Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Art of Rise of the Guardians

Many movie-goers leave an animated film amused or moved or (all-too-frequently) indifferent, but few spare a thought for the incredible amount of work involved in creating it.
Such is not likely to happen with the current animated film Rise of the Guardians, which seems to be the one film to emerge from 2012 that may be a holiday classic for years to come.  One of the most beautifully designed animated films in recent memory, Rise brings to life several of childhood’s most cherished figures, including Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman and Jack Frost.  (Not to mention Pitch, the Boogey Man!)  Such reinvention does not happen without careful artistic consideration or much thinking and re-thinking.
Fortunately for those who cannot get enough holiday spirit (or insight into that remarkable alchemy that is animated films), a new, deluxe coffee table book is there to tell you all you need to know and more.  The Art of Rise of the Guardians details how these iconic figures were reimagined for the film, along with how the many set pieces – from the North Pole to the Tooth Fairy’s palace – were designed.  The book is written by animation historian Ramin Zahed (also editor-in-chief of Animation Magazine), who provides not only an instructive look at the creative process, but also at how large-scale animated films are conceived, produced, nudged-along, and, finally, let out into the world with the best intentions.
This film is, of course, based on the on-going series of books The Guardians of Childhood by William Joyce.  Regular Jade Sphinx readers are well-aware of our devotion for this illustrator, writer, animator, and filmmaker, who is on his way to becoming something of a 21st Century Walt Disney.  Joyce provides the preface to the book (Alec Baldwin, the voice of Santa, penned the foreword), where he writes about the Guardians: they have vast, extraordinary domains, they are more than just benign gift-givers, they are great and magnificent heroes who would lay down their lives for innocence and the well-being of children everywhere … It will, I think, make kids believe, and for everyone else, it will remind them of how beautiful and powerful belief can be.
The book then shows everything -- from rough pencil sketches to watercolors to intricate storyboards and special effects shots – a creative team at a world class studio can do to harness that belief.  The Art of Rise of the Guardians is a lavishly illustrated book, but the art is put into perspective by a text showing the creative process.  For instance, we learn that Pitch’s lair is not only influenced by such film noir classics as Orson Welles’ The Lady From Shanghai, but also by Venice, Italy.  As Zahed writes, One couldn’t really pick a more appropriate inspiration for Pitch’s home than the melancholy, sinking city of Venice.  The decrepit walls of Pitch’s palace are sliding into the water, and the interiors are covered with mud.  Set in one of the most haunting and beautiful cities in the world, this gloomy Renaissance-style lair is a reminder of the dark turn the villain’s life took hundreds of years ago.

Though the heroes in Rise of the Guardians all have equal time, of course the star turn is that of Santa Claus, perhaps the most famous and beloved Guardian of them all.  The Art of Rise of the Guardians is strongly recommended for believers in Santa Claus (and you know who you are), animation buffs or simply people interested in how intricately-designed, large-scale movies are made. 

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