When it comes to art books for animated films, so often the art looks far better than the final product. This is due to a mix between preliminary artists having no restrictions, the tone going further than the flick would risk taking, and it’d cost too damn much to make it look so good. In other words, art books can take you places the film could not, but this book is far different. Don’t worry, it’s in a good way.
The Art of the Book of Life HC (Dark Horse Comics)
I for one was not familiar with writer/director Jorge R. Gutierrez’s previous work, but fear not, because filmmaker extraordinaire Guillermo del Toro delivers a very succinct and heartfelt foreword. I start by talking about this foreword because it becomes very evident after reading both it and the following introduction by Gutierrez’s that Mexican culture is a big reason why he is so loved and successful. Best known for his Nickelodeon TV show El Tigre, del Toro explains how Gutierrez is a visionary. So much so that he was designing new characters and locations on the spot as del Toro talked with him in their very first meeting. Del Toro has an incredible respect for the man, which gives the reader a good impression on how they should approach this material. It’s not just simple drawings, but a vivid world that has been captured and released from Gutierrez’s head!
The dress and hat are characters in themselves!
Too often these art books give scant details on what went into the drawings, or where they fit in the narrative, but not so here. That might be because Gutierrez loves art books. He says as much in the introduction, and without a doubt he delivers a lot of detail when it comes to the design and production of his pet project film. The book is broken down into three chapters: the first serving the characters, the second the making of and the third locations. That structure is telling, because after reading this book it’s evident that the production was built on the foundation of character.
Hmm, his acting is a bit wooden.
The imagery within is rather close to what the final product will assuredly look like, but how do I know this without seeing the film? Mostly because the final rendering of each character is within this book and it’s not too far off from what is seen in the trailers. We do get that and more as the book contains all that it took to make what we see on the big screen. From acting explorations to first sketches, there’s a ton in this book to explore.
Each character gets multiple pages devoted to them with really great notes from Gutierrez. There are details in this book you probably wouldn’t even notice when you see the film, for instance the color of characters’ eyes match the main color of other characters. Why is that? Because they only have eyes for their true love. That’s what makes this art book so good, as it explains how story and character were designed into the look and feel of everything in this world.
There are also notepad sketches and plenty of cutting room floor imagery to enjoy. There isn’t necessarily a logical order in which Gutierrez delivers the sketches, but each character section does end with the final product which is a nice way to cap off all the work that went into every single character.
So that’s why the character portion is great, but what of the “making of” chapter you might be wondering? It’s safe to say I’ve never seen anything like it, as Gutierrez includes details I never even knew animated films lock down. For instance, of the three worlds in the movie—Land of the Living, Land of the Remembered and Land of the Forgotten—each has a specific percentage of shapes (80% circular, 15% square and 5% triangular in the Land of the Remembered for instance), ingredients, and color tone. Each land has its own material as well, for instance the Land of the Living is wood. It all goes a long way to show how design rules were established early, but with these rules the artists were allowed to play and build as they allowed the art to flourish.
Expressions and poses exploration. Love it!
The final chapter focuses on locations, but it’s not all double paged landscapes. No, it also includes background character designs and explanations for how the locations were characters in and of themselves. While this chapter includes sweeping shots of gorgeous paintings of the towns and lands, it also includes closer examinations of posters, flag designs and instruments. Truly, this book stops at nothing to deliver information and examples of every level of detail in this world.
Love how the face paint changes with mood!
This book is quite simply a delight. A great story is being told within this book and it goes beyond the film and into the design and art process of some truly talented people. Without a doubt, this book will add to the experience of the film and is worthy of any coffee table of every art lover. As the characters only have eyes for their loves, you, the reader, will have eyes for this book.