Three Great ‘Art of’ Books

‘Art Of’ books have become quite popular over the last number of years and it seems that they have become an established part of movie merchandise for all movies, not just the animated ones where they began.

The content of art of books tends to vary quite a bit. Some are truly fantastic windows into the creative processes behind a film, while others, such as the one for Laika’s film, Coraline, seeme to be slapped together at the last minute in an attempt to placate the movie going public.

The three I’ve chosen for this list are far from that insofar as they represent the best kind of ‘art of’ books in their own way. One is for a western film, one is for an eastern film and one is for a TV series. Together they take quite different approaches but all serve the same purpose, that is, to show how filmmakers created the worlds and characters that we all love.

Note: All the images come from the excellent and highly recommended Parka Blogs website where you can find comprehensive reviews of each books in addition to links to Amazon for purchase.

The Art Of The Incredibles

This was the first book of its kind that I came across, and it is not hard to see why it remains one of my favourites. Drawing heavily on the look of the film, The Art Of The Incredibles contains a good mixture of character, layout and background art. There are plenty of sketches and concepts which convey the many iterations of design that some of the characters went through before final design.

However, it is the landscapes and backgrounds that deserve the highest praise. All the main sets and locations are shown in detail, with plenty of information on how the look of the film was heavily inspired by the 1950s and 60s. As a special bonus, a fold-out in the middle contains the entire colour script!

The Art Of The Incredibles is bursting with art from cover to cover and ensures its place in this list with plenty that cannot be seen anywhere else.

The Art of Spirited Away

While this may appear to be a similar book, it does in fact take a very different approach. All the characters, backgrounds and layouts are there to be sure, but this book covers a Miyazaki film! Instead of the lush, flawless art of the book discussed above, The Art of Spirited Away is chock full of sketches, watercolours in addition to finished art.

The book compliments Miyazaki’s art style in a way that conveys the individual effort that went into the film; read: thousands of hand-drawn cels. Unlike other books, the emphasis is on the art moreso than the film or how it developed. In deferrance to other books, there is also a comprehensive looks at how the film utilised digital technology to enhance the tradtional processes; a throughly educational and enjoyable read.

Pure art from start to finish, The Art of Spirited Away represents almost the antihesis of The Art of The Incredibles.

The Art of Avatar: The Last Airbender

Lastly, we come to an ‘art of’ book made for a TV series. Something of a rarity, the book came about only because there was a theatrical, live-action film made of the series. Apparently the art in that didn’t warrant its own tome, so we have this one to read instead.

The Art of Avatar: The Last Airbender takes yet another road to artistic gratification. It methodically goes through the main characters in the series before going into each episode in detail before finally ending with the many ancilliary pieces of art that go into things like video games and promo posters.

Naturally as a series, this book can’t afford to go into nearly as much detail with each episode as you would for each scene in a film. Nonetheless, it admirably covers scenes, props and characters in each episode over the three seasons and provides as much information as possible about them. As you might expect, everything is still a bit brief, but that is only because the series could easily fill three books or more with the volume of art created for the series.

From cover to cover, The Art of Avatar is a superb companion to a great show that provides a wonderful overview of how the creators came up with a universe quite unlike anything we’ve seen on TV before or since.

And there you have it, three very different yet equally fulfilling ways to express all the wonderful art that goes into animated productions.

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How Much Do You Know About Roy O. Disney?

Via: The LA Times

Everyone and their dog is familiar with Walt Disney. Those with a passion for animation will be intimately familiar with the man known as The Old Maestro and how he almost single-handedly made animation into something much more than a short, gag-based form of entertainment. Of course, most of those folks will also be familiar that Walt was not alone in his efforts because guiding him all the way was his older brother, Roy.

However, Roy was very much the quieter brother, silently working behind the scenes running Walt Disney Productions and managing the cash that allowed Walt to fulfill his dreams. But how much do you really know about him? To be honest, I was fairly shocked about how little I knew.

Via: Good Reads

Thanksfully, Bob Thomas (who wrote the biography on Walt) wrote a book back in the 1990s (through the Disney-owned Hyperion publishing house) that looks at everything from Roy’s perspective. Entitled ‘Building a Company: Roy O. Disney and the Creation of an Entertainment Empire‘, it catalouges how the Disney company was founded and grew under his guidance and steely determination.

