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The Art of The Good Dinosaur – Book Review by Fred Patten.


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Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

good dinosaur coverThe Art of The Good Dinosaur. Foreword by John Lasseter. Introduction by Peter Sohn.
San Francisco, CA, Chronicle Books, November 2015, hardcover $40.00 (168 pages), Kindle $23.99.

Have we all seen Pixar Animation Studios’ November 2015 feature The Good Dinosaur? Good.

“All about” coffee-table art books about the making of an animated feature have evolved recently, and I don’t think it’s for the better. Where such as The Art of Puss in Boots or The Art of Mr. Peabody & Sherman used to be “by somebody”, full of background details by some expert, The Art of The Good Dinosaur has only two pages of writing; the very brief foreword by Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter and the movie’s director Peter Sohn. The book is presented to speak for itself. Frankly, compared to all of the earlier coffee-table animated-feature art books, it’s not enough.

It’s especially not enough considering what kind of Computer Graphic feature The Good Dinosaur is. It’s supposedly about dinosaurs in modern times; without saying so, in the modern North American Rocky Mountains. Most of the favorable reviews that the movie has gotten have raved about how realistic Pixar’s computer algorithms have gotten. If we didn’t know any better, we’d swear that the movie looked like animated cartoony characters overlaid on live-action photographed backgrounds, instead of everything being created in-the-computer. But this is a behind-the-scenes art book of what went into the movie: the rough pencil sketches, the lighting studies, the set designs and concept art and storyboards. It may be that these art books have become too technical for the layman.

It’s bad considering what kind of feature The Good Dinosaur is, for another reason: cartoony dinosaurs in the realistic North American West. Let’s throw out the supposed scientific premise from the start. If the dinosaurs hadn’t become extinct 65 million years ago, they would have evolved just as the mammals did. They wouldn’t be 65-million-year-old animals given modern speech and intelligence. They particularly wouldn’t be four-legged, no-hands animals living in a pseudo-human frontier culture. I think that a major reason that The Good Dinosaur is getting such unfavorable reviews is that audiences are unconvinced by the basic premise of the movie — not that dinosaurs never became extinct, but that they haven’t evolved in 65 million years except for gaining human-level intelligence and the ability to talk. Frankly again, the movie’s story could just as well been about a lone human settler family in the U.S. or Canadian Rockies in the early 19th century, with a young human adolescent getting lost in the wilderness and finding/befriending a equally-lost friendly wolf cub during his search for home.

AOTGD_p29 copy

Lighting Study, Sharon Calahan; Layout, Erik Benson

But this is my criticism of what The Art of The Good Dinosaur is not, more than what it is. If you want to see almost 160 pages of behind-the-scenes art, from very rough pencil sketches to detailed full-color lighting studies, here they are. As usual for these coffee-table animation art books, each piece of art is credited to its artist. I was particularly impressed by the Spot maquette sculpt by Greg Dykstra (p. 21), and the color study of the Apatosaur family by Bryn Imagire (pgs. 50-51). If you liked the tough but friendly tyrannosaur cowboys, or the white-trash velociraptor rustlers, they’re all here. And if you liked Arlo Apatosaur and his pet human Spot, here are lots of studies of their artistic evolution.

The Acknowledgements on page 168 seems to give a name to the editor of this book: Denise Ream. My complaints for what the book isn’t aside, she has done a good job.

Fred Patten


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