May '09

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Five Questions +2

Tim Hauser

The writer of "The Art of Wall-E" and this month's release "The Art of Up" discusses the art of the art of.

1. What makes for a good "art of.." book?

The must-have ingredient in an "Art of" book is a vivid selection of dynamic, inspirational artwork, boldly and attractively presented, but I think it's also nice to learn a bit of the how-and-why that art was created.   What were the filmmakers thinking?   How does the art support the story, theme and characters?   How might the book help inspire readers to create their own work?

Ralph Eggleston and Andrew Stanton were kind enough to recommend me as author for the "Art of WALL E" after reading some of my online articles.   My interest in visual storytelling dovetailed with theirs and complimented the unique pantomime aspect of the movie.

Invitations to write "The Art of UP" for Chronicle Books and "The Pixar Treasures" for Disney Editions followed.   Both will be published in 2009.

2. Where do you start such an undertaking?

For the "Art of" books, a screening of the story reels is step one, then a group meeting with the film's art director, the editors, book designers and Pixar's publication manager (the always supportive Kathleen Chanover) to look over an initial display of art and discuss an overall approach for the text.   After that, I write an outline proposal for how the chapters and themes could be structured.  

Then it's all about the interviews, where I absorb as much as possible of what's in the filmmaker's minds.   Since the text is written in mid-production, it's a bit like recording living history.   You are there with visionary talents like Andrew Stanton or Pete Docter sharing a special moment in time.   How do you give readers a taste of the studio in action?   I try to ask what people might wonder about when looking back on this film several decades from now.

What follows is an intense period of transcribing, selecting, additional research, building, notes, tearing down, trimming back, writing and re-writing.   All the while trying to keep the text simple, a skeleton to support and inform the art, not distract from it.   The ultimate length of the written material is predetermined.

In the case of Pixar's books, the film's art director/production designer (Ralph Eggleston for "WALL E," Ricky Nierva for "Up") selects the artwork in collaboration with the book designers.   Together they craft the visual appearance of the volume.   In that way, this series of books is truly an extension of the production.   It represents how the filmmakers would like the project documented and remembered.

Everyone makes suggestions along the way, but seldom due to self-interest.   Artists are usually reminding us of other people's work - - not to forget someone who may have been on the project early on, making sure everyone gets credit for their contribution or has provided a quote.   The Pixar staff is quite gracious and supportive of their fellow talents in the studio.   They take care of each other.

My job is to assemble the text that provides context and organizational structure for the visuals with an emphasis on quotes from the director, art director and key crew.   For myself, I like to consider how their work relates to or expands on the traditions of animated storytelling.

3. Does Pixar do any work on paper anymore?

Quite a bit. How much depends on the production and the talents involved and how they like to work.   A lot of the inspirational art and design work is still done in the traditional handcrafted way.   Story sketch seems to be headed more and more to the digital arena, though.   Being an old-school guy, I've learned a lot about computer graphics film production from writing these books.  

4. Do you have any say in the layout, or type of paper used?

No.   My workload is full enough with just the text!   Though other authors may work differently.

5. Have "art of" books ever included a "Confidential" section of the crass and crude sketches done as inside jokes?

This is often discussed, and some of it makes the final cut, but editors tend to feel that this kind of material may be too "inside" for the public.

+1.   What is the best "art of" book you've ever seen?   What makes it the best?

My favorite is still the original edition of "The Art of Animation" by Bob Thomas, which follows the making of Walt Disney's "Sleeping Beauty."   Graphically, it's so modern, clean and striking.   The text presents very complex ideas and production processes yet makes it all easy to follow for the general reader.   When you lift the cover, you feel transported to the Walt Disney Studio circa 1958.   It's all so immediate, alive and timeless.   I can only aspire to do that for today's productions.

+2. Is there a film that has not had an "art of" book published that you'd like to do?

Wouldn't "Sleeping Beauty," "Alice in Wonderland" or "Peter Pan" be cool in Chronicle's "Art of" format?   I hope they add some Walt-era classics to the series in the future to make us all drool some more.

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