Book Review: The Art of Finding Nemo - Apr 30, 2003

Book Review: The Art of Finding Nemo
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by Rhett Wickham (archives)
April 30, 2003
Rhett reviews the new hardcover book The Art of Finding Nemo

(c) Chronicle Books

Review: The Art of Finding Nemo

If you’re a true devotee of animation, then surely you worship at The Alter of Art Books. These treasure troves have been one of the great benefits of the Walt Disney Company’s synchronized marketing machine over the past two decades. And while the offerings from Disney Press have been dwindling in this category (with most recent publications having gone the way of slim soft-covers) happily, the ever-tenuous partnership between Disney and Pixar hasn’t slowed the printers over at Chronicle Books, and starving acolytes can once again feast at the book stalls of the nation on The Art of Finding Nemo that hits the stands on May 1 (Chronicle Books, Hardcover: 160 pages; $40.)

With all the heft and hearty paper stock of the better Hyperion editions of the early 1990’s, The Art of Finding Nemo is a satisfying read for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that this hardcover book actually has weight and the pages turn crisply and handsomely in the reader’s hands. Here is every reason imaginable to turn the pages and absorb all the magic, color, and creative imaginative that will emerge in full CG bloom on theatre screens at the end of May.

Author Mark Cotta Vaz has delivered a fitting advance to the final product that has a simple and uncomplicated mission - take us through the three acts of the film as they were conceived, rendered and designed by the Pixar atelier. And he succeeds in organizing the book with an understated elegance akin to a good gallery exhibit. There is plenty of room in the layout of the book and just enough incidental narrative from the artists to keep us from feeling like too much has been spoiled in advance of seeing the film. However, purists be warned, the hysterical and brilliantly executed climax of the film is revealed in all it’s impossibly comical glory. But if your willpower is strong, then don’t let the last twenty pages deter you from securing a copy as fast as your little fins will swim you to the bookstore.

The greatest thrill of this kaleidoscope of pencil, pen, water color, pastel, and pixels is how it stands as a testament to the power of the approach to developing an animated story that Walt Disney established over half a century ago. The visual and creative development of an animated feature has changed very little over the years, and Pixar’s uber-hip John Lasseter has made certain that the tradition is upheld. The reason is fairly simple - it works! And for everyone who thinks that the computer is stealing the soul of animation, then The Art of Finding Nemo is an excellent reminder of just how much soul is at work up in Emeryville. It’s exciting to see the combined efforts of vets and new recruits alike pouring their personal vision in the pot, and director Andrew Stanton is a capable stirrer indeed. Among the nicer surprises tucked away in the pages of this collection is the work of Bruce Morris, who contributed some spectacular visuals and lively story art during the development of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid�? and “Pocahontas�? (and if DreamWorks producers had had any sense, Morris would have been wooed to stay as the original co-director of “Spirit�?, which surely would have resulted in a far more satisfying film.) The inclusion of Morris and others shows exactly how diverse and far-reaching was the creative input for Nemo. As contrast to the pen and ink contributions, the refreshing inclusion of visual development works rendered solely on the computer goes a long way in easing purists and pundits closer to accepting the simple (but apparently difficult to accept) truth that artistic imagination is wholly dependent upon the artist, and not one’s ability to grip a conté crayon versus a mouse. In fact, on first flip through the book’s vibrant pages - and I dare any reader not to race through the book at first sitting like an anxious pre-schooler running back and forth along a case of candy and cupcakes - it’s easy to miss which works are done on paper and which were rendered on a Mac, unless you speed read each caption. Whether graphite or electron based, each work in the book underscores how the visual journey from the idea to the final film is where the real magic happens. As a champion of the value of trusting animated story telling to artists rather than screenwriters, I find that any opportunity to dive headlong into the creative outpouring of possibilities is a welcome reminder for audiences and executives alike.

Now that summer is preparing to warm the hemisphere, anxious readers are getting ready to pack their beach bags with indulgences of all sorts, and the art of books serve as an animation junkie’s equivalent to Gourmet magazine where the recipe is as exciting as the meal itself. The Art of Finding Nemo manages to make the mouth water with enough anticipation to fill an ocean.

But parental types among you be warned: serving fish to your little ones might just become harder than ever once they see Nemo and his pals. My advice is to give up trying to convince them Mrs. Paul doesn’t use clown fish and acquiesce to the tears, slather on the p&j, and give them a big box of crayons and a copy this or any other art of book, because this kind of inspiration deserves a place other than just on the coffee table. After all, the next Ralph Eggleston could be standing in a pair of water wings in your back yard wading pool as you read this!

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-- Rhett Wickham

Rhett Wickham will return in May with his ongoing series of Great Animated Performances.

Rhett is a frequent contributor to Mr. Wickham is a writer, story editor and development professional living and working in Los Angeles. Prior to moving to LA, Rhett worked as an actor and stage director in New York City following graduate studies at Tisch School of the Arts. He is a directing fellow with the Drama League of New York, and nearly a decade ago he founded AnimActing©®™ to teach and coach acting, character development and story analysis to animators, story artists and layout artists - work he continues both privately and through workshops in Los Angeles, New York and Orlando. He can be reached through [email protected]

The opinions expressed by our Rhett Wickham, and all of our columnists, do not necessarily represent the feelings of or any of its employees or advertisers. All speculation and rumors about the future plans of the Walt Disney Company are just that - speculation and rumors - and should be treated as such.

--Posted April 30, 2003