Although it focuses primarily on the history of the company, the book does contain more details about Roy than it does Walt, with much revealed about Roy’s habits and mannerisms. It would appear that as conservative and restrained as Roy was at work, he was just as jovial and fun-loving as his brother.

Furthermore, the book goes into quite a bit of detail when it comes to the company’s finances and the pressures that Roy faced during the war years and 1950s when Walt embarked on Disneyland. Nothing gets too technical (thankfully) but the gist of the struggles the company faced over the years is evident, and the book doesn’t shy away from the abrasive relationship the two brothers could have at times.

The only weak point in the book is the infamous strike, which is dispensed within two pages and glosses over the root causes and the subtle changes that occurred thereafter. Seeing as this is an official publication, that is not entirely surprising, but you would think that at this point in time, it would be irrelevant.

Coming away from ‘Building A Company’, my appreciation for Roy is much higher than it was beforehand. He was much more than just the ‘numbers man’, he was an essential part of the company and very much the yin to Walt’s yang. Without him, it is highly unlikely that the Disney Company would even exist today as a separate operation. Indeed it’s just as likely that it wouldn’t have made it past Snow White!

I would highly recommend picking up a copy if even just for a casual read.

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5 Reasons To Anticipate Amid Amidi’s Biography of Ward Kimball

Admittedly I haven’t read much on the Nine Old Men. That’s partly the result of reading other things and simply not having the time to devote more time to reading things. However these past few months, I’ve been plowing through the 11th volume of Didier Ghez’s excellent tome, Walt’s People, and through many of the various interviews, I’ve acquired a new level of respect for the esteemed group. One in particular stands out though, and that is Ward Kimball.

Amid Amidi is about to publish an extensive biography on the legendary animator and here is a few reasons why I’m anticipating its release.

  1. Ward’s characters are some of the greatest to ever appear on screen and you know there are stories behind every one.
  2. Ward put together the three space segments of the original Disneyland TV show, and together with Werhner Von Braun, got the technology surprisingly accurate to the eventual Apollo program. That could fill a book in itself.
  3. Walt Disney called Ward a genius. Surely he had a good reason to do so.
  4. Just how did such a wacky “cartoonist” wind up at a studio like Disney and manage to stay for so long?
  5. Ward supposedly started the rumour about Walt Disney’s frozen head. Will this book reveal all?

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Animation Books That I Own

Ever since my passion for animation was ignited a couple of years ago, my collection has been on the increase. It’s still relatively small though; buying school books puts paid to that. It’s a good selection though that represents a good variety of animation styles and genres. Have a peek (click to see full-size) and let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂

