Back in April 2013, we started seeing commercials for Epic, a new film by Blue Sky Studios (makers of the Ice Age series, Robots, Rio and others). Without revealing much about the film, the trailers looked gorgeous, with a new, less cartoony approach to nature in animation and a story something along the lines of FernGully: The Last Rainforest. Even without knowing more than that, as a father to two young girls, I knew we’d end up seeing it opening weekend if not soon thereafter. So when an opportunity to check out the book The Art of Epic from Tara Bennett came up, I jumped on it.
Though I have little artistic talent myself, I’m always interested in how animated films come to life from concept to screen. As this film appeared to use a new style different to what we’d seen from Blue Sky in the past, I was intrigued to see what was involved. Plus, both my girls are blooming artists in their own right and I am constantly looking for sources of inspiration for them.
Was I disappointed in the book? Not at all. The art is absolutely fantastic from cover to cover and it leads the reader on a clear journey from the movie’s beginnings all the way to its spectacular final scene. One word of warning however. I encourage you to see Epic before you read the book. The book definitely helps you enjoy some aspects of the film in deeper detail, but might spoil some of the surprises along the way.
Though the art is clearly the centerpiece of this book, it begins with a foreword from Chris Wedge, the film’s director (he also directed Ice Age and Robots and is the voice of Scrat). He puts the book in perspective, explaining that the road from idea to finished film was bumpy and full of occasional wrong turns, but everyone who worked on the film had the goal in mind of bringing author William Joyce’s world from The Leaf Men and the brave Good Bugs to life. But it was the dedication of all the artists at Blue Sky who eventually made it work and work well.
Through Bennett’s words, it was amazing to see how some of the early concept artwork from Greg Couch and others slowly matured into a world that could exist on screen. The character work alone on the main characters of Professor Bomba, his dog Ozzy, and his daughter Mary Katherine (MK), the story’s protagonist, is educational. From sketches and thoughts on clothing, style, and even hair, to the fully rendered digital versions there’s a gradual sense that these virtual people are really coming alive through the skills of the artists involved. Plus, it was enlightening to hear how the point of view from which the story is told was adjusted as they figured out different things about these characters. This story wasn’t fully formed from the beginning. It morphed and matured as the designers gained more insight into the world and the characters.
Equally interesting was the discussion of how certain sets were designed for scenes. These were just as important to set the stage as were the characters, giving the latter the ground upon which to walk and the world they could potentially lose if the heroes lost to the villains. Everything from Professor Bomba’s house and the chaotic organization of the many piles and workbenches throughout to the gorgeous work done with Nim’s tree, the Wrathwood, and the climactic scene in Moonhaven is amazing. Each of the major areas has a different color balance, a different aesthetic design whether inspired by the natural world or by the chaos of human nature.
The book has more than 140 pages, with more than 350 pieces of work from the film – everything from rough pencil sketches to final digital images – and it is truly a beautiful book. If you liked the film Epic or are just curious about how a modern animated film goes from idea to screen, The Art of Epic is a great addition to your library.