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BOOK REVIEW: “The Art Of Turbo”

BOOK REVIEW: "The Art Of Turbo"

One difficulty in
writing any “Art of” book is that animated actions are captured in stills from
the motion picture; readers may get a clear picture of how the animators
produced the action, but the experience of reading about them is static.
DreamWorks Turbo presents a challenge
(particularly in the film’s second half), in being more reliant on kinetic
special effects than nearly any animated feature made.

The rocketing speed
of the incredible racing scenes at the Indianapolis 500 is very difficult to
translate to readers, as opposed to audiences. 
In Robert Abele’s The Art of
concept art by Marcos Mateu-Mestre on pages 114-115 comes close, but
only captures the bare essence of the speed that blazes throughout the movie.

None of this is the
fault of Mr. Abele; snails may race at supersonic speed but books can’t. Abele,
however, makes this book as much a winner as the titular snail through concise
and detailed interviews with the production team. The Art of Turbo revels in details that nicely complement a viewing
of the film. One excellent example: Character Designers Shannon Tindle and
Sylvain Deboissy give the author a discourse on how to overcome the “ick
factor” associated with the unwelcome, slimy mollusks we see in our gardens, as
well as how to get a full range of appealing expression out of creatures that
have no limbs and carry their eyes on stalks.

We also get insights
on how “Los Bros” Tito and Angelo were designed as a circle and a square
respectively to highlight their opposing personalities. Shannon Tindle also
used Tito’s roundness to tie him thematically to Turbo’s shape. Abele does a
fine job of relating why cinematographer Wally Pfister and his lighting effects
were essential to the look and feel of

The book contains one
pullout spread, which details Turbo’s transformation into a full-blown speed
demon courtesy of a bath in nitrous oxide. Director David Soren relates how
Spider-Man’s origin story inspired the sequence, and how details like having
Turbo’s blood cells line up like racing tires enlivened it.

Most impressive is
the section detailing the locations used in the film. Production Designer
Michael Isaak explains at length why realistic backgrounds and settings were
more desirable than stylized ones, and the thousand details that went into the
depiction of the Indianapolis 500 Speedway, including changes made for dramatic
effect. (I actually live an hour from this racing shrine and can attest that
Isaak and team truly put their car on the right track).

Part of this book’s
appeal is the playfulness that Abele chose to include. He relates how Producer
Lisa Stewart and others actually took harrowing, high-speed rides in Indy cars
as part of their research, and there are pictures of the crew taking in the
sights at the Speedway.  Indy champion
Guy Gagne was modeled directly on head story man Ennio Toressan, and you can
see a comical comparison on pages 46-47. If you missed President Barack Obama’s
surprise cameo in the film, Abele provides it for you on page 80. Such details
add a touch of fun not found in most “Art of” books.

It is of some
interest that in the section about the racing snails that befriend Turbo, none
of the artists cite what appears to be an obvious influence. The snails,
outfitted with hemi-headers, hood scoops, and exaggerated spoilers are direct
descendants of the dragster demons created by the California artist Ed “Big
Daddy” Roth (1932-2001). Anyone familiar with Roth who doubts this should check
out character designer Phillipe Tilikete’s concept art for the White Shadow on
page 68.

Overall, Abele’s book
is strongest in conveying the conceptions behind the film, and the insights and
ideas of the designers and artists.  Many “Art of” books are skimpy on text, but Abele takes a fuller, more cerebral
approach. Don’t worry; there are more than enough stills and concept art to
delight the eye. The snail is fast; to appreciate that, see the movie. To understand
how DreamWorks made him that way, check out The
Art of Turbo


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Antonin K.

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