  1. Not Just Cartoons, Nicktoons! – By Jerry Beck. Well, how could I not have this? Goregous graphics and backstory to all the original Nicktoons all the way through to The Mighty B!
  2. Cartoon Retro: The Art of Shane Glines – Lots of great lines in this one. The 800+ page ebook that Shane did a few years ago is awesome, but everything looks better on paper.
  3. Animation Magazine 20 Year Collection – This one’s a gift and in addition to a bit of writing, it’s also a cool way to see how the industry has changed so much since the late 80s. They’re getting ready to launch the 25 year edition too!
  4. The Art of Spirited Away – I picked this up in Belfast the day I finished my undergraduate degree. Lots of lovely sketches and illustrations but also a great insight into some of the production methods used. There is also a full copy of the English script.
  5. An Teachtaire – An Irish comic written by Colmán Ó Raghallaigh but illustrated by Tomm Moore of Secret of Kells Fame.
  6. Animation Art – Edited by Jerry Beck, this is the book that kicked it all off. Seeing as it’s a bit trick to find now, I still think there was a bit of fate involved that day I stumbled across it in a Borders in Bowie, Maryland. A great book that I re-read often.
  7. The Art of The Incredibles – Surely no reason to justify this being there, right?
  8. Assorted Life In Hell collections – Matt Groening’s indie comic. The self-portrait at the start of Work is Hell got me hooked.
  9. Stewie Griffin’s Guide to Life – Apologies for this one. It was purchased back when Family Guy was still funny in a non-brain-dead way.
  10. Planet Simpson – By Chris Turner. If ever you wanted a detailed breakdown of one of the best TV shows ever made, this is the tome you want. It gets a bit complicated and existential, but it really is hard to beat.
  11. Your Career in Animation: How to Survive and Thrive
  12. Animation Development: From Pitch To Production
  13. Directing Animation – These three are all written by Dave Levy and even though I’m not directly involved in the animation industry, these have nonetheless been a superb guide to it and how animation is produced. I couldn’t begin to tell you how much I’ve learned from reading them.
  14. The Animation Pimp – By Chris Robinson. This one was a toughie, but the descriptions of people at the end was well worth the effort.
  15. The Vault of Walt – By Jim Korkis. I love the oddball and quirky stories in this one. Much more interesting than the usual Disney stories.
  16. The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes – By Jerry Beck (again?). It may be small but it packs a great punch as it guides you through some of the best output of the Golden Era
  17. Chuck Jones: A Flurry of Drawings – Sadly I’ve yet to read this one.
  18. The Book Of Big Little Books – Big little books were a kind of book released in the 30s (?). This book has quite a nice selection of them.
  19. Walt Disney: An American Original – By Bob Thomas. A great read, whether it has a slight bias or not.
  20. How To Make Animated Movies – By Anthony Kinney. This is the kind of book I enjoy; detailing how to do something in a completely obsolete way.
  21. Walt in Wonderland. Detailing Walt’s early years and the silent films he produced. Michael Sporn has written a bit on this book if you’re interested.
  22. That’s All Folks! The Art of Warner Bros. Animation. Although they’re often taken for granted, there really was a ton of great art produced throughout the studio’s existence.
  23. Serious Business – Hiding in the back is this overview of the American animation business.
  24. Bart Simpson’s Guide to Life – By Matt Groening. Being older now, I appreciate the humour a lot more. Plenty of Groening’s trademark wit that characterised the series’ early years.
  25. BFI Classics: Spirited Away – I just finished reading this and it makes a great companion to the Art Of book listed above.
  26. Cartoon Modern – By Amid Amidi. I recently wrote about this, a must for any bookshelf.
  27. Children’s Television – By Cy Schneider [signed]. Although dated by the time of its release, it is a window into the animation business of the 50s through the 80s. Mattel toyetic shows ahoy!
  28. The Art of Walt Disney – This is a recent acquisition but it was published in the early 70s. So Walt was still a very recent memory. I haven’t read it yet, but I am curious to see what it reads like, considering that we know what came after.

Not shown: Walt’s People Volume 11 put together by Didier Ghez. I am currently in the middle of reading this and I can safely say that it has whetted my appetite for Amid Amidi’s upcoming book on Ward Kimball.

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In Praise of the BFI Spirited Away book

Via: Good Reads

Admittedly (and ashamedly), the Spirited Away book by Andrew Osmond published by the British Film Institute (BFI) sat in my cart on Amazon for quite literally years before I finally got around to buying it. I know, I know, but that’s just the way it happened.

In any case, the wait was absolutely worth it. Far smaller in size than I had originally imagined, its dimensions are no indication of the stature of the writing. Presented as sort of an overarching summary of the plot intertwined with details of the production and overarching themes, the BFI Spirited Away book serves as a comprehensive guide to one of my very favourite films.

Delving deep into the beginnings of the production, Osmond teases out the reasons for its very existence; why Hayao Miyazaki decided to make it when he did, and why it stands as one of his best films to date. Analysis comes in the form of the various themes (environmental and social) running throughout the film as well as focusing on the character of Chihiro and her development during the course of the film.

Osmond has done a fine job of conveying the sometimes complex traits of the film that have confused many Western (and Japanese) audiences since the film debuted in 2001. He also does quite a good job when it comes to the background to the film, and to Miyazaki himself, going into some detail about his career to date and how is personal experiences helped shape the film.

Overall, the book is a definite must-read companion to the film. It does an excellent job of stripping away some of the layers and, at least for myself, has lead to a clearer understanding of the film. You can buy it on Amazon and consider it the best $15 book you buy this year.

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AWN Deals With Some Tricky Women

Spotted over on the Ambling Around column of AWN is this review for a book that you may not be aware of. Tricky Women is a festival held each year in Austria dedicated to, you guessed it, women in animation and they’ve put out a collection of essays devoted to the topic.

