Wednesday, April 4, 2018

20 Best Art-of-Animation Books

Most animated films come to market with a lavish art book that sneaks a peek at the creative work that went into making them.

These books can be inspiring references for artists and illustrators, not only for the artwork they contain, but also for the way they tell the story of the collaborative journey.

Here's a selection of the 20 Best Art-of-Animation Books from studios such as Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, and Sony Animation.

The Art of Disney Pixar Inside Out 
Translating the abstract emotions of a young girl into characters that also have feelings and motivations was a big design challenge. In his introduction, director Pete Docter explains that he wanted the book to take us through the same experience the crew went through in developing the film, starting with rough concepts, design refinements, animation thumbnails, and lighting studies. The art mostly speaks for itself, but it is credited by name and medium, and there are occasional captions to explain context. 176 pages, $40.00 retail. Currently $23.21 on Amazon.

The Art of Finding Dory
Pixar's 2016 feature returns to similar undersea worlds that we saw in Finding Nemo, but this time with a new technological and creative toolset. The key creatives chime in with detailed captions to share the challenges they faced throughout the production. The book includes a rich sampling of storyboards, character models, and set designs, and they even show some of the many photos they took during research trips. Artists and art media are credited. 176 pages, $40.00 retail. Currently $14.55 on Amazon.

Art of Puss in Boots
DreamWorks Animation developed a richly atmospheric backstory world for Puss in Boots, who was spun off from the Shrek series. The book introduces the characters first, and then presents the various locations. The final section takes a single sequence of the film, the "Cat Cantina," and examines it from the perspective of all the departments along the pipeline. Captions credit artists (sometimes multiple contributors to a single image), along with the medium used, and there are captions interspersed to explain the thinking behind the art. 152 pages, $39.95. Currently $54.00 on Amazon.

The Art of The Boxtrolls
To prepare for their 2014 stop-motion animation feature "Boxtrolls," Laika Animation hired artists to draw, paint, and sculpt the quirky world of Cheesebridge, with the expressive characters that live above and below its cobblestone streets. The book includes a variety of concept art: set design, character silhouettes, puppet builds, and prop crafting. The book is divided by the various realms of the story. There's lots of inspiration if you're a sculptor or a 3D maker. 160 pages, $40.00. Currently $23.99 on Amazon.

The Art of Big Hero 6
This art book shows how Disney Animation took a little known Marvel franchise and developed it into an animated feature. The subject is divided into World, Characters, and Cinematography. The contributions of a wide range of talents is laid out along with explanatory captions from various contributors. One page spread takes time for a fascinating lesson about realism vs. stylization, and there's a color script at the end. Most of the art is digital. 160 pages, $40.00. Currently $30 on Amazon

The Art of The Croods
Director Chris Sanders has always been an artists' artist, and this book features many of his drawings of a prehistoric world. There are also character and set designs by other DreamWorks and guest concept artists, such as Carter Goodrich, Christophe Lautrette, Dominique Louis, and Shane Prigmore. The book is divided by Characters, World, and Anatomy of a Scene. The writer, Noela Hueso, is a former editor of Hollywood Reporter who brings her expertise about animation to the captions and chapter openings, making it more than just an art book. 176 pages, $34.95. Currently $26.28 

The Art of Brave
The forewords by co-directors Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews introduces some of the challenges faced by the crew in tackling this Scottish coming-of-age story. The book shares many visual aspects of the development: color scripts, storyboards, character sketches, environment art, and 3D sculpts, all set against dramatic black pages. Interviews with key creatives such as animators and effects artists reveal insights on how they navigated the complicated technical processes. 160 pages, $40.00. Currently $31.00 

Surf's Up: The Art and Making of a True Story
This book is more than a concept art collection. It's an ambitious publishing effort, with a boxed, slipcased hardcover, inserted postcards, stickers, and acetate overlays included inside the book. The artists share how they gave individual personalities to the penguins and otters, and the technical artists explain how they figured out how to animate realistic but also expressive water effects. The book includes a DVD video called "Making Waves." 150 pages, $50.00.  Currently $18.57

The Art of Monsters, Inc.
When all you see is the finished film, it's easy to underestimate how many unknowns the crew faced at the beginning. Nowhere is this more true than in this film, where the monsters had to be funny but also scary. The presentation includes many beautiful color concepts in pastel by Dominique Louis, and far-out character and layout ideas by Carter Goodrich, Lane Smith, Nicolas Marlet, Ralph Eggleston, Ricky Nierva, and Tia Kratter. Most of the artwork is in physical painting materials, such as gouache, watercolor, markers, and acrylics. 144 pages, Currently $43.20

