Thursday 31 May 2012

The Art of Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted Review - A Wild, Exciting and Fun Art Book

The kind folks at Insight Editions were generous enough to send me a free review copy of their latest book The Art of Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, which is available now. Since last year when I reviewed another DreamWorks 'Art of' book, The Art of Kung Fu Panda 2, I have purchased several more and varying 'Art of' books and acquired a greater understanding and respect for the process undergone in the production of an animated film and a keener eye for reviewing such books. That said, The Art of Madagascar 3 is fantastic.

Now, I've never been that great a fan of the Madagascar films; the first one was decent and pretty fun, the second was a marked improvement - funnier and more emotionally considerate - and this latest instalment is getting pretty good reviews so far. Moreover, I wasn't that keen on its artistic style either, it always looked a bit shoddy and rough to me. However, this book has done three things for me: once again, as with The Art of Kung Fu Panda 2, impressed me with the depth of production that goes into films at DreamWorks; given me a newfound admiration for, what I now recognise as, a very stylised artistic look, and got me more excited for Madagascar 3.

The book contrasts sharply to the more oriental and desaturated, emotional, artwork in The Art of Kung Fu Panda 2, bringing more to mind Pixar and Chronicle Books' The Art of Cars 2, in that this is a very bright, very colourful and very vibrant book. The artwork just screams fun; every stroke and every colour imbues a lively sense of fun that (from the trailers, and indeed the early reviews) seems to be indicative of the final film. The art on display is very busy and very hectic, contributing to a boisterous, colourful book.

In 'Art of' books, all of the work on display is usually stunning and the result of several months of hard work - and The Art of Madagascar 3 is no exception - however, what I always find is that there are a few standouts: both standout pieces and standout artists. Here, I found myself particularly enjoying the work of Alex Pullivard, Erwin Madrid, Ken Pak, Shannon Jefferies, Goro Fujita and Lindsey Olivares to name just a few (although reading that back it doesn't seem like a few) of the very talents artists and animators whose work is on display here. You can see some of their work scattered about this review, but to fully appreciate the wonderful art you really have to buy the book.

The combination of the fantastic artwork and some very insightful details on production and artistic considerations, by Craig Kellman (character designer), Kendal Cronkhite (production designer) and Rex Grignon (head of character animation), lead you - they certainly led me - to attain a great respect for the artistic style of the Madagascar films. The very stylised approach to the animation is purposefully so, to hearken to folk and contemporary art and to enforce the very cartoony world of Madagascar. Employing an animation and design technique referred to as "straights against curves", where by the animator opposes a straight line with a curve, such as a straight back of arm being opposed by a curved bicep. Bringing to mind The Flintstones amongst others, the rudimentary style combined with the very detailed textures and furs certainly gives the Madagascar universe a unique feel.

In terms of the writing in the book, The Art of Madagascar 3 is authored by Barbara Robertson, a respected editor for Computer Graphics World. Robertson does a good job in her role, never overstepping it, endeavouring to keep the focus on the art. That said, the book is at times a little text heavy and can descend into some pretty heavy spoilers at times (that should be a consideration for you, given that the film isn't released yet). There's also a great, earnest and honest foreword by Madagascar star, Chris Rock (Marty the Zebra), putting the whole franchise into an emotional context and showing how much everyone involved in films like these come to care for the characters and the worlds.

The often text heavy nature of the book means that there is less art in some of the earlier sections, and there is less of a range of art, also, when compared to The Art of Kung Fu Panda 2, and there are few storyboards or colour scripts - often the highlights of these books for me - until the final pages. Admittedly, what there is is quality, and yes, it is quality over quantity, but with this kind of book and this kind of price tag, you ideally want both.

However, the book's highlight for me (as well as strong sections on the new characters, giving development sketches and background details) was the 'Building a Sequence' section towards the end of the book, as in The Art of Kung Fu Panda 2, which provides an astonishing amount of detail on the full production of any one individual sequence and how much work goes into achieving what we see on screen. Even I, as a huge animation superfan, found myself learning a lot about the process. I also liked the way that the very traditional 2D drawings and sketches were complemented by details on the very modern process of considering stereoscopic 3D for the film during production; it adds a bit more range to the book and showing how phenomenally detailed and time consuming computer animation is. This section also allayed my earlier quibbles about storyboards and colour scripts with some great ones for 'sequences 600 and 700'.

It's also of note that throughout the book it's hinted at - although with no confirmation - that we can expect a Madagascar 4. I'll wait to see 3 before I pass judgement on that, but if that had an accompanying 'Art of' book as good as this one, it wouldn't be all bad.

The Art of Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted is a solid continuation of the long running 'Art of' series that accompany DreamWorks films, and its detailed insight and bright, vibrant drawings draw you into the world and imbue you with a new respect for the series. To surmise: The Art of Madagascar 3 is a great book that increased my anticipation for the film it accompanies, and is definitely worth a buy for any fans of animation, Madagascar or DreamWorks.


Note, all images and artwork used here are property of Insight Editions, DreamWorks Animation and any other respective owners, and are used here for illustrative purposes only and in accordance with the fair use policy of copyright law.

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