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Book Review - The Art of Rio: Featuring a Carnival of Art from 'Rio' and 'Rio 2'

This coffee-table book is a worthy souvenir for fans of Blue Sky’s two colorful Brazil-based films. 

The Art of Rio: Featuring a Carnival of Art from Rio and Rio 2, by Tara Bennett.  Foreword by Carlos Saldanha. 

London, Titan Books, March 2014, hardcover $34.95 (192 pages).

This is a coffee-table art-of book with a subtle difference.  It covers two gaudy CGI theatrical features instead of only one.  It is produced by Blue Sky Studios, the CGI studio that actually made the films, rather than the higher-profile American theatrical distributor, in this case 20th Century Fox.  This is not the first Blue Sky animated feature to have an art book – see the 2013 movie Epic – but I do not recall the studio being emphasized so much rather than just the theatrical feature.

The man behind both Rio movies is their director, Carlos Saldanha, himself a Carioca from Rio de Janeiro.  In addition to his own Foreword, the text quotes him or paraphrases him so much that he might as well have been credited as its co-author.  He explains that, after spending more than a decade working on Blue Sky’s first three Ice Age features, he was given the opportunity to start a new “franchise” set in his homeland.  (Reading between the lines, Blue Sky wanted to diversify after three Ice Age features as that franchise began growing stale.)

As an example of how much a theatrical feature like Rio changes from start to finish, Saldanha tells that his original basic story was about a penguin washing up on the beaches of Rio (as penguins do; there is an Argentine species that migrates north each year) and meeting Brazil’s tropical birds.  After considerable discussions with the Blue Sky staff, the final story evolved to feature Blu, an extremely rare blue Spix Macaw from the Amazon jungle, who is stolen as a hatchling and raised in Minnesota as a domesticated pet, who is brought home to Rio as an adult to find his roots.

In the first Rio, released on April 15, 2011, the setting is the metropolis of Rio de Janeiro, an exotic location to most North Americans but well-known by reputation.  In Rio 2, released on April 11, 2014, the location moves from the big Brazilian city to the totally different Amazon jungle, requiring new art.  In Rio 2, Blu and Jewel, his new mate, raise a family of three fledglings, and discover a whole flock of blue macaws hidden in the jungle.  This required the Blue Sky artists to differentiate between the blue macaws so that about a dozen become instantly individually identifiable to audiences, while remaining blue macaws that are basically identical.

Credit is given most frequently to Tom Cardone, Art Director, and to San Jun Lee, the Lead Character Designer; although as usual with these art books, many other artists are identified such as Peter Chan, David Dibble, Juan Carlos Navarro, Sergio Pablos, Willie Real, and Jason Sadler.  In addition to the pencil sketches and concept paintings, there are many three-dimensional clay sculpts by Vicki Saulls.  Final digital art is not credited.

Pages 12 to 105 are devoted to the characters of the two features, and pages 106 to 187 to the locations.  Each of the main characters is given six pages, and the supporting characters get two to four.  The characters are well documented visually, in other words, with both final art and preliminary designs.

In addition to Blu and Jewel, the two starring blue macaws, and Nigel, the cockatoo villain, there are all of the supporting characters: Rafael the toucan; his mate Eva; Blu & Jewel’s children Bia, Carla & Tiago; Nico the bottlecap-hatted canary, and Pedro his inseparable red-crested cardinal friend; Luiz the bulldog; the jungle blue macaws, Eduardo the father, Aunt Mimi, and Roberto the boyfriend; the human friends Linda Gunderson & her husband, Tulio Monteiro the Brazilian ornothologist; all of the human friends and villains in Rio; Nigel’s “posse” in Rio 2, Gabi the poisonous tree frog and Charlie the anteater; all of the anonymous Amazonian animals such as the capybaras, the piranhas, the crocodiles, the sloth, the panther … everybody is shown.

Similarly the locations are here in detail.  Not only everyday Rio de Janeiro, but Rio at Carnaval time; Linda’s and Blu’s home town of Moose Lake Village, Minnesota in the first Rio; the individual locations such as Linda’s book shop in Moose Lake Village, Linda’s & Tulio’s Conservation Center in Rio, the birds’ bulldog ally Luiz’s garage home, the blue macaws’ jungle village, the illegal loggers’ jungle base.  There are closeups of the incidental graphics – the street signs, the wall posters, the billboards, etc.; and of the stylized paper cut-out animated maps that show Blu & Company’s route from Rio on Brazil’s coast into the Amazonian jungle.  There are concept paintings, and finished art.

The Art of Rio is an art-book souvenir for the fans of the two movies.  There are fewer story details than usual.  There is a bit of information about how Blue Sky’s artists derived their designs – the difficulties in making so many basically identical birds into individuals while still keeping them birdlike – but mostly this is a collection of closeups of each character and separate location of Rio and Rio 2.  If you enjoyed looking at all the tropical birds and Brazilian animals, this book is for you.  ‘Nuff said!


Fred Patten has been a fan of animation since the first theatrical rerelease of Pinocchio (1945).  He co-founded the first American fan club for Japanese anime in 1977, and was awarded the Comic-Con International's Inkpot Award in 1980 for introducing anime to American fandom.  He began writing about anime for Animation World Magazine since its #5, August 1996.  A major stroke in 2005 sidelined him for several years, but now he is back. He can be reached at (link sends e-mail).