The Art of Finding Nemo
Developing this world presented some formidable challenges: getting the fish to have personalities and making unfamiliar undersea environments sufficiently varied and interesting, with convincing physics and effects. The artists are a who's who of leading animation concept talents, such as Peter de Sève, Jason Deamer, Ricky Nierva, Ralph Eggleston, Dominique Louis, and Sharon Callahan, plus some strikingly moody charcoal compositions by Simón Varela.
160 pages, $40.00.  Currently $30.81

The Art of The Incredibles
This Pixar classic went through some surprisingly abstract concept stages. Director Brad Bird encouraged the artists to take unusual liberties to explore way-out visual looks. Styles range from collages by Teddy Newton, to the noir-ish chiaroscuros of Paul Topolis, to the charming character designs of Tony Fucile and Teddy Newton. Lou Romano's semi-geometric color script opens out to a double gatefold so that you can see the whole thing at once. Occasional commentaries by the artists gives context. 160 pages, $40.00 Currently $40.01

The Art of Ratatouille
The concept artists did their homework when they designed a French restaurant in Paris, and the inspired rat who wanted to become a chef. Director Brad Bird admits in his introduction that the film's look was well established before he came on board. The presentation includes a lot of the clay sculpts by Greg Dykstra and the hilarious character concepts by Jason Deamer, Carter Goodrich, and Dan Lee, who passed away during the production. Includes evocative color keys by Dominique Louis after he went digital. 160 pages, $40.00 Currently $30.90

A Bug's Life: The Art and Making of an Epic of Miniature Proportions
One of Pixar's early features, Bug's Life was an artistic and technical breakthrough in its time, with plants that moved in the wind and transmitted light, and characters that were a leap forward from the plastic toys in Pixar's first feature. The book features the moody color concepts of Tia Kratter and Bill Cone. The concept art is mixed with production stills and a text that offers fascinating insights into the early challenges of CG animation.
Oversize, 128 pages, $40.00 Secondary market copies vary greatly in price. 

Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: An Art in Its Making
Snow White was the highlight of Walt Disney's determined effort to assemble and train a group of artists that rivaled the best storybook illustrators in Europe. This book is a catalog from an exhibiion of the collection of Stephen H. Ison, but it includes everything from Kendall O'Connor's powerful storyboard layouts to  animation drawings by Norm Ferguson, Art Babbitt, Bill Tytla, and Grim Natwick. Many of the cel setups and watercolor backgrounds are not credited, either because they didn't know, or they were the work of so many different people. 194 pages, $45.00. Used copies are about $50.00 

Walt Disney's Bambi: The Story and the Film
The fascinating text by two of the 'Nine Old Men,' Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, chronicles the story of the production. The drawings and paintings are informed by direct study of nature and animals, and the authors describe how the studio worked to enhance the skill sets of all the artists. The shift of style from Tenggren to Ty Wong is well documented, with a lot of Wong's atmospheric pastels and watercolors included. The last section showcases some key drawings from animation sequences, making this book a good supplement to their famous textbook The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation. 208 pages, $29.95. Currently $19.95

Walt Disney's Fantasia
Disney described every film as an adventure in the realm of sound, color, and motion, and this adventure reached a high point with Fantasia, which has some of the finest artistry of the classic era of animation. This lavish Abrams book includes character sketches, color keys, background paintings, maquettes, animation drawings, and final cel setups culled from the archives. Animation historian John Culhane brings to life the story meetings and conferences by means of transcribed notes. Most of the artwork is not credited, but all of Disney's top early talent is in evidence. 220 pages, $29.95. Currently $19.95

Layout and Background (Walt Disney Animation Archives)
The idea of the Archive Series is to compile a whole book of art in a given category, showing examples from the studio's collection of short animated films and features. The art is large and uncropped, and mostly without commentary. Most of the works are credited in the back of the book. Both pencil layouts and painted backgrounds are included in this volume, showing the evolution of BG styles over the decades. Oversize 280 pages, $50.00. Currently $35.00

Story (Walt Disney Animation Archives) 
The drawings in this book are rough but incredibly expressive, communicating the emotion of the scene immediately. Many sequences are shown in series so you can see where the story beats are headed. Artists include Gustaf Tenggren, Bill Peet, Ferdinand Horvath, Glen Keane, and Chris Sanders. As with other volumes in the Archives series, the art is shown mostly without accompanying text, which lets the beautifully reproduced art shine on the page. The other excellent book on this subject is: Paper Dreams: The Art And Artists Of Disney Storyboards
Oversize 280 pages, $50.00. Currently $31.00

