Stack Overflow: I Like Big Books

Reading Time: 5 minutes

While I will grudgingly admit that digital books are improving and that they can be very advantageous in some situations, one thing that’s still best with physical books is the large format. Oversized books are great for showing off artwork or just getting the big picture without having to zoom and pan on a little screen. Here are some of my recent discoveries.

The Art of the Good Dinosaur

The Art of the Good Dinosaur

If you’ve seen Pixar’s latest film, you know that it’s a visually stunning movie, with some of the most gorgeous landscapes ever seen in an animated movie. That’s no accident, of course. Director Peter Sohn explained that the landscape had to look real so that it would feel dangerous and threatening, something that Arlo would actually fear. The Art of the Good Dinosaur, from Chronicle Books, is full of concept art, lighting studies, and more, showing the work that went into the look of the movie.

There’s a foreword by John Lasseter and an introduction by Peter Sohn, but other than that this book is all artwork with captions. I did enjoy flipping through it, but I missed the “making of” essays that usually accompany these books. I was also hoping it might give some hints about the Pixar Easter eggs–the Pizza Planet truck and A113–but it looks like I’ll have to search elsewhere for those.

The Art of Sanjay's Super Team

The Art of Sanjay’s Super Team by Sanjay Patel

The short film before The Good Dinosaur is Sanjay’s Super Team, a wordless film based on Patel’s own life. It begins with a conflict between young Sanjay and his father, Western and Eastern cultures, Saturday morning cartoons vs. religious meditation. But then Sanjay is shown the similarities between his beloved superheroes and the deities depicted in his father’s shrine. The artwork is stunning, and some of the animation is unlike anything else Pixar has done before. This book tells the story behind the short film and showcases a lot of the concept art, storyboards, and lighting design that went into the film.

It’s actually the first “art of” book focusing on a Pixar short, but I found it fascinating, not least because Hindu culture is not something you see a lot of in typical American pop culture. While the movie itself does not get very deeply into the religion, it is a very personal story and the book provides a little more insight into the origins of this story and how it came to be made.

Funny: 25 Years of Laughter

Funny! Twenty-Five Years of Laughter from the Pixar Story Room

And while we’re on the subject of Pixar, here’s one more title from Chronicle Books. Funny! is a collection of sketches and drawings from the “gag sessions” at Pixar–when the story artists get together and brainstorm ideas. Sometimes the director might just need some more humor; sometimes there’s a specific idea that somebody’s after. Either way, the story artists come up with a bunch of ideas and share them. Some of them end up making their way into the finished film, but a lot of them never do.

This book covers everything from Toy Story to The Good Dinosaur, with gags organized by film. Some are very rudimentary sketches, and some are full-color drawings. Some of the drawings were clearly never meant to make it into the movie, but in the gag sessions, anything goes. If you want a glimpse at what goes on behind the scenes at Pixar, Funny! gives you a peek behind the curtains.

Harry Potter Character Vault

Harry Potter: The Character Vault by Jody Revenson

And now, moving on to a different sort of magic! The Character Vault is an in-depth look at all of the characters from the Harry Potter film series. Just about every character gets a couple of pages, with publicity photos, costume sketches, and interviews with actors, directors, costume designers, stylists, and so on. There are even little sections about the characters’ wand designs. You may learn some things you didn’t know–for instance, I learned that Matthew Lewis, who plays Neville Longbottom, actually wore a fat suit in the first few films–but the real treasure in this vault is all of the wonderful images. This will go very nicely on the shelf next to your Harry Potter Creature Vault and Magical Places from the Films.

Harry Potter 1 Illustrated

Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, illustrated by Jim Kay

I included this in our Holiday Gift Guide, but it’s worth mentioning again. This is the first volume of the series, with full-color illustrations throughout by Jim Kay. There are spot illustrations, illustrations behind text, full-page illustrations, even double-page spreads. Even the pages with no illustrations have a bit of texture and background to them. I love the fact that Kay’s drawings don’t necessarily look like the versions of the characters you’ve seen before (and in particular the film actors). Sure, Harry Potter still looks about like you’d expect, but Ron and Hermione are a bit different.

Unlike previous editions of the novel, this one is a big oversized book, befitting the pictures inside, with a red ribbon bookmark. The text of the story is set in two columns per page, since the book is so large. (If you really want to splurge, the collector’s edition comes in a gorgeous slipcase with a gold-embossed clothbound hardcover.) This is one to curl up with on the couch, surrounded by your kids, to enjoy a magical adventure once again. I can’t wait to see how the rest of the series turns out!

Game Art

Game Art by Matt Sainsbury

This art book features promotional, concept, and in-game art from 40 different video games, along with in-depth interviews with the game designers. Some are big, well-known titles like Final Fantasy or Dragon Age. Others are indie projects that you may not have heard of, like naissanceE and Tengami. There’s a broad range of game types represented in the book, which skips the whole “are videogames art?” question and just accepts it as fact.

I don’t play a lot of videogames myself, so a lot of the games included were new to me, but it’s always fun to find out more about the way something was made or the inspirations behind any sort of art. For once, I did find myself wishing there were more screenshots and less text, simply because I haven’t seen most of these games myself, but if you’re a gamer then you’ll probably appreciate the stories and interviews included here.

Disclosure: I received review copies of these books.

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