The Art of The Book of Life ReviewOctober 17, 2014
In the introduction to The Art of The Book of Life, Guillermo Del Toro paints a vivid picture of the passion, enthusiasm, and patriotic spirit that went into every inch of the movie’s look, feel, and form. The story—a kind of Romeo and Juliet tale as realized through the lens of Mexican fairy tales and Day of the Dead aesthetics—is one that he claims “connects profoundly with [his] Mexican soul.”
Jorge R. Gutierrez, the film’s director, is equally as excited about the project. He laments the apparent disconnect that often exists between the concept art of any given animated film and the final product. Usually, an animated film goes through a mountain of concept art before it finally locks in its particular visual identity, and—according to Gutierrez—that identity can often fall short of the original vision. Gutierrez makes it clear that with The Book of Life that this won’t be the case. The book and the art, he claims, are truly one, and the artwork is inspired by an entire tapestry of influences that all converge into one soulful Mexican fairy tale.
It’s clear from the get-go that both men are incredibly passionate about The Book of Life, which is evident in the ensuing pages. From spaghetti westerns to 2-D videogames to bullfighting posters, the influences are rich and varied, creating a warm melting pot of colour, culture and vibrancy. It’s a very personal art book, one that emphasizes the creator’s passion and investment in the material over dry production facts or ego-stroking. Each character is given their own section, with the context and stylistic choices explained in brief detail.
Because the final vision of the film is so close to the actual art, it’s able to really get in deep and draw attention to the impressive amount of details rather than spending its time explaining why it looks so different to the final product. The art largely speaks for itself, but it’s nice to be given some context here and there, and there’s a real effort to explain specific choices, which is always appreciated.
The artwork is playful, exciting, and electric as a whole, but there’s a great sense of detail that the book spends much time elaborating, which makes for a rewarding read. Why are one character’s eyes shaped like a skull, what are the dominant shapes in this setting and why, where does this pattern come from and why was it chosen for this specific character? All types of questions that the book seeks to answer with enthusiasm, layering on symbolism after symbolism until every unique component takes on its own individual meaning. The thought that went into the character designs alone is really incredible.
The book references so many influences that it’s hard to keep up with them at times. I would have liked to have seen some of these influences included in the book for comparison’s sake, but that’s a small complaint, and one might argue that the point of a good art book is to point you towards those influences rather than reproduce them. If the worst thing I can say about a product is that it makes me want to learn more, is that really a bad thing?
I loved, loved, loved The Art of the Book of Life. It’s a very personalized, engaging look into the people behind the paint, a loving tribute to the oft-overlooked details in any given work, and a rich representation of the passion involved in bringing these characters and visuals to the big screen. This is an art book that loves art, and it loves talking about art on its own terms as opposed to simply discussing the art as a precursor to an eventual film. I’ve yet to see The Book of Life (it opens today, October 17th), but if it looks half as great as the art book, then I can’t wait to check it out.