Design (Walt Disney Animation Archives)
This book showcases the work of the stylists and designers. The samples range from cartoony to expressionistic, and they will inspire illustrators looking to hone their own style. Art includes color scripts, character keys, color illustrations, and background sketches. Artists include Eyvind Earle, Mary Blair, Ty Wong, Gustaf Tenggren, Joe Grant, Aaron Blaise, Armand Baltazar, Lorelay Bove, and Hans Bacher. Oversize 280 pages, $60.00. Currently $34.00

The Art of DreamWorks Animation
 This thick book offers the best of the concept art from the history of DreamWorks Animation, 30 films in all. The early work goes all the way back to Prince of Egypt, and it carries through to Home in 2014. The individual pieces are mostly uncredited, but it includes recognizable talents like Carter Goodrich, Sam Michlap, Nathan Fowkes, and Christophe Lautrette. Paragraph-long captions scattered throughout by directors and production designers testify to the ferment of creative cross-fertilization that happened during many of the productions. 324 pages, $50.00. Currently $32.76

The Art of Zootopia
Character designs, mostly by Cory Loftis, explore many variations of pose and expression of all the main characters. The various regions of the Zootopia universe are explored in terms of their architecture, color styling, and concept. The text explains the evolution of the story concept and the challenges faced by the designers to make such a sprawling story cohesive visually.
160 pages, $40.00. Currently $24.74

More Art-of-Animation books that you recommended:
The Art of Spirited Away
The Art of My Neighbor Totoro: A Film by Hayao Miyazaki
Oga Kazuo (Studio Ghibli background artist)
Tekkonkinkreet Art Book Shinji Kimura
The Art of DreamWorks Kung Fu Panda
The Art of Kubo and the Two Strings
The Art of Pixar: The Complete Color Scripts
The Art of Tangled
The Art of Frozen
The Art of Blue Sky Studios
Song of the Sea Artbook
Cartoon Modern: Style and Design in 1950s Animation


Mike Blake Studio said...

My favorite is the Art of Brave. I feel it is a book disguised for the movie, when in fact over half of it was dedicated to Steve Pilcher and his amazing/diverse artistic ability (cannot get enough of his pencil drawings!!!!)

Jesse Welnick said...

I really love the Studio Ghibli art books. I personally own The Art of Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro and Ponyo. They all have Miyazaki's early painting and some of his storyboards. Then they include lots of character design illustrations and some of the background paintings. The Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro ones then include sections on the animation advances the films made. For example, My Neighbor Totoro talks about some of the blending they did with the rain effects so the rain would look more natural. The Spirited Away one talks about the subtle use of 3D effects throughout the movie.

I eventually plan to own all of them, and would highly recommend them

Mike Blake Studio said...

Something I feel your "Best of" list is missing is anything from Ghibli.

I have almost every art book from Hayao Miyazaki's movies (all available in English from Viz Media) and they are just as inciteful (if not more) than what is released for the western based movies. Chock full of anything you can imagine about and for the movie, including production story tidbits!

The Art of Spirited Away for example, has probably twice as much content (and pages) as most western based movie "art of" books. Whenever I need inspiration of any kind, the "Art of" ghibli books never fail me (and I own quite a few state-side based movie ones as well...such as outlined on your list. So I am not blindly biased.)

James Gurney said...

Jesse and Mike, You're right and thank you. I guess I was focused mostly on American studios. But I totally agree, the Studio Ghibli books are incredible. I love the Spirited Away volume and the Tekkon Kinkreet book, even though I can't read them because both in Japanese. Anyway, I'll add some of those to the list.

Steve said...

I would add Artbook Song of the Sea by Tomm Moore (2015). Along with the beauty of the finished color art work, there are sections on the mythological and folkloric references, locations, development and production, and characters for the 2014 Irish movie. It’s a lovely film with haunting music.

Unknown said...

What a nice surprise to read that Studio Ghibli publishes art of books, I did not know that!

One of my favourite art of book would be Zootopia, I loved the movie. Both the characters and environments and their development are well documented in the book. Really recommend it!

I feel like I'll soon need an additional book shelf ;)

Tobias Gembalski said...

I don´t have any of those in your list, but I can recommend following artbooks:
"Lilo & Stitch", How to train your dragon" and "Kung Fu Panda" even though they all probably only scratch on the surface of the artwork created for each film.
What I miss in most of the artbooks are the sculpted character maquettes, especially for the 3D films it must be an important part in the production,so why not show it?

Glenn Tait said...

I enjoyed "The Art of Cars" book for two main reasons. One, the stories and anecdotes from the research trips the development team made from going to the various race tracks, to visiting Detroit, to driving along Route 66 which weave an in-depth look into the movie's preparation. The other, and probably my main reason, are the wonderful Bill Cone pastel paintings that are in the book, including the cover along with many one and two page spreads. Fell in love with his work. He also does amazing plein air pastels as well.

