The se­cret to sto­ry­telling

Show and tell Chris Oat­ley has joined forces with Rome’s IDEA Academy to present The Story De­sign Con­fer­ence – a week-long event where you can min­gle with the pros

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While bond­ing over Ital­ian cui­sine with chil­dren’s book il­lus­tra­tor Va­le­rio Fab­bretti, Chris Oat­ley dis­cov­ered IDEA Academy in Rome, which, he says, has “a re­lent­less pas­sion for its stu­dents’ well-be­ing and suc­cess, and a very col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach to teach­ing.” Af­ter Skyp­ing with the team at IDEA, Chris was asked to fly out to Rome and do a work­shop or panel, plant­ing the seed for The Story De­sign Con­fer­ence.

Chris wanted his event to be unique: “I started think­ing about what’s not out there,” he says. “I didn’t want to cre­ate a sit­u­a­tion where the rhythm of the con­fer­ence was to sit qui­etly and watch fa­mous artists be awe­some. I wanted to cre­ate some­thing that was col­lab­o­ra­tive and per­sonal. I wanted a small venue: not this huge au­di­to­rium with thun­der­ous ap­plause, but rather a very per­sonal space where magic can hap­pen.”

Chris be­lieves the magic hap­pens when we share our sto­ries, so it was only nat­u­ral that the Rome-based event should tackle the dif­fi­cult task of sto­ry­telling.

How do you cre­ate a story, vis­ually? Whether it’s The Leg­end of Zelda or The Lord of the Rings, dra­matic sto­ries ig­nite imag­i­na­tions. “I al­most guar­an­tee you that most peo­ple en­ter this in­dus­try be­cause of one of those great vis­ual sto­ries,” says Chris,

“I re­cently re­alised that if I don’t have to do things solo, I don’t want to,” he con­tin­ues. “I’m very col­lab­o­ra­tive.” So Chris brought a few other in­dus­try ex­perts on board to cre­ate his “dream team”, be­gin­ning with screen­writer and di­rec­tor, Brian McDon­ald. “For those of you who don’t know, when Pixar gets stuck, he’s the guy they call.” Com­plet­ing Chris’ lec­turer list are Dis­ney’s Claire Keane and DreamWorks’ Jenn Ely.

The con­fer­ence will cover every­thing from the prac­ti­cal nuts and bolts of your work­flow to how to in­spire your cre­ativ­ity. Claire’s pre­sen­ta­tion will cover her spe­cial­ity: cre­at­ing be­liev­able char­ac­ters, and she’ll also be demon­strat­ing her pas­tel skills. Jenn will be ex­plain­ing colour scripts and pro­vid­ing a talk with Chris about dis­cov­er­ing your own unique vis­ual voice, ad­dress­ing the ques­tion of spe­cial­i­sa­tion and ver­sa­til­ity. Brian, mean­while, will tackle the in­te­gra­tion of pro­duc­tion de­sign and char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment: how the two can re­late and how you can tell sto­ries about your char­ac­ters through pro­duc­tion de­sign.

If that’s not enough, the team will be on hand to re­view your port­fo­lio and guide your per­sonal projects. Gen­er­ate your ideas through­out the week, get your cre­ative juices flow­ing while at the con­fer­ence and you have the abil­ity to bounce them off the ex­perts. “It’s go­ing to be em­pow­er­ing and in­spir­ing, but also very prac­ti­cal,” says Chris.

The Story De­sign Con­fer­ence runs from 27 Septem­ber to 2 Oc­to­ber, in Rome, Italy. Check out for more in­for­ma­tion and tick­ets.

I didn’t want to cre­ate a sit­u­a­tion where the rhythm of the con­fer­ence was to sit and watch artists be awe­some

The Story De­sign Con­fer­ence will be held in Rome, and here’s the key art­work as painted by Jenn Ely, who took vis­ual cues from the Eter­nal City.

As well as speak­ing to at­ten­dees, Claire Keane will be paint­ing in pas­tels – some­thing she’s well known for.

Jenn Ely be­lieves that art truly comes alive when knowl­edge and tech­nique col­lide with risk.

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