Book Review: 'The Art of Brave'

This new book celebrates in wonderful detail the art, rather than the making, of Pixar’s latest feature film.

The Art of Brave, by Jenny Lerew.  Preface by John Lasseter.  Foreword by Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews.

San Francisco, Chronicle Books, May 2012, hardcover $40.00 (160 pages).

Yes, it’s another studio-authorized coffee-table art book about the making of a theatrical animated feature:  Pixar’s Brave, to be released on June 22. 

To quote from the publisher’s press release, “Brave is Pixar's thirteenth feature film, but it marks two big firsts for the award-winning animation studio. It's Pixar's first feature film driven by a female lead and its first set in an ancient historical period.”  This book is written by Jenny Lerew, an animation director and story artist for Warner Bros, Amblimation, Turner, Disney, and DreamWorks Animation; most recently for DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon.  The Preface is by John Lasseter, the chief creative officer of Pixar and of Disney, and the Foreword is by Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews, two of Brave’s three co-Directors.

Yet if this is another studio-authorized coffee-table art book about the making of a theatrical animated feature, it differs noticeably from the books about The Incredibles, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar, Puss in Boots, Rango, Ratatouille, and so on.  This is because Brave, the motion picture, differs so much from those others. 

Merida with Angus, by Matt Nolte, pencil, 2006, from The Art of Brave, Chronicle Books.

For one thing, this is about the art of Brave.  There is more emphasis on the character designs, the background paintings, storyboards, the visual effects, etc., as the artistic creations of their artists rather than as the components of a feature film.  For another, it is about the setting: primordial Scotland.  More than the other movies, Brave focuses upon its locale.  Art related to the story and the characters hardly comes into the book before page 63; the earlier pages are devoted to landscapes of the Scottish highlands, environmental concept drawings, cloud and snow patterns, Celtic graphics for clothing and carvings, and so on.  There are more photographs than in other animation-art books of ancient Standing Stones, the lichen on a tree branch and the thick moss on stone walls, weathered castle walls, the artists in the highlands standing in moss up past their ankles, to show how accurate the artistic creations are. 

At the same time that The Art of Brave presents these individually, the book shows how Pixar blends them all together seamlessly into this feature.  Black-&-white storyboards and unpainted clay and urethane sculpts of the characters, at a minimum or absent altogether in other art books, are here to show how they flow together and move the story along. 

As with the other animation-art books, each illustration is credited to its artist.  Artists represented include Steve Pilcher, Steve Purcell, Mark Andrews, Craig Grasso, Louis Gonzales, Noah Klocek, Tia Kratter, Huy Nguyen, Matt Nolte, Carter Goodrich, Ted Mathot, Daniel López Muñoz, and Mike Mignola, among others, plus VFX artists and director of photography for lighting Danielle Feinberg; many of whom comment on their artwork.  To cite one example, from production designer Steve Pilcher:  “We took liberties with the design because it’s a fantasy.  There were no tartans back in the time period we’re placing this, but audiences associate that with Scotland, so we added that element.  We took Celtic design and mixed it with earlier Pictish design, and anything that might have been an influence in that time period, like the Vikings.  You wouldn’t just get pure Celtic, and you wouldn’t get pure Pictish or Viking.  You’d get a hybrid of these things.” (p. 53)   Many of these artists started out as story artists and were promoted during the five-year production of Brave to supervising animator, character art director, production designer, even co-director.  There are pencil, ink, acrylic, and digital art, plus the 3D sculpts and models. 

Warriors sketch by Matt Nolte, pencil, 2010, from The Art of Brave, Chronicle Books.

There is less of a story sense here or a how-a-CGI-feature-is-made than in most animation-art books.  The reader can tell the basic plot, but not all the story details.  It is a good souvenir of the movie, but not a tell-all about the movie.  Again, this book is about the art of Brave; and it really delivers that! 

It is also recommended for those who want a good visual book on the Scottish highlands – mostly drawn art with only a few photographs, but art by skilled artists.  There are lots of visual references here.

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Fred Patten has been a fan of animation since the first theatricalrerelease of Pinocchio (1945).  He co-founded the first American fanclub for Japanese anime in 1977, and was awarded the Comic-ConInternational's Inkpot Award in 1980 for introducing anime to Americanfandom.  He began writing about anime for Animation World Magazine sinceits #5, August 1996.  A major stroke in 2005 sidelined him for severalyears, but now he is back. He can be reached at fredpatten@earthlink.net.

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