James Gurney said...

Glenn, glad you mentioned Bill Cone. He goes back at least to Toy Story, and is one of the champions of plein air painting at Pixar.

Unknown said...

I love 'The Art of Rise of The Guardians' (Dreamworks) and 'The Art of Frozen' (Disney. Both are gorgeous books in their own right, but I feel like The Art of Rise of The Guardians is extra special in that it really covers a lot - both in the concept art, and the characters and how they came to be. It's a movie that is, in my opinion, criminally underrated - gorgeous animation, great music, likeable characters, and just really engaging, and the art book doesn't disappoint.

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Unknown said...

Im definetely gonna check some of the books out. I currently use books by Alan Lee and John Howe for inspiration on settings and Yoshitaka Amanos Art of Final Fantasy for character design. Highly recommended book btw.

Five Fives said...

I hope all of these are affiliate links, James, or you're robbing yourself! Great post!

Tom Hart said...

Turning just slightly from the topic: I recently discovered The Art of the Disney Golden Books by Charles Solomon. It's an in-depth look at the "golden age of Golden Books", and interestingly points out how the book art relates to, but is not lifted from, the animation art. In some cases, indeed, it preceded the animation art.

James Gurney said...

Tom, I love that book, and Charles Solomon is an animation historian, so he draws some of the connections between animation and Golden Books, especially Gustaf Tenggren.

Five Fives, yes, I set them up as affiliate links. I like that system because it doesn't cost the customer anything, but it helps support the time I put into the blog.

And thanks everybody for those additional suggestions. I added a bunch of them to the end of the post.

Pierre Fontaine said...

While all these books are lovely and inspirational, they've all become a bit interchangeable in my opinion. For a complete change of pace, I'd like to recommend a book called Cartoon Modern.: Style and Design in 1950's Animation by Amid Amidi.

This book covers the post-war period in animation design when everything was being rethought and streamlined to make animation more economical, especially for studios with reduced budgets and the burgeoning TV industry. Each chapter covers a different animation studio, from the most prominent ones like Disney and Warner Bros to the more streamlined studios that were shaking up the industry like UPA.

Here's a link:

Andy said...

As a kid I learned a lot about cartooning and animation from a Walter T. Foster book: Animation, by Preston Blair. Later in life, I bought a follow-up book How to Animate film Cartoons, also a WTF book by Preston Blair.

I still own both and still use the same basic approach to drawing cartoons and even real life.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, everybody, for those recommendations. I have added the following links at the end of the post:
The Art of Spirited Away
The Art of My Neighbor Totoro: A Film by Hayao Miyazaki
Oga Kazuo (Studio Ghibli background artist)
Tekkonkinkreet Art Book Shinji Kimura
The Art of DreamWorks Kung Fu Panda
The Art of Tangled
The Art of Zootopia
The Art of Frozen
The Art of Blue Sky Studios
Song of the Sea Artbook
Cartoon Modern: Style and Design in 1950s Animation

Andy, the Preston Blair book was my doorway into animation too as a kid. Later I found the Illusion of Life and Richard Williams books. All great, but they're a little outside the realm of the "Art-Of" genre.

Matt said...

I would also add the 4th "Walt Disney Animation Studios: The Archive Series" book – "Animation":

It has a ton of pencil comps and things, and is probably my least favorite of the set (my favorite being Layout), but since we're talking animation here, seeing the process of the old master films is always invaluable.


I would also agree with Pierre – Cartoon Modern is fantastic.
Along the Cartoon Modern lines, I would also suggest (a few of my all-time favorites)...

"The Noble Approach: Maurice Noble and the Zen of Animation Design"

"Setting the Scene: The Art & Evolution of Animation Layout"

"Awaking Beauty: The Art of Eyvind Earle"

"Marc Davis: Walt Disney's Renaissance Man"

And the series of 3 "They Drew As They Pleased":

"The Hidden Art of Disney's Golden Age"

"The Hidden Art of Disney's Musical Years (The 1940s - Part One)"

"The Hidden Art of Disney's Late Golden Age (The 1940s - Part Two)"

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Anonymous said...

There are number of School of visual effects for animations but one of my favorite in those is the art of finding dory as language used in this is very simple and anyone can learn by this from visiting tutorial or by watching videos and then implementing it in real.

Unknown said...

Amazing list. I would love to add The Illusion of Life book by Ollie Johnston,Frank Thomas. It's an must-have book recommended to any potential animators and Disney enthusiasts and great for those who want a flashback to the golden era of animation. You can have that from here:

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