The Art of Ratatouille
Mark Mayerson · July 19, 2007 | Live-action films are art directed, but they have the advantage of starting out with the real world as a basis. If you need a chair, you generally don't design and build one. It's a lot easier to buy the one you want. By contrast, while computer-animated films can be based on the look of the real world, everything has to be designed and built. And if you're going to go to the trouble, you might as well get the best design possible before you spend the time and money to build your world.

Pixar understands this. They don't just pull their designs out of the Sears catalogue, they employ talented artists to explore the visual and emotional possibilities of the world they wish to build. While Pixar is one of the most advanced computer animation facilities in existence, before they bring their programming smarts and processing power to bear, they start with the art.

The Art of Ratatouille
Written by Karen Paik
Chronicle Books, 2007
160 pages

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The Art of Ratatouille concentrates on displaying that art. The book is full of drawings, paintings and sculptures showing how the characters and sets evolved before the nuts and bolts of computer animation were applied.

There are drawings of the characters by Jason Deamer, Peter de Seve, Carter Goodrich, Dan Lee, Teddy Newton and Matt Nolte. These drawings explore proportions, shapes, attitudes and emotions. They explore how a character might move. The flexibility of Ratatouille's characters and the expressiveness of their faces start in these drawings. I was particularly taken by Greg Dykstra and Jerome Ranft's sculptures of the rodent and human characters. They take the caricatured designs and realize them in a three-dimensional form that's most appealing.

There are storyboards by Peter Sohn, Enrico Casarosa, Ted Mathot, Nate Stanton and Daniel Arriaga. These drawings explore staging, business, character attitudes and emotions. The story needs to be communicated to the audience and these artists contribute to how the story is told.

There are background designs and lighting studies by Harley Jessup, Sharon Callahan, Dominique Louis, and Robert Kondo that determine the look of the sets but more importantly the emotional feel of a location and sequence. They harness the power of colour and light to affect our perceptions.

While the above art is done using a range of media and a variety of styles, it is created simply, using conventional art tools or basic software. What's important in pre-production is not technical complexity; what's important is communicating ideas visually.

While I heartily recommend this book, there are a few things that are lacking. I know that this book was prepared months before the release of the film, but I'm sorry the film's credits aren't included. While of course they will be available on the DVD, it would be nice to have a hard copy that's conveniently accessible. It's also frustrating that the art of the film doesn't include any art from the film itself. While the preproduction artists are the ones who create from scratch, the modellers, animators, texture artists and lighters all contribute to images in the film that are worth appreciating. While those artists get screen credit, their contributions to specific scenes are never acknowledged anywhere on screen or in print.

It would also be nice if this book had an index. As it stands, each artist's work is spread throughout the book, forcing you to page through repeatedly to find every example of a particular artist's work.

If you're looking to see examples of character wireframes, rigs, or screen captures of Pixar's proprietary software, you won't find them here. Instead, you'll see the pre-production art that inspires the crew to produce the best-looking computer-animated films currently being made. If nothing else, this book shows how important ideas and designs are. Good films don't come from technology, they come from technology in the service of worthwhile ideas, something Pixar has no shortage of.
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