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On page 84 of The Art
of Epic
author Tara Bennett alludes to director Chris Wedge referencing “some of his personal filmmaking heroes” in planning battle sequences and goes
on to relate how Wedge and his colleagues discussed these references. It is
somewhat telling that Wedge’s heroes go unnamed, since to do so would have
clarified what informed audiences must know by now; Blue Sky studio’s Epic is a film that heavily references
many others.

While comparisons to Nelvana’s Bill Kroyer’s 1992 film Fern Gully are inevitable, influences
from The Phantom Menace, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Wizard of OZ, and
even Yellow Submarine are evident,
along with any other film featuring a matched pair of comic relief characters.
Other cinematic cliches (such as a hero the audience assumes to be dead
reappearing at a crucial moment), pop up as well.

Although five screenwriters could not seem to develop material
that felt more original, the production team helmed by Greg Couch, William
Boyce, and art director Michael Knapp certainly did. Epic is a visually stunning film, an amazing leap forward for Blue
Sky; no previous film by the studio has been as technically impressive or
imaginatively executed, and this is where Tara Bennett shines as Blue Sky’s

The studio’s artistic revolution was not instantaneous, and
Bennett does a fine job in tracing the arduous hours of research and observation
that began in the initial stages of development. Examples of how the Blue Sky
team captured nature’s minutae are found in the concept art of Leafman and
Boggan armor and weapons. Animals that appear in only one scene are depicted in
skeletal structure. Forest vegetation is studiously reproduced. Bennett leans
heavily on the details of color schemes and callouts, and as a result, the book
is a vivid experience that approximates the finished film.

The Art
of Epic
is an exercise in artistic opposites; the good guys are colorful,
attractive, and inhabit lovely environments. The bad guys are dark and ugly, living
in withered areas of toxic blight. The Leafmen, Jinn, and their environs are
shown first. Designer Jake Panian’s harmonic visions are copiously presented,
with his impressionistic concept art one of the highlights. One of the most
impressive layouts depicts a forest stream shown in the film, with eleven
different locales singled out for individual detail.

The Boggans, their evil leader Mandrake, and their dire hell
called Wrathwood follow, making for some of the most arresting illustrations in
the book.  Clayton Stillwell’s designs recall
Hieronymous Bosch or Pieter Bruegel the Elder in their hideousness.

Each major character in the film has a chapter devoted to
them, and Bennett wisely chose successive stages of developmental and concept
art along with digital final frames; the evolution of character design towards
more appealing and sophisticated forms mirrors the development of Blue Sky
studio into a recent major player in advanced computer-generated animation.

Bennett weaves details about digital animation throughout
the text rather than saving them for a separate chapter, giving her text a
pleasing continuity, and one quickly gets the sense that her informative
interviews with the artists are highly focused. Her choice of rich and
fascinating images contributes to a book that, in some respects, may outshine
the film. The Art of Epic serves best
as the chronicle of an animation studio making stunning technical leaps; their
future films will surely benefit from the making of this one.

The Art of EPIC (Titan Books) Written by Tara Bennett; Forward by Chris Wedge 


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