OK, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration. It didn’t so much change my life as pop up in a pretty unusual place (a Borders in Bowie, Maryland). I like to think that a certain amount of fate was involved with that occasion.
I’m not a writer. In fact if you’ve read anything at all on this blog, it should be fairly obvious that my writing skills are, I suppose, not very good. I was a perennial ‘C’ student in English throughout school, except that one essay I wrote on Sylvia Plath. Where my vitriol managed to impress the teacher enough to earn me a very rare ‘B’.
I therefore have a lot of respect for people who write books. Not necessarily fiction mind you, that’s a skill in and of itself. I’m talking about non-fiction, in particular the type of book that covers a wide range of topics and time periods but depends on a bit of commentary to keep everything flowing along.
It should come as no surprise that I thoroughly enjoy the book pictured above. Edited by the supremely capable Jerry Beck and with a variety of contributors ranging from Chris Robinson to Mark Mayerson, Animation Art is a fantastic tome on the artform that is animation.
The book itself is filled with plenty of pictures, but of course, that is only part of the story. The text itself is a joy to read. It never preaches and is organized on a two-page spread layout, i.e. every two pages is a different topic, and there are a lot of topics.
As explained on the cover, the book covers “From Pencil to Pixel, the World of Cartoon, Anime, and CGI”. With animation having been around for almost a century, that’s a pretty tall order, which I am pleased to say the book delivers on. Literally everything is covered at some point, from George Pal’s Puppetoons, to the first animation made in Japan, to the wobbles Disney went through in the 1970s, from Hanna-Barbera to The Powerpuff Girls and so on.
Amazon is listing a delivery date of about several months down the line. In my opinion, this is a book that is well worth the wait, especially if you are not as well versed in the background of animation as you would like. Even now, five years later, I continue to thumb through it fairly regularly.
Now I enjoy a lot of things in life, like Gaelic football, In The Mood: The Best of the Big Bands with Ken Jackson and of course, that feeling at 5 o’clock on a Friday evening. This book, in a way, confirmed for me that animation really is a passion of mine and after reading it, I felt renewed enthusiasm for the artform. Since then, I’ve joined ASIFA-East and have met many, many fine animators in addition to the usual famous faces.
After all that, I can safely say that the 1 to 3 month wait for shipping on Amazon.com is well worth it. No other book is put together as beautifully or with the passion that the writers and editor have for the artform.
A recent development in the machine that is movie marketing has been to sell “Art of” books. This is a good thing, yes? For years, if an animated move came out, the closest one could get to seeing some static art was to either get a hold of the onesheet or buy the childrens picture book. I still have my Aladdin one sitting on a bookshelf back in Ireland.
I’m not sure where the trend began, but I do know that Pixar are the first company I remember releasing them. Of course, they have released some movies over the years with some terrific design and style. It’s only fitting that we see how things came together.
It would appear that the trend has been predominant in CGI movies, which isn’t at all surprising as that has been the dominant genre of animated movies over the last 10 years or so. I think that some of the art used to produce these films is even better than what eventually ended up on the screen!
The quality of “Art of” books can vary wildly. Case in point, the one I have for Spirited Away. It’s not so much an “art of” book as it is background to the entire movie. Over the course of 180 pages or so, one can see how the design for each scene in the movie came together. And to top it all off, you get the entire script at the end!
In contrast, “The Art of The Incredibles” is an altogether different affair. Not only do we get the backgrounds to the main characters in detail, lots of sketches, plenty of fantastic stuff by Lou Romano and a very nice foreward by brad Bird himself, there is also the entire colour script!
The flip side can be disastrous, for example the one accompanying Coraline. The movie itself is spectacular, but it would seem that money was skimped on the book. Not only are the artists not properly credited, the pictures themselves are horribly pixelated. Not something an “Art of” book should be like.
In my opinion, these books are indeed worth the paper they’re printed on. If you really like to see the artwork behind a movie, they are excellent value for money. I once held an actual sheet of paper that was used as part of the colour model for the scene where Mr Incredible jumps over the waterfall. Sadly, I did not have the necessary $5,000 in my wallet at the time.
Some are more worth it than others, that’s why it is important to look at a physical copy before you buy. Don’t rely on the preview images on Amazon.com. They only tell part of the story. Some websites, such as Parkablogs.com, have excellent reviews with plenty of photos from the actual books along with a written review and are well worth a visit.
I got this book for Christmas and although I read Googled first, I was excited to get into this immediately after. Covering the US animation scene from its beginnings to sometime in the late 1990s, I found Serious Business to be an interesting and enjoyable read.
Author Stefan Kanfer focuses more so on the Golden Age of animation than any other time. Perhaps because that was when animation was big business in Hollywood, when numerous major studios and Disney ran full-scale animation departments. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about how the Fleischer Brothers got up and running in New York, or how Walt Disney spent his last few dollars on a 1st class train ticket to Los Angeles.
The book tends to read rather quickly after around 1950 or so. Although this in understandable given the downturn in the industry at the time. It was nice to see attention paid to studios such as UPA and the Hubleys as well as the various independent animators who sprouted up throughout the 60s and beyond.
Once we reach the 90s, things pick up again with the advent of the Simpsons and the creation of the three original Nicktoons. The book then somewhat bumbles along to the end in 1998 or so. Not that this detracts from the book, indeed, I am far more familiar with recent developments than those in the 30s, so unless you’re Jerry Beck and have a thorough knowledge of old cartoons, you are unlikely to be worried either.
Kanfer writes with a writing style that can be at times a little long-winded, but the book is never boring and with so much material to cover, the book is indeed dancing the line between covering to much yet covering too little. At 264 pages, it could easily have been a bit longer, although Kanfer may have intended it to be this way, so as not to descend into the kind of tome one would expect a serious historian to have.
Serious Business is well worth a read, especially if, like myself, you were not as familiar with the beginnings of the animation industry as you would like. In conjunction with the Giant 600 Cartoon DVD boxset I also received, it is fair to say that the book indeed sparked my interest in old, cartoons long forgotten by the general public.
You can buy Serious Business: The Art And Commerce Of Animation In America From Betty Boop To Toy Story on Amazon.com