I have four long bookshelves lined with nothing but animation books. The lion's share of these are 'Art Of' and 'Making Of' books, but until now, only three of them focused on CG films. Why? Cuz I'm old. Cuz I was raised on hand-drawn animation. And given the choice, I'd much rather look at paintings, sketches and pastels than the multicolored spaghetti that makes up a CG animator's toolbox.
Or so I'd thought.
After reading Noela Hueso's 'The Art of the Croods,' I can feel a seismic shift about to occur in my library. If the other recently released CG 'Art Of' books are even half as good as this one, I'm about buy a LOT of new books. I may even have to build some new bookshelves!
With 'The Art of the Croods,' Noela Hueso has put together the PERFECT behind-the-scenes book. It contains hundreds of large, beautifully reproduced illustrations, as well as a wealth of informative, unobtrusively placed text. Someone who has never read anything about animation could pick it up and gain a pretty good understanding of what goes into making a feature length CG film. Animation know-it-alls will also find plenty to pore over, from the concept art to the uncensored anecdotes to the detailed descriptions of the film's technical trickery.
'The Art of the Croods' starts off with a brief introduction to the film's production. The movie began way back in 2004, originally conceived of as a stop-motion film from Aardman Animations ('Wallace & Gromit'), and co-written by Kirk De Micco ('Space Chimps') and John Cleese ('Monty Python'). When Aardman's first DreamWorks release, Flushed Away, tanked, the two studios parted ways. John Cleese departed soon thereafter. This left Kirk De Micco all alone on the film. Around this same time, Chris Sanders left Disney for DreamWorks. Sanders took an immediate liking to 'The Croods,' and was soon teamed-up with De Micco as the film's co-writer and co-director. The pairing seemed like a match made in heaven, until...
In 2009, DreamWorks asked Chris Sanders to temporarily leave 'The Croods.' 'How To Train Your Dragon' was scheduled for release in 2010, and they needed a replacement director, STAT. (In retrospect, GOOD CALL, DREAMWORKS!) Once again, Kirk De Micco was writing 'The Croods' solo, only now -- and this is where it really gets good -- he had production designer Christophe Lautrette and the DW art department assisting him on the project. Lautrette and the art department went NUTS. In less than a year, they created THOUSANDS of drawings, paintings and CG mock-ups of potential characters, environments and critters. This book contains the best of it!
Part 1: Finding The Croods
The second section of 'The Art of the Croods' is an eclectic collection of preproduction artwork covering the creation of the caveman cast. This is the section that every animation fan will want to flip to first. It's a cartoon nerd's nirvana. We're talking page after page of GORGEOUS ARTWORK chronicling the lead characters' false starts, dead ends and moments of revelation. Through text and illustration, Hueso charts the gradual evolution of their personalities and appearances. Ugga, for instance, looks NOTHING like she did when she began. And poor, furry, adorable Belt -- he almost wasn't animated at all!
Fans of James Baxter (the animator behind Beauty & The Beast's Belle!) will be DELIGHTED to know that there are a bunch of his sketches in this section. We're talking CARTOONING AT ITS BEST, folks! Baxter does a series of facial expression studies for Sandy, Grug and Gran that will make your eyeballs feel drunk. Good drunk, giddy drunk, ready to make out with a stranger drunk. I've been a fan of Baxter's for a looong time, and I'm STILL in awe of the emotion and personality he can deliver in a simple neck-up sketch. Isn't it time we started calling him 'Maestro Baxter'?
Part 2: An Evolving World
Crazy critters! Lush landscapes! Exotic environments! If the first two sections of 'The Art of The Croods' served as a 1-2 punch to your visual cortex, this portion is the knockout blow.
Taking up roughly half of the book's 177 pages, 'An Evolving World' should stand as the definitive resource for anyone interested in ANYTHING about the world of 'The Croods.' Every critter that made it into the finished film is on display here, most of them shown in varying stages of design. We're talking 14 different versions of the ramu, a full page of color studies for the liyote, and a half page of watercolor thumbnails detailing the bearowl's broad range of predatory poses.
It's not just the critters that get critiqued in this section. The Croodaceous period's flora and fauna get a similarly exhaustive examination. If you've ever wondered what a field guide for a fantasy world would look like, you now have your answer. Victorian era pencil sketches sit beside photo-realistic CG paintings. Giant, bulbous trees dwarf small, carnivorous flowers. Underwater plants carpet rainforest floors, disappearing into the shade of mushroom-covered redwoods. Everything looks familiar, but somehow different. It's the landscape of dreams.
Speaking of landscapes, 'The Art of The Croods' is CHOCK FULL O' LANDSCAPES. Much like the original 'Star Wars' trilogy, every scene in 'The Croods' appears to take place in a wholly original environment. But instead of desert planets, snow planets, cloud planets and jungle planets, 'The Croods' takes us to barren canyons, lush forests, fields of coral, and a crystal cave. The stories behind these environments are equally eclectic. Some were inspired by crew members' vacations, others from 'The Wizard of Oz.' A few took their cues from inanimate objects like ceramic vases and paper lanterns.
Part 3: Anatomy of a Scene
The final portion of 'The Art of The Croods' goes step by step through a single scene's production. Beginning with a vague description from the directors as to what they wanted the scene to accomplish, we're taken through its storyboarding, layout, CG modeling and surfacing, character rigging and animation, and just about every visual effect imaginable -- including the final 3D conversion.
Dreaming of a job in animation? This section will either help you fine-tune your focus or completely overwhelm you. Either way, you're walking away educated. It's gonna be a little less enthralling for those folks NOT enamored with the details of digital rendering or the wonders of filming flames in a parking lot so that you can then spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars trying to recreate them on a computer. Make no mistake, this is the animation equivalent of insider baseball. Reader mileage may vary.
Back to the positives!
This section contains EVEN MORE hand drawn production art! In the chapter 'Character TD and Animation,' there's a full page of pencil sketches of Guy in various action poses and extreme close-ups. I let my nephews (ages 9 and 12) flip through 'The Art of the Croods' while they were visiting recently, and they were RIVETED by this page. When their dad came by to pick them up at the end of the night, they ripped four pages trying to show it to him. They were THAT EXCITED by it! It was the first time I was ever happy to see a couple of punk kids destroying my stuff.
I'm old. I'll never get over my preference for hand-drawn animation. But getting to see the creation of a CG film laid out in such an ornate and instructive manner has made me love this young buck art form a whole lot more.