches and concept work that he has done throughout the years. It is a quite extensive and impressive portfolio; I’ve chosen a couple of my favorites to show below:


  • I actually built up the courage to ask a question on this talk. The question that I asked was “How was it working off of the script for WALL-E as the first half hour of the film has very little dialogue.”I had a huge list, but I thought that it would be a shame not to ask the question about storytelling without dialogue to the guy who storyboarded WALL-E; it’s done perfectly. In hindsight I regret not asking a follow up question about the ‘Married Life’ sequence in ‘Up’ as it is one of the best uses of visual storytelling in cinema.
  • James’ reply to my question was that “WALL-E was basically two movies; it was pitched by Pete Docter as a robot love story on an abandoned planet. The brain trust loved the idea, but they didn’t think it was enough until years later when Andrew Stanton came up with the second half. People always say that they love the first half and didn’t like the second half as much, which was inherent in the history of the project. There was no dialogue in the script, the script described the character’s movements in detail. Storyboarding on WALL-E was really difficult because if we wanted to tell the story clearly we basically had to animate the storyoard in twos. There were so many drawings to articulate these ideas where we couldn’t express anything verbally. That was a lot of work. I would not recommend it.”

  • The environment is different depending on the company, but a sense of community is important.
  • Constantly try to improve yourself, build you skills and experience by doing work relevant to your chosen area of expertise.
  • Having a lot of project work is great, but personal projects are also important. You need to create a good relationship between your personal and paid work.
  • Paid work shows what you have done; personal work shows what you can do.
  • The structure of a storyboard is taken directly from the script. You need to find the one part of a sequence that defines it and progress from there; what is the point of the shot?
  • Even if you have changed the focus of your career, keep the passion of what got you into the business alive.

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