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BOOK REVIEW: “The Art of Blue Sky’s RIO”

BOOK REVIEW: "The Art of Blue Sky's RIO"

The Art Of Blue Sky Rio

Text by Tara Bennett; Titan Books 2014, 192pp.

During a time when most studios were promoting
their films with coffee table art books, BlueSky was rather quiet. Not until
now did Rio, released in 2011, get “The Art of” treatment. Author Tara Bennett has packaged material from that
film along with an advance look at Rio 2,
and the result is a sumptuous, if crowded, compendium.

The book is evenly divided
between “Characters” and “Locations.” One of the problems in presenting two
films is that over twenty characters must have their due, including six
villains. The same can be said for locations. This means limited space for some
of the major characters, and even less for text. Even in a genre that relies heavily
on pictures and illustration, The Art of
has possibly less text than any book I’ve reviewed to date.

That does not mean that Bennett
has abdicated authorship. Some information gives excellent insight into the
film’s intent and design. There are pearls from Lead Character Designer Sang
Jun Lee explaining how to take the viewer’s attention off a Toucan’s massive
beak by having the other lines of the head point towards the eye. Lee also
gives, in one single paragraph, the problems and solutions to making Jewel (the
female lead macaw) look feminine without resorting to caricature. At the same
time, she had to appear different from her mate, Blu. This was a bit tough,
since blue macaws are pretty much indistinguishable from one another.

Bennett’s forte seems to be
interviews that focus on such problems and overcoming them. Director Carlos
Saldanha brings up a point on page 60 well known to animators for decades:  “Birds are very tough to characterize.” He
goes on to note that having eyes on either side of their heads bisected by
beaks makes bird expression difficult. He also could have added that they have
no hands, knobby, spindly legs, and sharply curved skeletal structures that
give them off-kilter gaits when not airborne.

Animators working with Donald and Daffy Duck or Foghorn
Leghorn, for example, got around this problem by turning wing feathers into
fingered hands and giving their birds humanoid bodies. Lee and Art Director Tom
Cardone were determined to resist this approach, no easy task. Bennett gives a
three-page spread to “Feathers” and how they were manipulated to make gestures
while remaining strictly avian. This joint project between the character
designers, modelers, animators, FX, and riggers took countless hours to pull
off in a convincing manner. Bennett also adds to the copious artwork by
including pictures of the maquettes the animators referenced as well as turnarounds
for the major characters.

section of the book dealing with “Locations” is notable for Bennett’s inclusion
of detail. Director Saldanha, a native of Brazil and no stranger to Rio, was
displeased with the original concept art and flew the art crew to location for
ten days, including the grand Carnaval celebration. The result enriched the
film immeasureably; the Carnaval itself appears in the book as an explosion of
color and exotic design. Other details, such as the fact that car repair shops tend
to have the Brazilian flag hanging in the shop, lend authenticity to the
artistic stylings.

The section on the Amazon Rain Forest, where Jewel’s
venerable father shelters the last of the blue macaws, reminded me very much of
a similar section in BlueSky’s The Art of Epic, with its obsessive
attention to plant life and assorted vegetation. If nothing else, BlueSky’s Set
Development artists are becoming naturalists. But then, detail is becoming a
trademark of this studio, with nothing done half-baked and no shortcuts taken.
Bennett seems to realize this, including in the book a two-page spread of the
fruit label designs used in the film. I repeat, fruit label designs.

Taken as a whole, The Art of Rio is an
excellent chronicle of both films, far heavier on pictures than exposition.
Still, two films had to be crammed into one tome, and Bennett deserves praise for
simply keeping things in order. The original movie made some $450 million
worldwide, and from the look of this book, it seems that the sequel should
have equal success. It appears that BlueSky may have a franchise equal to their
Ice Age property, and Bennett does a fine job of capturing a skyrocket
in flight.

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