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'Don Bluth’s The Art of Storyboard' Review

Animation World Network has compiled the loving thoughts of many in the animation community as a tribute to the life and work of animation legend Frank Thomas.

The Art of Storyboarding.

The Art of Storyboarding.

In his introduction to his book Don Bluths The Art of Storyboard (co-authored with Gary Goldman), master animator Bluth recalls being just four years old when he first saw the animated Disney classic, Snow White. Walt Disney gave us all an inspiring gift! Bluth writes. How can we not give something back, or at least pass on what we have learned? he asks.

Todays filmgoers, four-year-olds and beyond, are being exposed to an entirely new world of animation Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, The Polar Express all computer animated. Even classical cartoon stalwarts Mickey Mouse and Popeye are being given the CGI treatment.

As the animation industry becomes increasingly dominated by CGI, is a reference text like Don Bluths The Art of Storyboard, with its focus on the classical approach, still useful?

In a word: Yes.

Animators of all stripes are going to find something of merit in this basic, hands-on discussion of the creative approach to storyboard, pre-production, production, timing, mechanics, blocking, focal point, choreography, colorkeys and storyboarding for videogames. Throughout the book, Bluth and Goldman document the creative process and back up the commentary with strong visuals from Bluths extensive body of animation work.

We thought carefully about this and felt that books on storyboarding, animation principles, layout and one on character design would apply to both traditional and computer generated animation, co-author Gary Goldman tells AWN. Goldman has partnered with animator with Don Bluth as animator, producer and director of all of Bluths films.

Both require the pre-production process, which includes hand-drawn storyboarding, layout or set design and character design, Goldman says. The animation principles applied to traditional animation apply to CG as well. Besides, we felt we better start writing things down, lest they be forgotten.

In this book, behind-the-scenes insights into how such works as The Secret of N.I.M.H., An American Tail, The Land Before Time, All Dogs Go to Heaven, Anastasia, Titan A.E. and Dragons Lair were created are fascinating on their own, but Don Bluths The Art of Storyboard is not a retrospective. Here the images and war stories serve as examples to explain the greater message.

That greater message is: Everything begins with a good story. The process of visualizing that script in a series of drawings (much like a comicbook) that convey drama, lighting, staging, emotion, humor, clarity and continuity is called storyboarding, Bluth writes.

Animation professionals agree that even computer-animated features and featurettes need a good story. As Bluth further notes, A good story can be poorly animated and it will still play for the audience. A bad story can be superbly animated and it will never play. In fact, it could clear the room!

Sometimes the best way to understand a concept is to see how it has been applied. Don Bluths The Art of Storyboard not only reproduces actual storyboards, it recreates events like the story meeting from The Secret of N.I.M.H., providing the reader with an opportunity to sit in on the process.

Much like a movie DVD with commentary by the director and actors about how the film was made, Don Bluths The Art of Storyboard has a show-and-tell presentation that makes the book easy to pick up and dip into.

Don Bluth.

Don Bluth.

For example, in addition to seeing the colorkeys for The Land Before Time, the reader is treated to the story about how Steven Spielberg and George Lucas recommended that 19 fully animated (and many colored) T-Rex scenes be cut from the film because they were too scary. I mourned for a week, Bluth writes. Were Steven and George right to do it? In hindsight, I think yes. Land grossed $72 million worldwide and became one of the supporting pillars of the animation renaissance.

The volume also takes an instructive approach to such topics as timing and placing the camera on storyboard. In live-action film, the steadycam can go anywhere, because the change of camera position is observed on screen. No one gets confused about geography. The computer (CGI) can effectively imitate the steadycam, but you will have to design the moves on your boards. (Page 41).

Don Bluths The Art of Storyboard sets down in writing practical animation storyboard and storytelling strategies, delivered with authority, enthusiasm and some great insider stories by animation professionals. Because of its how-to approach, the book is great for students.

Dark Horse Publishing is using Diamond Distribution and Baker & Taylor as their distributors on these books, Goldman says. Diamond covers the comicbook stores, while Baker & Taylor will cover the schools, school libraries and conventional bookstores. Dark Horse sent out flyers to over 700 schools that offer film and animation courses. Well have to wait and see if the book finds a home in the schools as a mini-text. The book was released in comicbook stores and on on November 10, and to regular bookstores on November 17.

At just $14.95 for this softcover edition, Don Bluths The Art of Storyboard is an economical and educational addition to the animators bookshelf.

Don Bluths The Art of Storyboard by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman; introduction by Don Bluth; Milwaukie, Oregon: DH Press (a division of Dark Horse Comics, Inc.), 2004; ISBN: 1-59582-007-8, softcover, 112 pages, full color, 8 1/2x11, 384 pages, $14.95.

Janet Hetherington is a writer and cartoonist with a degree in Journalism from Carleton University. A regular AWN contributor, Janet also edits the Toy Report and writes Elvira, Mistress of the Dark for Claypool Comics. She shares a studio in Ottawa, Canada with artist Ronn Sutton.