Everything Begins With a Story

Storytelling has played a vital role in our survival – allowing us to share information, knowledge, and values from generation to generation. Story is the medium through which we receive our early learning as to right and wrong, good versus evil, reward and punishment, social values, etc.

Everything begins with a story.

We respond to storytelling. It engages our attention; no matter how old we get, who doesn’t love a good story?

Understanding this, Walt Disney created a technique in the early days of his cartoon films that helped illustrate the flow and continuity of stories – the storyboard.

Storyboards are tools that allowed Walt and his artists to envision a film prior to production. It allowed his team to have a shared vision of the story they were telling and how it would unfold. As a bonus to driving the creative development, it also offered a cost-effective way to experiment with a film early on, so that when production began, costs could be minimized.

Decades later, the tradition of storyboards continues on, though it has long expanded past just films. At Walt Disney Imagineering, rides, shows, and films for Disney’s theme parks around the world are the objects of regular storyboarding.

For each ride, show, or attraction, a logical story sequence is created. Almost every aspect of a project is broken sown into progressive seen sketches, called storyboard panels, that reflect the beginning, middle, and end of a Guest’s park experience.

The boards are eventually covered with every written thought, idea, and rough sketch the Imagineers can come up with.

Starting with brainstorm sessions, the Imagineer’s first thoughts, ideas, images, and feelings about the story they are creating are captured on note cards and quick sketches. For example, here’s an early sketch of Animal Kingdom’s Tree of Life.

courtesy Disney Imagineering

courtesy Disney Imagineering

The beauty of the Tree is matched by its engineering marvels as well. It is a massive structure, towering 145 feet into the air with a full canopy of natural-looking leaves, enclosing a 420-seat theater and meeting all building codes, including withstanding 145 mph winds. The engineering feats accomplished, it was time for the  Imagineering team of sculptors to create the magnificent bark of the tree – which is actually representations of animals. That process alone took almost a full year.

courtesy Orlando Sentinel

courtesy Orlando Sentinel

One of the most amazing pieces of art ever created by Disney’s Imagineers, it is beautiful and meaningful, and captures the essence of Animal Kingdom at a glance. It’s a poetic statement of the majesty of nature, the stunning diversity of animals, and our respect for our place in the world. As you approach the tree and the animal forms begin to reveal themselves, it becomes clear that there is almost no tree at all. That tree is the animal kingdom.


The experience of viewing the Tree of Life is like looking for animals in the clouds. The longer you look, the more you see – maybe even all 325 of them! This effect is the result of very careful planning during the design phase with the use of storyboards.


The storyboards are worked, re-worked, rearranged, and edited until the story is strong and clear. Only then will production proceed.

At Walt Disney Imagineering, everything they do revolves around the story – and storyboards have remained an essential tool in helping them tell the story.

That is the power of story – it is an experience that enables us to escape to another world, to be captivated and be in the moment.

What story are you trying to tell?

#10 in a series of #TopTenTakeaways

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