Sunday 26 June 2011

The Art of Kung Fu Panda 2 Review - A Masterful Menagerie of Martial Arts Art

Firstly, I'd like to thank the kind folk over at Titan books for the complimentary review copy of this utterly stunning book. Those of you that read my review of the film on which The Art of Kung Fu Panda 2 is based, Kung Fu Panda 2, will know that I wasn't really expecting a lot from the film, as DreamWorks are notoriously not great with sequels. However, DreamWorks have really stepped it up in the past couple of years and I was happy to be proved wrong by the utterly awesome Kung Fu Panda 2. But, one thing that I could never doubt about Kung Fu Panda 2, was how gorgeous it was; the animation in the film was stunning, ergo, the artwork would surely be breathtaking. And it is.

After previously acquiring The Art of Toy Story 3 and of Cars 2 books, The Art of Kung Fu Panda 2 book is my first 'Art of' book outside the Pixar series and I'm very glad that I diversified my range; this book is mesmerising and fantastic. The book showcases some of the most gorgeous artwork I have ever seen, I stressed in my review of The Art of Cars 2 how beautiful and glitzy everything was, this book is equally beautiful, but in a very different way. The Art of Kung Fu Panda 2 compiles a veritable plethora of beautiful, serene artwork and of harsh, fierce nightmarish art, which made the memory scenes of the film so much more potent.  Some of my very favourite pieces of artwork in this book are the sketches, drawings and colour scripts of the beautiful Chinese scenery and the picturesque landscapes, they are incredibly luscious, genteel and sublime.

Furthermore, in addition to some utterly amazing character sketches, lighting studies, colour scripts and more, we have some magnificent fold out spreads. Fold outs are amazingly simple in terms of what they are, however they are equally as effective as they are simple; they add so much more detail and nuances, making it even more awesome to behold. All of the artwork here is brilliant in one way or another, either through their vibrant colours or their detailed and pronounced outlines and shadows; they're all round great.

However, in these books, there are always a few standouts, however, the quality of the work here is so generally brilliant, that it's that bit harder to single some out. But to me, there were half a dozen or so whose work always captured my attention: Raymond Zibach (Production Designer), Nicolas Marlet, Chris Brock, Tang Kheng Heng (Art Director), Bill Kaufman, Ritche Sacilioc, and there was, surprisingly, a large amount of artwork - including storyboards - from the film's director, Jennifer Yuh Nelson. You'll see some of the fantastic work of these seven individuals scattered about the review - Chris Brock is responsible for the book's front cover (top) -, you'll be able to see by the detail in all of the work, why I couldn't narrow that list down more.

The book was generally brilliant, however the sections that I particularly loved were those on specific characters. It provided a great insight into how the character models and rigs were updated to keep up to date with the cutting edge technology, yet also remain familiar. I also enjoyed seeing the progress of creating some of the new characters that I loved in the film, like Masters Thundering Rhino, Storming Ox and Croc. They were beautifully designed and all of the sketches and designs were gorgeous; I particularly loved the section for Baby Po. Baby Po was unbelievably cute and innocent in the film, this translated from the initial drawings and sketches.

Also, as I loved the 'Roads Not Taken' section in The Art of Cars 2, I loved seeing parts that didn't make it into the full film; characters that were ditched and more. These sections, called 'Out of Picture' sections, showed some fantastic characters but justified the reasons they were ditched. For example, their was originally a fourth Kung Fu master of Gongmen City, Master Bore. Master Bore looked great, and I loved the masters that made it to the final film, however, Bore was ditched (apparently it was difficult to easily animate his fat), although he did make a brief cameo in the film and appeared in the Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special.

The book just had a generally good layout, it was thoughtful, logical and coherent. This means the reader can easily flick through the beautiful artwork on display. However, you will learn a great deal if you take your time and read the book thoroughly. The Art of Kung Fu Panda 2, written by Tracey Miller-Zarnake (who wrote the 'Art of' book for the first Kung Fu Panda and for How to Train Your Dragon) - with a great foreword by Dustin Hoffman, voice of Master Shifu - is very detailed and intricate, it details all to do with the film - this book is decidedly more wordy than The Art of Cars 2, however, they both have their merits.

In terms of the layout, as a final note, the 'Journey in Progress' section showed the animation progress at DreamWorks in astonishing detail; I was very impressed. Finally, I also liked how, like the film, the end of the book created a cogent link to Kung Fu Panda 3.

Overall, I was incredibly impressed with The Art of Kung Fu Panda 2, it was fantastic, luscious and beautiful.


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