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  • Writer's pictureMakena Schmidt

Pursuing Creativity Through Story Xperiential

Makena Schmidt working on her Story Xperiential assignments
Makena Schmidt working on her Story Xperiential assignments

Starting Off as a Young Storyteller

Being a girl with an unexplainable obsession for storytelling and animation since I could pick up a pencil, finding Story Xperiental was like a dream. Getting the opportunity to finally work alongside so many other passionate creators and storytellers, as well as to get direct advice from those at Pixar, was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever enjoyed.

March of 2022 was when I was first introduced to Story Xperiental. Immediately, I was thrilled to find something that could feed my passion. Since I was about ten years old, I've been certain that animation and storytelling were what I wanted to do for a living, but I could never find any programs able to effectively guide me through the key components and steps of creating a “Pixar-worthy” story. Before this discovery, I had no other choice but to guide myself, endlessly working on my artwork and creating small comic strips on sticky notes—not exactly the most glamorous. But, over the course of the program, I’ve learned from those in the industry that the most effective way of sparking an idea is by being loose and not being too precious with your work.

The Launch of My Creative Journey

To kick off Week 1 of the program, we tuned in to our first weekly livestream in which a Pixar guest guided us through the task of creating 3 “What if...?” story starters. As I dove into the first week, I challenged myself to stay loose with my work and to take inspiration from the world around me, a method I would maintain throughout the nine weeks. When it finally came time to start brainstorming characters and a storyline, I found myself bouncing back and forth between a handful of ideas. Eventually, I decided on the direction I wanted to steer my story in and figured out what I wanted to make others feel when watching it.

During Week 2, I created my central character, Po, an extremely isolated grandfather who has, for years, been consumed with the fact that his one and only companion, his granddaughter, Pepper, has removed herself completely from his life, which eventually forces him to think of a unique and creative way to bring her back. The following weeks consisted of mock-ups, voice recordings, and most importantly, storyboarding for my project, which I dubbed “Baked Back Together”.


Finding my Voice in Storytelling

Throughout submission week, I had analyzed my reel endlessly until I realized that something was off: I wasn’t completely satisfied—it needed more. Within my last remaining hours, I came to the decision to start my boards from scratch. I scrapped everything and challenged myself to redo it all within the time left before final submissions. By the end of the day, I had successfully completed every single board and compiled them into a full reel. That being said, I came across one last issue: my story lacked any sort of narration whatsoever, making it nearly incomprehensible.

With a limited time frame and my obvious incapability for voice-acting, I felt doomed. That was until I came up with an idea that saved my reel: my brother, who has a natural affinity for screen presence, was my only resort. I rushed into his room with 15 minutes left before the deadline and practically demanded he do the voice acting, granting him complete creative freedom. He was up for the task—although, maybe a bit tired; it was nearly 11 PM after all. However, after some collaboration, we successfully completed the final story reel for my short.

After completing and submitting my story reel, I was overwhelmed and delighted to receive feedback from my peers that I’d gone through this amazing experience with. Since the start of the nine weeks, we were encouraged and taught the importance of feedback and how it can shape and enhance a story. This component was a key piece when it came to creating my story and determining how to deliver specific boards and narration. The feedback made it clear to me how others interpreted my story and if it was delivered in a way that they could understand.

Ending off the Spring 2022 session of Story Xperiental, an awards night was held to appreciate all the work put into these projects and the creative guidance from those leading us throughout. As I watched, I was blown away to receive Best Story Reel for "Baked Back Together", which I had worked on endlessly for weeks.

Makena Schmidt holding her Certificate of Recognition
Makena Schmidt holding her Certificate of Recognition


Continuing the Story

Since completing the program, I've continued my work in storytelling and art by creating my first animated short film and have gotten the opportunity to illustrate a book which I am currently working on. I’m also rejoining Story Xperiential with a second story reel for their Summer 2022 program.

These past five months since beginning my journey with Story Xperiental have been the most inspiring, enjoyable, and busy time of my life. I have gotten opportunities I wouldn’t have even dreamt of before this program, and they have sparked an even more powerful drive to keep creating and finding new ways of storytelling. I am so fortunate for my experience with Story Xperiental and the positive impact it has had on me and my creative journey. I continue, and plan on continuing, Story Xperiential for as long as I possibly can—because there is no such thing as having no more stories to tell.


About the Author

Makena is an aspiring 16-year-old storyteller and artist from Vancouver, Canada. She found her love for art and animation at a very young age through mediums such as sculpting and stop-motion animation, and now, through creating her own short animations, storyboards, and illustrations. Makena plans on pursuing an education and career in animation.



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