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The Art of “The Art Of” – A Romp Through the Latest Books

The Art of “The Art Of” - A Romp Through the Latest Books

Since
the mid-1990s animation studios have been releasing companion books to their
feature films. These books are typically glossy, oversized rectangular volumes,
the better to present long spreads of artwork that detail the story behind the
film’s production. Having worked on several of these books, as well as having
reviewed many others, I find them rather easy to categorize.

The books tend to
follow a similar pattern: There is a blurb about the film, followed by details
about the characters, the settings, the concept art, comments by artists and
sequence directors, a few storyboards, and usually a chapter revealing how the
CGI was executed, including color charts and technical specifications about the
programs used.

Most
of the concept art presented is fascinating, the images chosen for the book are
stunning, and the comments illuminating. As such, there tends to be a
high-quality sameness about them, as if they were written from templates. This
makes them somewhat difficult to review or analyze, except as mementos for fans
who’ve seen the film, or as beautiful storybooks for those who haven’t.

When
I review an “Art Of” book today, I tend to look at what sets the book apart from
similar products; a difference that makes the book worth adding to a library
and perusing years after the film itself has departed the theaters. For
example, I had done an earlier review for this website on The Art of Disney’s Frozen and singled it out for being written by
Charles Solomon, a prestigious animation historian who would present a
different set of insights than the film’s artisans might. I present here several
“Art Of” books released within the past year that have at least one notable
feature that distinguishes them from other, more formulaic efforts.

The Art of Fred Gambino: Dark Shepherd

dragon2Fred Gambino is a
distinguished illustrator and concept artist whose last Hollywood effort was
formulating concept art for the undistinguished film The Ant Bully. Gambino has done countless illustrations and book
covers for elite science-fiction writers. He thinks much more like a graphic
novelist than an animator, but is capable of developing his visuals into a
movie script. This, in fact, is the leadoff section of the book.

While
Dark Shepherd is a work in progress,
the book gives marvelous and often breathtaking hints of what the animated film
version might look like. Gambino combines a sense of cosmic grandeur with a
well-honed sense of technical draftsmanship. The double-page spreads spanning
pages 30-35 attest to his skill. He is just as proficient with human figures;
note the illustrations of his female protagonist, Breel, on pages 50-55. If you
are not too dazzled by the artwork, you can follow excerpts from Gambino’s
script along with the pictures.

Only
the first third of the book deals with Dark
Shepherd
, which would likely make a terrific movie. The rest displays
Gambino’s work on book covers, album covers, and other illustrative film works.
Since he is basically a one-man band, all the text is written by Gambino
himself rather than by an outside author. 
This book is highly recommended if the reader wants to imagine what a
great animated sci-fi film should look
like.


The Art of Disney’s Big Hero 6

OK, the movie’s an
Oscar winner, a certified hit, and a wonderful ride for every superhero wannabe
and wish-I-could. It’s a certainty that the book is a rich, highly proficient
display of both concept and finished art coupled with detailed technical
descriptions. In most ways this “Art Of” book hews to the standard formula very
closely. It would be difficult to distinguish it from many of Disney’s high-end
efforts except for one special focus of attention by author Jessica Julius.

On
page 91 there are thirteen 3D mechanical drawings exposing the working servomotors,
wiring and metal skeleton of Baymax, the Big Hero of the film. The parts are
given names analogous to human bones and joint structures. On page 121 we are
shown the inner design and construction of Honey Lemon’s goop blasters; in
effect, cutaway working models of how they function.

After
seeing the film I realized that none of
this actually appears on the screen at all.
Julius, who is listed as “a
creative executive at Walt Disney Animation Studios, has chosen to show us how
the creative minds behind the film think, along with what they’ve actually
done. A clearer picture of imagination at work could not have been put into in
a book, and it is these examples, along with several others, that sets this “Art
Of” volume apart.


The Art of Disney-Pixar Inside Out

 I recently
received this book with a caveat: I was asked by the publisher’s publicist not
to use any images, or refer to any character directly, since “Pixar is keen to
keep some aspects a surprise for audiences to discover in their viewings.” Far
be it from me to disobey, so I will tell why this book is worthy of owning,
instead.

The Art of Disney-Pixar’s Inside Out is
the most stripped-down version of the genre I have ever seen. There is no
author, no text, and no commentary. There is only page after page of images and
conceptual/finished drawings in full color, presented without any clue as to
who or what one might be looking at. Artists are credited, and that’s all,
folks. Yet, the minimalist style of the art is so appealing and vital that any
text might have detracted from the visuals. Much of Inside Out looks like some dreamy collaboration between Gene Deitch
and John Hubley, with Theodore Geisel occasionally popping his head in to
consult. The distillation of an entire film down to images with no explanatory
text may be closer to the spirit of what an “Art Of” book should really be, and
makes this rather winsome book special.

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