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The Art of Robots

For years, writer/artist William Joyce has occupied a popular niche in the world of children's books. A tremendously creative mind, his paintings threaten to overflow with clever details that make kids and adults linger over them trying to pick out everything. So when he teamed with Chris Wedge of Blue Sky Studios to create the upcoming film Robots, we knew the art would be amazing.

Thanks to Chronicle Books, we can actually take the time to pore over those little details that may go by too quickly in the film. The Art of Robots puts a freeze frame on it, while also carefully deconstructing the art's influences and development.

Sure, it's a given that these coffee table books will show up as tie-ins, but this effort by Amid Amidi (with a preface by Joyce and foreword by Wedge) does a better job than earlier efforts from Chronicle at really taking us into the process of designing an animated film.

Organized mostly by the film's environments, the book has a decent sense of flow. Just as in the film, the reader first gets introduced to Rivet Town and its denizens. If they look suspiciously like household kitsch items from years gone by, Amidi proves that's no accident. Whether an inanimate object or a major character, everything seems to hearken back to a nostalgic design scheme.

No sense of the voice-actors exist. Though clearly hero Rodney Copperbottom resembles Ewan McGregor, it seems accidental. Amidi would rather show us all the ideas for the character that failed to make the cut - and the logic that led to the final design.

One of the advantages that this book has over previous efforts lies in a greater access to detail. The layout on some pages draws clear lines between inspiration and final product, highlighting specific elements on a character or a building. A few illustrations also have detailed color "callouts," guides for the animators that provide another way in to the creative process. Perhaps such details appeal to only hardcore fans, but they could certainly spark conversation with your kids.

At a few points, Amidi even breaks down film sequences. Because Joyce and Wedge intend everything in Robots to feel interconnected, the static page actually allows for more appreciation than the movie does. You have time to register the nuances of the animators' Rube Goldberg devices. On film, the transportation system for the big city comes across a delirious mess; here, it sort of makes sense.

Though the layout and pictures have flow, Amidi leaves out a lot of context. That can be attributed to lack of distance from the project; this book, after all, exists to hype a movie. Designers and artists get randomly quoted enthusing over one element or another, but it's all too fresh to get too deep.

Only a few failed ideas get mentioned. Perhaps the most interesting one is playwright David Lindsey-Abaire's rejected musical script that seems perfectly in tune with where Joyce and Wedge ended up going anyway. In a few years, perhaps Chronicle could devote a book to the "almost was" versions of movies.

In the end, The Art of Robots makes a satisfying book to flip through, and stands firmly with Chronicle's growing library of movie art books. Whether you end up liking the movie or not is almost beside the point.

The Art of Robots

Derek McCaw

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