The description from the review is as follows:

Published by Schüren Verlag (Marburg, 2011), this 189 page volume contains essays by scholars, animators, and educators that address issues relating to women practicing animation and gaming. The book also includes a DVD with five well known auteur films discussed within the text.

The review is quite thorough in its detail of the essays contained within the book, the first of which may appeal to most of you out there as it pondering the following

[Jayne] Pilling concludes by raising a number of important questions, the most interesting of which is, “Is there a difference overall in the approach of male and women filmmakers in adapting fairytales within animation?”.

Suffice to say it looks like an entertaining (if slightly academic) read, as the conclusion make out:

…this unique scholarly contribution is a highly recommended text for the following areas of study: Animation, Art, Education, Film Studies, Gaming Studies, Media Studies, Women’s Studies, and Gender Studies at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. And it’s a must buy for university and college libraries that collect texts on these subjects.

It’s welcoming to see a topic like this receive some attention. Much the same as other industries, the contribution of women to the animation field was ignored for a long time, so its only right that the history of such be celebrated in the appropriate fashion.

Check out the AWN article for details on how to order the book as well as the full review by Sharon katz.


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Cy Schneider on Children’s Television: How 20 Years Really Is A Long Time

The book is dedicated to Walt Disney, the greatest Pied Piper of the all.

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up Cy Schneider’s book, ‘Children’s Television’ at a used book sale. I didn’t know much about it and I certainly hadn’t heard of the author, but it seemed to have some stuff about animation in it so, for the money, I figured, what the hell.

Long story short, it was a fascinating book to read. Not so much for what it says but for how dated it now appears. Published in 1989, this book was released right on the cusp of the last animation revolution, and it shows.

That same year, The Simpsons debuted on FOX, which irrevocably altered the perception of animation among adults; no longer was it the sole preserve of children. Not long after the three original Nicktoons burst onto the scene and the bar for animation was raised yet again. Nineteen eighty-nine also saw the release of The Little Mermaid, which heralded a new age for animation at the cinema as well.

In most aspects, this book was outdated even before it was published. It was written for the status quo and just could not foresee the dramatic changes that were literally months away. With that in mind, it does provided a great look at what the industry was like and is useful as a yardstick for how far it has come.

First of all, who is Cy Schneider? He was an advertising man who was instrumental in creating the first set of commercials that appealed directly to children, he successfully launched and developed the marketing  for Barbie and he also was on board when Nickelodeon was launched. What is notable about his career is that he was consistently involved in the area of children’s programming, which is why he wrote the book.

Children’s Television is intended as a guide to the industry for the uninitiated but seems to offer tips that are aimed at would be professionals. There are chapters on the history of children’s television, how television affects children, how to communicate with children and the licensed character. The last chapter is titled “The Boom Years” but it talks mostly about Schneider’s predictions on the future of the business, most of which are more related to the industry itself and the technological developments rather than the content.

In the first chapter, Schneider asserts that children’s television is first and foremost a business. This is sobering because we all like to think of it as a good-natured, well-intentioned industry that provides entertainment for kids but in reality, it is a business. It is a theme that is often repeated throughout the book and is hammered home that businesses will seek out the most economically efficient answer, not necessarily the right one, even when kids are involved.

Perhaps no difference is more striking or noticeable than the shift from shows based on existing toys to original characters. In addition to the seismic shift to children’s cable channels, the relative lack of licensed cartoons today is indicative of the change in attitudes among executives. The book contains plenty of references to the likes of He-Man and G. I. Joe who are held up as models of the new era and how they can represent the same aspects of quality that original characters can. Hindsight shows that that is not the case and that networks have come to value the fact that original characters can put much more money in their pockets than licensed characters can.

Playing into this is the parallel change in the characters of children’s TV shows. While Schneider talks at length about the ‘noble savage‘ who has populated children’s (in particularly boys) stories for over a century. He does offer some tips when it comes to characters that are generic at best. I would like to focus on his tips for girl’s heroines, which he offers in the following five characteristics:

  1. The are young, either children or girls, seldom women.
  2. The are innocent. Feminine but never sexual.
  3. They are usually pretty, clever and gifted.
  4. They have high morals and exemplary behaviour.
  5. They are admired by adults as well as children.

