Another birthday has come and gone and this one was a doozy. It was probably one of my most memorable of recent years, probably because it was simple and it was the first time with our littlest one, Ezra. The gifts I received this year were all great, and I've been stealing time away from Andrea and the kids just to go over my stuff. Here's what I got for my birthday:
The Art of The Incredibles, by Mark Cotta Vaz. I've been pining for this one even before the film came out. I got to flip through it about a week before, and then quickly shut it, not wanting to know too much about the film and also wanting to really savor the wonderful artwork and drawings once I got the book. It remained at the top of my wish list for quite some time. Thanks to Mom and Joel for this one.
Some idiot posted up on the Amazon customer comments about this book saying that this was the "worse preproduction art" [sic] he's ever seen. (He says he's an art student, by the way, so that explains it. He's got lots of learnin' to do.) Being in the industry for 8 years, I'd like to think that I have some idea as to what is great preproduction art and what is not, right? I mean, afterall, art is subjective, at the very least, right? And I know that every person is entitled to their own opinion, but fur pete's sake - the artwork in this book is GORGEOUS. That boy does NOT know what he's talking about. Takin' crazy pills, I tell ya.
Anyway, I thought that it was very interesting that the main characters, the Parr family, were pretty much established a good 1 to 2 years before Brad Bird came to Pixar. And that they pretty much retained the same look and design throughout the course of the production of the film. Only Dash went through a major change. That's saying something about the character designs of Tony Fucile, Lou Romano, and Teddy Newton. All three worked with Bird previously on THE IRON GIANT, and it looks to me that the four have established a very strong bond when it comes to developing characters. Fucile's style is so smooth and shapely - I'd kill to animate these characters, in a traditonal sense, of course. But it's interesting to see how well his designs transferred over into 3D. They had this model maker, Kent Melton, do some very detailed models of the characters for the film and they are perfect.
I have to admit that I wasn't too sure about Teddy Newton's collages, but he does explain that knowing that these characters were going to be CG, he felt that the surfaces were going to play a major factor in the overall design, so he cut out shapes from images that had textures like flesh, hair, cloth, fabric, etc. He ends up with some very stylized and very abstract (at times) shapes that somehow come together and become Edna Mode, or Dash, or Elastigirl. The more I looked at Teddy's work, the more I was won over by it and the more I realize how brilliant it is. The work's so good that if you were to look at these pieces from far away, you'd still know right away who they were.
My favorite part of the book is the fold-out of the color design for the entire film, by Lou Ramono. It looks like some of these images were the inspiration for that ultra-cool end credit sequence for the film. Lou also did some great gouache work, which is not an easy medium to master. This is a fantastic book to own and I highly recommend it for anybody interested in character design and development, set design, color studies, collage work, etc., you name it. It's a great inspirational book for any artist.
The next gift I received for my birthday was The Mischievous Art of Jim Flora, by Irwin Chusid. My wife knows me so well. She knew I'd been pining for this book even longer than The Art of The Incredibles, as I've been a big fan of Flora's work for many years now. When I found out that they had put a book together of all his work, I was a very happy boy. Jim Flora is most known for his fantastical and whimsical album covers done for Columbia and RCA Victor during the 1940's and 50's. His work was first showcased in In The Groove: Vintage Record Covers, 1940-1960, but there was only a few album covers featured. Here, you get to see Flora in all his glory, from the album covers to the work he did for Columbia's Coda trade journal to his commerical work in magazines. He eventually went on to do children's books, but this book does not focus on that part of his career.
I've been very influenced by Flora, and one time I happened to have some of his album covers pinned up at work, when Doug, my boss walked in, talking to me about some ideas for a Primal Screen t-shirt. He looked up at Flora's work and said, "You know, we should do something like that." I was all for it. You can see my homage to Flora here. I created it in Illustrator, if you're curious about those things.
There's a great childlike quality to Flora's artwork, with some ideas that seem to come out of nowhere - ones that only Flora could conjure up. Childlike, primitive, striking, distinctive, influential - all these descriptions are hard to come by for just one guy, but Jim Flora was quite the revolutionary in my book. You should give this wonderful book a good lookie-through. Much love to Andrea for this one.
Lastly, my birthday hat-trick is complete with THE IRON GIANT Special Edition DVD. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is one of my favorite movies of all time, and I've been waiting for this special edition for about 4 years, not long after the movie was released in theaters. The DVD is no disappointment, that's for sure, with a great audio commentary by writer/director Brad Bird, story department head Jeff Lynch, Giant supervising animator Steve Markowski, and animator and character designer, Tony Fucile. Lots of props given as Bird and Co. are very well aware of the cooperative nature of the animation medium. The deleted scenes are a fascinating addition, with the Giant's dream sequence being the biggie here, as we get to see some insight as to the Giant's origin. My only caveat would be the "still gallery," as it's not really a gallery of images where you select from one to the next, but a short, 4-minute clip of character designs, backgrounds, etc. It would've been nice to be able to view the images on my own time, instead of having to press pause every 3 seconds. But HEY-I'm not going to complain here. I'm just happy to have this DVD in my grubby little hands finally. Again, thanks, Andrea. And sorry for playing this movie non-stop since the 24th.
A great birthday, indeed. After opening my gifts, and having cake and ice cream, the whole family went out to go see THE INCREDIBLES. Even Ezra popped his head up to watch at one point, but fell asleep in mommy's arms for the rest of the film. It was the first time all four of us got to see a movie together and it was great. Ava loved the movie and wants to see it again. I know I was a little worried about her being scared, but she was not fazed by it at all. It was a great ending to a wonderful birthday. Made me very proud to be a father and a husband.