Friday, December 5, 2014

Review: Boxtrolls and Big Hero 6 Art-Of Books

Two recent art-of books have presented fascinating glimpses of the artistry behind a couple of recent animated films.


The Art of The Boxtrolls chronicles the making of Laika's most recent stop motion feature, about a group of quirky creatures who raise a human boy beneath the streets of a city named Cheesebridge.

The text is written by key members of the staff of the film, including Philip Brotherton, art director at Laika, Travis Knight, Laika's president and lead animator, and Anthony Stacchi, director of the film, each of whom describes how the animation studio altered the material of the source novel to work in their unusual stop-motion medium.

The artwork shown in the book includes character designs, architectural plans, and color keys. These digital paintings by Paul Lasaine helped to work out the shot compositions, color, and lighting.


There are a lot of character design sketches, both black-and-white and color, 2D and 3D. Much of the work is hand painted or hand sculpted, something of a rarity in concept art these days. 


Armaturist Nick Smalley-Ramsdale described how difficult it was to make the flexible armature for the character Fish (center), to allow the character to be able to fold up completely inside the box for one scene.

The genesis of each of the characters is followed from sketch to maquette to finished animatronic puppet, featuring many of the handcraft skills, such as hair and costume. 

However, I wish there had been more explanation of the specific processes used in creating the armature, casting the foam body, and 3D-printing (and storing) the thousands of facial expressions used in Laika's unique process. One feels that they're holding back trade secrets in the realm of their most important innovations, but they don't need to since they're always moving forward, and a book like this could have offered a more informative record of how they made the film.

The Art of Big Hero 6 showcases the artistry that the Disney studios brought to the challenge of interpreting a Marvel comic universe in terms of Disney Animation, rather than live action. The movie had to have plenty of fighting action, but also a focus on character and charm.

Almost all of the concept art in this book is painted digitally, including this one by Paul Felix showing Hiro and his inflatable robot companion Baymax. 

In addition to crediting the artists by name, (something overlooked in many previous "art-of" books), the book includes their comments about the specific challenges they faced and the methods they used. 

For example, Adolph Lusinsky, director of Cinematography and Lighting, says, "We knew Baymax was going to have projection inside his vinyl so, to test how it would look, we cut a hole in a beach ball, put in a piece of glass, blew it back up and put a projector behind it. The light bleeds through his legs and arms and feels really believable."  

Jeff Turley created this digital rendering to help imagine the portmanteau urbanscape of San Fransokyo. Everything in the city had to be designed, from signs to vehicles to interiors, and there's a good mix of examples. 

In comparison to other art-of books, this one devotes more attention to the architecture and environments, though character designs are well covered in the second half of the book. 

When planning the home of the main character, a Victorian home over a bakery/cafe, Scott Watanabe said that he "researched extensively how old Victorians were built and would have been remodeled." He had to thoroughly understand how the roof framing worked inside the tower, because the structure would be seen in the interior shots in the final film.

The book does a good job of showing the range of artistry and expertise that goes into making a major animated feature, and it presents the thinking behind the art in a way that's fun and inspiring to read.

Both books are 9.5 x 11 inches, 160 pages, full color, hardback, and they retail for $40.00 each (or between $26-$31 new on Amazon). 
More info:
The Art of The Boxtrolls
The Art of Big Hero 6
All images ©Laika, Disney, or Chronicle Books.

5 comments:

David Webb said...

I find these film artworks and concept drawings fascinating and beautiful. It's good to see though, that even though these films are created on computers (a process I know very little about) the initial ideas, more often than not, start with a humble pencil and paper.

Roberto Quintana said...

Similar to the ‘Art of’ books are the ‘Chronicles: Art & Design’ books (Weta publications). I just finished ‘The Hobbit, desolation of Smaug’ (over a year old now!). These behind the scenes peaks at the concept art w design commentaries by the artists are great fun and a real inspiration (as is your ‘Imaginative Realism’ book, a great holiday gift I might ad.)
The more I learn about painting w those little light pixels, the more fun it is for this old Analogueosaure. -RQ

Jacqueline said...

I like the art in boxtrolls. It reminds me of claymation. Have you looked at the art in the animated movie Day of the Dead?

Sylvia and Fraser said...

A tip of the hat to the guy who came up with the Box Trolls, my mate Alan Snow, would be nice. Look for a book called 'Here Be Monsters'

Aaron said...

I have been collecting "Art of" books since high school (wow 13 years moves quick). I picked up a copy of Disney's the Art of The Hunchback of Notre Dame that year, and was hooked. Since then I have bought several more Disney and a few Dreamworks and Universal books. Disney was very sadly hit or miss throughout the height of the Disney Renaissance (Little Mer., Beauty &B, Aladdin and LKing ALL had either no such behind the scenes books, or what was done was sadly lacking in size and quality). Thankfully since Lassater took the helm There has finally been some great quality and consistency brought to bare. I use my copies of The Art of Tangled, and Frozen quite often, both as an enjoyable read and as inspiration when working on projects. I can't wait to get a hold of Big Hero 6.