Matthew Luhn discusses Pixar, storytelling in campus forum

Matthew Luhn speaks about his career path to Pixar. (Arianna Davidson)

Pixar consultant Matthew Luhn addressed students in a campus-wide forum Jan. 29 about his education and career path and the importance of storytelling.

According to Luhn, he was offered an animation job in 1992 when he was 19 and still had not graduated from the California Institute of Arts.

“I became the youngest animator on the ‘Simpsons’ TV show,” Luhn said.

Luhn said he was excited by this opportunity because he had longed to do something related his entire life. However, according to Luhn, the “Toy Story” group sought after him shortly after he joined the “Simpsons” in 1993.

“I wanted to be focused on the big pictures, and when the opportunity came up outside of Hollywood, working on film and my first CG animated film, I wanted it,” Luhn said. “(The ‘Simpsons’ team) asked me to come in to hear a pitch for a film they were developing, which would mean I would leave the safety net of Hollywood.”

Luhn was one of the animators who started working on the animations of the green army men in “Toy Story.” Luhn worked with a group of 80 people on “Toy Story” and everyone thought it would fail.

Luhn said he wanted to represent the Pixar team through storytelling and he would get that chance if the movie did better than expected.

“The real reason I took the job is because they promised me that if ‘Toy Story’ did well, they would move me into the story department at Pixar,” Luhn said.

According to Luhn, Pixar assigned him anything and he would spend all weekend working on it. Luhn said he was happy to devote his time to all things work-related because he wasn’t married and didn’t have kids at the time.

“‘Toy Story’ ended up being the highest grossing movie of the year, which meant that we got to make another movie, and I officially got moved into the story department, where I worked on 10 different films,” Luhn said.

According to Luhn, through his time at Pixar, the large amount of storytelling knowledge he gained helped him build upon his own passion for telling a story in a way that fascinates an audience.

“There is something we always believed in at Pixar, above everything else, which was that the story is the most important part, beyond actors, CG animations and music,” Luhn said. “Without story, you have nothing.”

Luhn said he believes storytelling will bring success in creating anything and that it makes any piece more powerful.

“Only five percent (of people) remember any statistics after they are shared, while 65 percent (of people) remember the stories told,” Luhn said. “Stories are 22 times more memorable than facts alone.”

Luhn said Apple founder Steve Jobs knew how to make a connection to people and tell a story.

“Steve Jobs was able to use moments that happened to him as metaphors to explain things that were too boring for a general audience,” Luhn said. “Even something that is data and analytical-heavy, (Jobs) could turn it into a story.”

According to Luhn, when Jobs introduced the Mac, he took a computer IBM had already made and made the computer look like a human’s face and made it say “Hello” to customers.

Luhn described how to take an object and use visual storytelling to connect with an audience and encouraged students to use research to make any story they create or write genuine.

“(Research) is the most important thing with a story and making an authentic connection with people,” Luhn said. “Make sure the characters feel real.”

According to Luhn, Pixar started to bring in psychiatrists and psychologists to figure out how people think and how their emotions work to make Pixar’s storytelling legitimate.

“All of this research and homework pays off to make the film better,” Luhn said. “All that research strengthens and pluses our story even more.”

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