Andrew Stanton‘s new film, John Carter, is bound to cause a lot of dissension among film fans. Some will love its epic action and incredible visuals, others might be put off by its dense, plot heavy structure. No matter which group you fall into, though, there’s no denying that Stanton has a true talent as a story teller. Case in point: Finding Nemo, Wall-E, Toy Story 1-3, Monsters Inc. and more.

Stanton put that reputation to the test recently, taking the stage at TED to give a talk about “The Clues to a Great Story.” Unlike his Pixar films, his talk does get into some NSFW language. Like the films, it’s enlightening and incredibly watchable.

Here’s Stanton’s TED talk:

A lot of what Stanton’s talk is excerpted on the TED Blog page. Here’s the bulk of that:

2008 - After showing us a clip from Wall-E, Stanton says he used everything he had, wanting to experiment with the idea that storytelling without dialogue was the purest form of cinematic storytelling. That led to another realization: “We all want to work for our meal when we watch a movie; we just don’t want to know that we’re doing it.”

2002 - When Stanton worked with Bob Peterson on Finding Nemo, their unifying theory was 2+2. The twist; to make the audience put things together. “Don’t give them 4. Give them 2+2.” No, it’s not an exact science. Stories, he says, are not a widget. “Stories are inevitable if they’re good but they’re not predictable.”

2001 - Stanton took an acting seminar with Judith Weston and learned that all well-drawn characters have a spine. ”They have a dominant unconcsious goal that they’re striving for, an itch they can never scratch.” This was a huge moment for Stanton,who took this on as a dominant theme for his own storytelling.

1998 - Hooked on storytelling, he read everything he could, and found the phrase by William Archer: “Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty.” This incredibly insightful definition helped him to understand how to fuse short-term and long-term tensions in narrative.

1993 - The early days at Pixar were freeform. “We were a group of guys going on gut,” he says. “It’s interesting to see how that led us places that were actually pretty good.” Particularly given that successful animation at the time looked like nothing they were doing. But despite early hiccups, they stuck to their course. “Thank goodness we were too young, rebellious and contrarian,” to do otherwise, Stanton says.

1970 - When he was five, Stanton’s mother took him to see Bambi. Cue “aws” from the audience as we watch a beautiful clip of the classic animation. “I walked out of there wide-eyed with wonder,” remembers Stanton. “That’s what I think the secret sauce is. Wonder is honest, innocent, it can’t be artificially invoked.”

1969 - Yet there’s more. When he was four, Stanton recalls asking his father about two scars on his ankle. He told him he’d been born prematurely. “The doctor took a look at this yellow kid with black teeth and told my mother I wouldn’t live. I lived in the hospital for months. And I did live, and that made me special.” As to whether he believes that, he doesn’t know, but he does know he wanted to strive at being worthy of the second chance he was given. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what ultimately led him to speak here at TED2012 today.

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