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Tiny Story: A Short Film About The Fundamentals of Narrative Design

Sebas and Clim boil visual storytelling down to its pure graphic essence.

Tiny Story: A Short Film About The Fundamentals of Narrative Design

Good storytelling looks ridiculously easy when it’s done well, but is in fact devilishly hard to pull off. (Just ask Ira Glass.) The only way to get better is to practice—and what better way to practice than by forcing yourself to tell a story with only the simplest possible elements? That’s what animators Sebas and Clim have done with Tiny Story, an animated film that plays like an Elements of Style for narrative design. Their tools: a dot, a line, and a colored background. Their results … well, just see for yourself:

Like Nathaniel Whitcomb and Moonbot Studios, Sebas and Clim earn points right away for thinking outside the standard widescreen box. But the simple elegance of what they do inside that box is what makes Tiny Story so delightful and inspiring.

The film brings simple action verbs to life by animating their dramatic essence with simple graphic shapes. It’s like a periodic table of storytelling atoms: "dream" is illustrated by three white dots arcing gently upwards like a kite string; "learn" shows two tiny circular loops closing into completion with a satisfying, solid pop; and in "love," a dot and a line "see" each other through a perforated barrier, move past it in graceful sync, and then clasp together like Romeo and Juliet. The genius of Tiny Story is how each of these vignettes—mere seconds long—suggests a whole narrative world with only the sparest of building blocks. And strung together, the vignettes build on each other to suggest an even larger story about, dare I say it, the human condition. (I had to write each caption down in a list in order to see the pattern, but I swear it’s in there.)

Storytelling is an increasingly important part of successful design. It’s easy to think, "How on earth am I supposed to tell a story using just a logo? Or a package? Or a typeface?" But Tiny Story shows us that engaging narratives can be conjured up out of just about anything, no matter how sparse or simple. Anyone who cares about connecting with people—designers, artists, writers, filmmakers, broadcasters, podcasters, marketers, scientists—should study Tiny Story and take its lessons to heart.

[Image: Debbie Oetgen/Shutterstock]