Book Review – The Art of Epic

epiccoverAs someone who has spent a lifetime studying art and animation, one of the greatest joys I have in life is to get a peek behind the curtain at the creative process.  When our friends at Titan Books offered up The Art of Epic for review, I jumped at the chance.

From the publisher:

From 20th Century Fox Animation and Blue Sky Studios, the creators ofIce Age and Rio, Epic tells the story of an ongoing battle deep in the forest between the forces of good and the forces of evil. When a teenage girl finds herself magically transported into this secret universe, she must band together with a rag-tag team of fun and whimsical characters in order to save their world — and ours.

The Art of Epic shines a light on the previously hidden world of Epic, with over 300 pieces of concept art, character sketches, storyboards and digital paintings, along with interviews with the key animation talent.

3One of the things my friends are constantly groaning about is when they say the latest special effects laden movie looks good, and I typically reply that in this day and age, there’s no excuse for it not to look good.  Yes, I’m jaded.  CG animation has come a long way since the Death Star schematics seen in 1977’s Star Wars or the stained glass knight we see in Young Sherlock Holmes (1986).  But let’s put this into perspective.  It’s one thing to have the animation look good; it’s something else entirely to create a complete and detailed world of artistry within the pixels and vectors.  We see a lot of these kinds of movies these days as well from noted studios, Pixar being the first name anyone thinks about, and thus they are the ones that continually raise the bar.  So of course I demand better from those who would compete against them.  Besides that, Hollywood has proven it can make an interesting trailer for nearly anything.  It’s just not enough for something to “look good.”  I want art.  I’d ultimately like story too, but if we’re going on looks alone, I demand artistry.  On May 24, Blue Sky Studios (the team behind Ice Age) is offering up their latest creation, Epic.  I can’t comment on the movie itself because it’s not been released, and I certainly haven’t seen it.  But based on what I’m seeing in this book, I’m more than curious to check it out.  Do you know why?  Because thanks to this book, I’ve seen the art.

2The Art of Epic offers that inside look from character concept, “set” design, and storyboard, through the various stages of creation and manipulation all the way through to the finished world.  What author Tara Bennett has done here is a public service.  On one hand, Blue Sky Studios doesn’t get nearly enough praise for their work, being one of the primary competitors against the giant of Pixar.  Think of this book as a signal flare to the world that perhaps notice of their artistry is long overdue.  On the other hand, art and animation fans like myself are treated to the process.  Something that never gets old for me is that the process hasn’t changed much since the days when Walt Disney and his contemporaries at Warner Bros. revolutionized animation. Every character and the world they inhabit all start with that intimate quest into the artist’s imagination that begins with the pencil sketch.  From there, the evolution begins, and the wonder unfolds.  One of the things that always amazes me is the collaboration.  A film of this size requires that the artists and animators come up with a consistent look for the finished work, which is harder than you might imagine when dealing with any team environment.  The people involved have to be exactly that: a team, otherwise you get a hodge podge that prevents the audience from immersing themselves into the world.  Blue Sky isn’t afraid to let their work look like the digital creation it is, but their style is as unique to them as Pixar’s is to Pixar, and their art worthy of a showcase such as this book.  We’ll know before long if the story matches the art, but for now, just enjoy the art on its own merits.  Let this book be your guide.

The Art of Epic is available now from Titan Books.