The Toy Story 3 special features includes a wonderful little piece, Beginnings: Setting a Story in Motion where Michael Arndt, the screenwriter, walks us through what he has learnt in his time at Pixar about setting up a story. He looks at the first acts of Toy Story, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles to demonstrate the ideas for how to setup a memorable tale. The whole doco-bit is a voice-over with a cute animation (not 3D) that further illustrates his structure which goes something like this:

Begin by setting up the main character, by showing them doing what they love most. Then we need to see the characters flaw (not known to them), that comes out of their passion, a good thing taken too far in some way. Then we establish the storm clouds on the horizon, something that could mean change or danger. Blam, their world is rocked by some event that takes away what they love most, followed up with a demonstration of how unfair their world is. Then we come to the fork in the road, one choice is the healthy responsible one, the other (the one we are rooting for) is the unhealthy irresponsible choice that somehow leads to a crisis. This crisis sets up the journey for the hero, which takes them on into the rest of the story and act 2.

Here is how Michael sums it all up:

So your story is coming out of your characters deepest desires and their darkest fears. The thing they love is taken away from them and the world is revealed to be unfair. To put things right they have to make a journey, that is the rest of the film. By the end of the journey, hopefully they will not only get back what they lost but they will be forced to fix that little flaw they had when we first met them.

great stuff, classic, but lovingly demonstrated in 8 mins.

Here is the train from the opening sequence in all its glorious Lego form:

[Toy Story 3 Lego train set via]

More on Toy Story 3 soon.