Ever asked yourself which one comes first, characters or story? Take, for example, Woody, in the Toy Story. Was he born before the whole story or Toy story was written all in once and then some changes had been made in the characteristics?


It starts like this; a bright light appears on the screen, light music plays in the background and we get to know the characters and their stories. But really which one comes first? Characters or the story? Is there a story first or we develop characters and then create a story based on their personality traits?

It’s a sophisticated question just like chicken and egg enigma. Many answers have been given to this enigma since the Greeks. However, in our case, the question remains unanswered. Animated projects in the pre-production phase demand a story and a storyboard. The story is like a guidebook to the whole animated project.

In the course of producing animation, many things are involved; from the physical environment that is the animation studio, computer systems, to the number of staff that are working in the animation studio. But the main attributes that are feasible and visible for the viewer are the story and the characters.

Characters & Story

Story tells what has happened once in the world. We listen because it becomes like our personal experience. The story decides the start point, what happens to the characters and the endpoint. Most of the time the story initiates t0he whole project, it makes the characters suffer or it makes unusual things to happen. Stories make us believe whatever that happens.  Some of the examples of successful and engaging animated story-driven are Wall. E, Up, and Cinderella.


Character is us! It is that one person who has a role in the story, the one one who suffers, cries, laughs, and dies. Character while being played by an actor in the theater or animation requires the illusion of being human. Characters are just like us, struggle with life crisis and look for a solution for the problems. The traits and personalities and their lives story differentiate one from another. Some well-known characters in animation are The Simpsons, Mickey Mouse, Maleficent, and Nemo.

Scenario 1


If the story comes first, it is easier to ascend the animation production procedure. You can easily decide on the type of character you want in your animation. The story determines how the characters look, behave, and come out of the dilemma that it puts them in the first place.

Keep that in mind just like movies and novels, when the story comes first, the characters have nothing to do but doing what they are told. The result might be flat. The writer and animator should stick to the story and there might be no room for creativity in nurturing the characters’ personalities and design.

Monster Inc. is a story-driven feature animation. It is based on a story that many kids tell their parents about. Having or seeing a monster in the closet at night! Then based on this simple story, creative characters were born.

Up feature animation is another example for story-driven animation. Up is the story of an old man who is tired of changes in his neighborhood. He travels to Paradise Fall. Ok! Who is not tired of their surroundings? Who doesn’t want to travel to a heaven-like place? Of course, it’s our common will. But who gets to show it on TV? Mr. Fredrickson! He is us that eventually has lost his will to live in the city and goes to chase his dream.

Scenario 2

If the characters come first, all the story generates from character’s needs, responses and wants. Therefore, the story will be character oriented. The events in the story occur because you know your primary and secondary characters and their reactions to them.

When the project starts with character design, sometimes it gets overwhelming. Because you need to put the puzzles together and generate the story. Sometimes, you run out of ideas and you can’t think of anything that helps the flow of the story.

In the golden age of animation, Walt Disney used the character Mickey Mouse to produce several animated movies like Steamboat Willie and Fantasia. Years later Mickey Mouse became Walt Disney mascot and defined the identity of this company.

The Incredibles feature animation is an example of character-driven animation. First, the characters with unique powers were born. Then based on their abilities, weaknesses, and threats, the story was written. You can see its success being repeated in The Incredibles 2.

Wrap Up

There is no certain answer to this question. Sometimes the character development and the story are so intertwined that you cannot recognize which one comes first. Either you start your project with character design or developing the story, you need to be creative enough to weave your characters into the story.

Now with all this information, in the Toy Story feature animation, Woody was born first or the actual toy story was written and then characters were developed?


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Ramesh GoyalNathan MarkDarko TomicicOtu Emmanuel TawoShaun Keefe Recent comment authors
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Shaun Keefe
Shaun Keefe

Story comes first. Characters are realized after. For the most part, the story molds the characters.
Story: Young street urchin becomes Indian Prince after a djinn works some magic.
Character: need concepts for young boy street urchin.
You wouldn’t create a character and then write the story around it. You create the character to fit the story.

Otu Emmanuel Tawo
Otu Emmanuel Tawo

The story comes first, then characters are created to fit into the story ??

Darko Tomicic
Darko Tomicic

“Up” is the finest example of story importance. First I thought “Who would like to see melancholy drama about an old man and a kid” but when I seen the movie I was amazed…For me it is by far the best feature animation I’ve ever seen

Nathan Mark
Nathan Mark

Story is always first so people know what the animation is about

Ramesh Goyal
Ramesh Goyal

This was a highly informative blog. Kudos to the author for putting in the hard work and research for coming up with this.

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