Sunday 3 June 2012

The Art of Brave Review - A Deep, Rich and Brave Art Book

I have been privileged to get the chance to read some great 'Art of' books over the past week, starting with Insight Editions' The Art of Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, and continuing now with Chronicle Books' The Art of Brave. Pixar's thirteenth feature film, Brave, looks set to be another classic, with great characters, great story, and a fantastic, gorgeous visual style. The Art of Brave reflects this. Always in these 'Art of' books, the artwork on display is fantastic, reflecting the unparalleled amount of work that goes into creating an animated film - regardless of the studio from which the film emanates - and The Art of Brave is just another utterly fantastic example of this.

The artwork and developmental pieces on display from the talented and insightful artists at Pixar are, as they should be, the focus of The Art of Brave. Some of my quibbles with The Art of Madagascar 3 were that it was at times a little text heavy, resorting to detailing the film's plot, as opposed to letting the text simply complement the art. However, here the art is, unquestionably, the focal point, with all text merely highlighting key points in production; chronicling the production of the film, not its story.

The early sections of the book can seem a trifle text-centric at times, but this is entirely purposeful by author Jenny Lerew; it reflects the production of the film. Theoretical and considerate to start with, spiralling into varied, exploratory drawings thereafter, and finishing with a huge glut of storyboards, artwork and developmental artwork - it's fantastic. So, the earlier sections of the book focus on the film's origins, the early stages of its prodution, and it's certainly been a long production! The book contains artwork dating back as far as 2005 - that's a 7 year production slate, long even for Pixar's generally 4 year productions! It's a great testament to the level of effort and consideration that the people at Pixar put into every project, and is evident by how fantastic Brave looks so far! It's also great to read about this crack team coming together in the early days of production, after original director Brenda Chapman finished up work on Cars; a crack team consisting of Brenda Chapman, eventual co-director Steve Purcell, producer Katherine Sarafian and production designer Steve Pilcher - a man largely credited with bringing the gorgeous, antiquated look of Brave to life. It was also particularly wonderful to read of the involvement of the late, great Joe Ranft in the early days of the project.

Jenny Lerew does a fantastic job here as author of The Art of Brave, she just seems to get exactly what her role is. Lerew, a story artist herself at DreamWorks, clearly has a fantastic respect for the artists whose work these books feature, so she has a definite understanding of the requirements of this job, to complement the artwork and let it speak for itself. There are entire pages filled with just artwork, with only salient quotes or comments by the people involved in the film. The art is, and should be, the focus. The more concise nature that this lends itself to also means there's less spoilers - another problem I found with The Art of Madagascar 3.

There's also some great words on the production of the film from 3 key figures: a preface by Pixar and Disney Animation Chief Creative Officer, John Lasseter, and forewords by co-directors, Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews. Lasseter is, as usual, an insightful presence, putting everything accomplished into context; current director Mark Andrews offers up his great thoughts on the genesis of the film, however it's the earnest, honest comments about the origins of the film, and its inspiration from her relationship with her daughter, from original director Brenda Chapman that really gives the book its emotional roots. If the film itself has the personally emotional core of this book, Pixar will have another winner.

Now, I've spent a lot of time up until now talking about how the artwork in these kinds of books should always be the focus, but I haven't really focused on it that much myself in this review. The art here is all completely fantastic. It's in another world form the art in The Art of Madagascar 3, both have their merits, but whilst in former, the art was bright, colourful and vibrant, here it's far more intense and brooding. Not to say it doesn't have a vibrant look to it, it's just a lot more eerie and grand, it's completely awe inspiring in this form, hence why the fully rendered animation we've seen so far is so stunning. It's more like The Art of Kung Fu Panda 2 than The Art of Madagascar 3: much more emotionally resonant, and so, so fantastic.

I particularly admired the artwork of, to pick just a few, production designer Steve Pilcher, Noah Kloeck, Armand Baltazar (whose work I also loved in The Art of Cars 2), Matt Nolte and huy Nguyen. Their work on display here is the best of a very strong bunch, it's a mix of the awe-inspiring and the grand, along with the huge, sweeping landscapes of the film, and the warm familial glow that the film seems to exude. With fantastic work like this, it's not hard to see why Brave looks as good as it does. The artwork is just so intense and beautiful, so rich and yet restrained.

Another huge point of props for this book in terms of art, for me, was the abundance of storyboards! It's almost as if someone took the few gripes I had with The Art of Madagascar 3 and remedied them with this book. Jenny Lerew, as a story artist herself, clearly recognises how much fans love to see storyboards in books like this and how important they are to the production of a film, as she has included tons of storyboards here - much to my delight. Some of them, especially those from the heavily guarded second and third acts of the film, may be considered to carry some spoilers since the film isn't out yet, although, rather cleverly, a lot of the storyboards are from clips or trailers that have already been released. The storyboards, including ones from Emma Coats, Bobby Rubio, Louis Gonzales and now-director Mark Andrews, are absolutely riveting; they provide such fascinating insight into the production of an animated film, which, at its core, has remained the same since Walt Disney was making animated films back in 1930.

I also loved the colour script for the film, it provides such a visceral, physical feel of the film that is evidently invaluable in production - it's just a shame it wasn't out in time to feature in The Art of Pixar: The Complete Color Scripts and Select Art from 25 Years. I also loved the sections on the development of the characters of Brave.

In fact, pretty much the only problem I had with the book is what, I am assuming, is a printing problem. In fact, given my luck, I have a sneaking suspicion it may just be my copy of the book. In my copy of The Art of Brave, the introductory page for section two is misplaced so that it appears to go: section one, section three, section two (with no pages following the introductory page), and then back to normal for section four and five. This wasn't enough to spoil the book for me by any means, but it does seem like a bit of a sloppy mistake given that Chronicle Books are usually such a fantastic publisher. That said, the book is fantastically well executed and put together, and is a beauty to behold - I'm very grateful to Chronicle for sending me a review copy of it, it is a masterpiece.

UPDATE: My bad entirely, in my attempt to not read too in-depth, to avoid spoilers, I failed to notice the distinction between the Sections and Chapters in the book, it actually said "Section Two", then, following that, "Chapter Four". Thus, my only major quibble with the book is resolved. The Art of Brave is a must-buy for any Pixar fans!


Note, all images and artwork used here are property of Chronicle Books, Pixar Animation Studios 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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