Sunday, June 15, 2014

Book Review: Art of DreamWorks Animation

The art book publisher Abrams recently released a big book called The Art of DreamWorks Animation. It's a lavish visual survey of the art that went into all of DWA's films, from Antz and Prince of Egypt to Dragon 2 and the not-yet-released Home (below), based on a book by Adam Rex.

Here's a diagram showing how the elemental shape language guided the design of characters and environments. DreamWorks Animation has tried to stay away from a general house style, and as a result, each film has a different look to suit the story.

The book includes samples of artwork by most of DreamWorks' deep bench of talent that have worked there over the years, including Christophe Lautrette (who art-directed the book), Nico Marlet, Paul Lasaine, Nathan Fowkes, and Chris Sanders, but the individual pieces are not credited.

Presumably they arrived at this decision because many of the images are the result of the combined talent of several artists. Instead, credits for the topline directors are given at the beginning of each film's chapter.

Some of the characters, such as Shrek, went through many startling rejected versions.

DreamWorks should be commended for including these "roads not taken," because other studios have at times suppressed such alternate character designs, so as not to weaken the unified marketing image.

Above is some of the art from 2004's Shark Tales. 

Throughout the book, the artwork is not identified as digital or hand-made. Probably many pieces are a combination of the two. As the years progress the work becomes increasingly digital, but it's really hard to tell and maybe it doesn't matter.

During the last 20 years, DreamWorks Animation has become the largest animation studio and has released thirty animated films, and they're all covered in the book. Each film gets about five double page spreads.

The book is 324 pages long. It's 10x12 inches and weighs 5 pounds, 4 ounces.
More info about the book on Amazon: The Art of DreamWorks Animation

There's also a big art exhibition of DreamWorks Animation in Australia through October 5
and there will be public lectures and discussions at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.
And here's an interview with DWA production designer (and AD of the book) Christopher Lautrette
All images ©DreamWorks Animation, SKG.


Dan said...

I think of the difference between handmade art and digital art as being like the difference between a piece of music played by a pianist on an acoustic piano and a piece of music created using synthesizers and sequencers. Both are viable mediums, and much can be expressed with either; but I would not say that the distinction between them is unimportant. I think there are strong, obvious differences, and that these differences are significant.

James Gurney said...

I agree. And I think whatever the tools, it would be helpful to know exactly what was used: Maya or Photoshop or Conte or acrylic or whatever. Since this is the Art Book, it would be nice to share that info about the art.

Unknown said...

Dreamworks "the largest animation studio"? Ooh, comment, comment. That is quite an astounding feat! Largest in what way -- Gross income, net income, number of features, number of tickets sold, fan appreciation, U.S., global -- I am very interested. Compared to their competitors they are relatively new.

Kevin Baker said...

@Glenn: Number of employees, I'd imagine. IIRC Dreamworks has over two thousand employees between Redwood City and Glendale (Pixar, for comparison, has about twelve hundred last I heard).

James Gurney said...

Glen and Kevin, the claim comes from a caption on page 7 of the book: "Under Katzenberg's leadership, DreamWorks Animation has become the largest animation studio in the world and, as of 2014, will have released thirty animated feature films..." They don't say in what way they're the largest, but I would guess that Kevin is right. Also, they'll be opening a big studio in Shanghai.

Jenny Lerew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Gurney said...

Jenny, good point. It could be handled the way people notate their reels: "Animation by so-and-so based on a character design by so and so, etc." We all recognize that films are a collaborative art, but the Art-of books are the only place to connect a name with a style so that you can then go to that person's blog and learn more about them.

nimotei said...

Unfair that the artists have no credits - now the general public will feel that the images came from the directors minds. Which is of course a horrid lie. I love art books for crediting each artist - it's how I discover talent and then follow them from company to company and project to project.
I'm not brand loyal, just artist loyal - I guess that's what they don't want...

Adam Rex said...

You'd think I would have known that art from our movie, HOME, was in this book, but I didn't. So thanks for the heads up!

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

Looking through this wonderful "Art of"-book, I find it almost offensive that the artists are not credited.

James Gurney said...

Øyvind, here are a few thoughts. DreamWorks usually credits individual artists in their more comprehensive "Art-of" books. This book is really just a survey, with very few spreads on each film, so if they had spotlit just five or six individuals, it might have led to bad feelings among the dozens of other artists whose work wasn't represented.

What the book offers instead, which is kind of unique, are the perspectives of the directors, production designers, and producers. Some of them don't do the actual art themselves, but they have the daunting challenge of articulating a vision to guide all the diverse talents into a cohesive style for each film.

Keep in mind that the art director of the book, Christophe Lautrette, is a great artist himself, and has the highest respect for his fellow creatives, so I'm sure he and his team weighed this decision carefully.

All that said, maybe there's a way to give those missing credits (and maybe even some of the additional artwork) on a website or a blog somewhere. Feed the geeks!

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

I see your point, and I think the managerial comments and anecdotes work in unison with the art to hint at the efforts of team work made to create these movies.

I also agree that it would be impossible to do all the artists involved justice in a single publication like this.

However, I do think adding the artists' names, in even the tinyest of fonts, beaneath the respective artworks that were included, would have been proper. If nothing else than to simply communicate that the synergistic results of these industry-leading teams wholly depend upon the specific individuals they consist of, and not just the individuals that lead them.

An accompanying website with credits and additional artworks sounds like a great idea - I hope somebody follows up on this idea:)

RobNonStop said...

The first image showing the 3 shape types reminds me of the classic Takete VS Maluba principle by German-American psychologist Wolfgang Köhler.