These attributes can pretty much describe any female lead in any cartoon prior to the 1990s but they are rather vague.

The book devotes an entire chapter to the various “do-gooders, politicos, pedagogues and assorted other axe grinders” who inhabit the cultural landscape. The chapter is little more than a rant against these various groups and only attempts to see their point of view in a very token sense. Seeing as it is written by a guy whose career depended on such programming it is understandable why such ‘interference’ in his business would cause his blood to boil. Why it is included, I do not know, but it makes for interesting reading and does emphasize the point that you can’t please everyone.

Overall the book is worth sussing out, if only to gain a perspective on how much children’s television has changed and improved over the last 20 years. It has also made me eternally grateful for the vast and varied choice of animated programming that we have today, and how healthy competition in the business has promoted the steady upward increase in the quality of the programming.

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A Sensationalist Book Filled With True Stories

Via: Heroes in My Closet

Which I managed to pick up at MoCCA and have been quite intrigued by some of the stories therein. While we’re talking about the author, Craig Yoe, I also managed to pick up his absolutely excellent Jetta book.

Via: Colleen Coover

Besides being stuffed to the gills with great art, there are also the original comics themselves, which are fascinating to look at, especially when you realise they were published a good decade before the Jetsons made it to TV.

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Why Your Bookshelf Was Made To Hold “Directing Animation” By David B. Levy

Bill Plympton's Cover giving Mona ideas.

They say God created the earth in seven days although I have a sneaking feeling that if he hired David Levy, he would have got the job done in five, and still found time to write a book about it.

Theological jokes aside, David really is that hard working. Besides being an animator, he’s also a teacher, President of ASIFA-East and if that wasn’t enough, he’s also managed to find the hours in the day to write three, count ’em, three books over the last couple of years. Suffice to say, he puts those of us who take a full 8 hours of sleep to shame!

Directing Animation the third part of the Holy Trinity installment of animation books written by him, the previous two being Your Career in Animation: How to Survive and Thrive and Animation Development: From Pitch to Production. If you haven’t already read those, they are an absolute must, even if, like me, you don’t work in animation on a day-to-day basis.

With those two successful and critically acclaimed books under his belt (and under my bed), David has unleashed his third masterpiece where he zeroes in on a very important position in the animation process.

As a seasoned director on [Adult Swim]’s Assy McGee and numerous shows before that, David is well placed to write this book. Sure there are the technical aspects to the job like laying out a scene, timing shots, etc. but there was definitely a gap on the bookshelf when it came to managing the human element of the process.

Thankfully, that gap has been filled thanks to Directing Animation. Chock full of sage, professional advice from the best in the industry and plenty of tales of both the good and not so good side of the job (but mostly the good side).

With a focus on what it takes to be a director, being dropped in at the deep and and devoting a chapter each to indie films, commercials, TV series, feature films and the internet, Directing Animation covers all the bases you could expect to meet as an animation director and then some!

With such a broad range of topics to cover, one might think the books skims over one or two of them. Not so! The utmost attention has been paid to every aspect of the book and with such a broad range of folks interviewed, there is no doubt that you will be thoroughly prepared to direct once you have finished reading it.

As I was reading the book, I realised that when it comes to animation, there is much more to it than just TV shows and films from the big boys. The prevalence of indie shorts and flash animation on the web has made it so that anyone can become a director, even if you’re only just out of school! Directing Animation is excellent in its coverage of these slightly less well known areas of the animation landscape.

David’s conversational writing style makes the 240 pages fly by with ease and yet everything he has to say is easily absorbed. Add in to the mix his impeccable sense of humour and wit and you have an altogether excellent read from start to finish.

Directing Animation is not a book to be glossed over, even if you don’t think of yourself as a director, you will realise you are taking away much more than you expect. It is thoroughly recommended for anyone even remotely involved in the animation scene.

Directing Animation can be purchased over on


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Untitled Book Project Update

It’s been a while (over three months in fact) since I first began writing what will be the first draft. Since then there’s been a brief, two and a half month (!) hiatus but I hope to change that.

The picture above is a quick peek at the current structure I have outlined. It’s far from concrete and may change substantially but it’s what I’m working with for now. I’ve taped it to the side of the computer to hopefully provide some inspiration to hammer out a full draft before my time off from class begins in May.


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