‘By-products’ is a word that instantly conjurers up images of dodgy hotdogs and ‘mystery meat’. It’s got a bad rap alright, but the word’s actual/original meaning is used to describe things that were created during the production of other things and that turned out to be valuable. Hence a by-product of sugar refining gets turned into something useful like molasses. The point is that by-products can be useful and profitable, and present within the animation industry too. Here’s a few existing animation by-products and a few potential ones yet to come.
‘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.
With forward by Dustin Hoffman.
It seems that the ‘Art of’ books are now far from an afterthought in the marketing plan.
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.