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For some, seeing an animated film awakens an intense desire to understand the process. When a movie world is rich and full, we want to know how it came about. Usually this means a film doesn't just get our admission fee; we also get suckered into buying "Making of..." books, or a host of ancillary products that recreate a film's art.

While not the first to release behind-the-scenes books, Pixar has always made sure that such were of high quality. Previous efforts have come through Disney's publishing arm, Hyperion Books. For this year's release of The Incredibles, Pixar turned to Chronicle Books, a San Francisco-based imprint that has long offered a surprising number of things that cater to the Fanboy mentality. The change allows for something that feels somehow more intimate than earlier books. Chronicle Books have put together two must-haves for animation fans this year. In addition to The Art of the Incredibles, they also have a tie-in with Warner Brothers, The Art of the Polar Express.

The Pixar book does a great job of showing us the development of the project. Rife with pre-production sketches, author Mark Cotta Vaz chronicles the influences on the characters through interviews with the artists. Seeing the evolution of sets and characters is neat, but the text and illustrations don't always actually match up.

For instance, a comment gets made that Syndrome, the villain voiced by Jason Lee, bears a strong resemblance to writer/director Brad Bird. Nowhere in the book do we have a photo of Bird to prove it, however. In some ways, this volume aims for the obsessive fan that already knows everything, but just wants to be able to look back over it.

Indeed, even a lot of "final product" is missing. The book has production sketches, but few stills from the film. While there are photos of maquettes that are pretty much the characters as they appear onscreen, we still don't see that final step. A lot of children will be looking through this book, and might want to have the dots connected. Especially when the text painstakingly describes why characters worked in certain environments, it would be nice to see the two merged. Instead, that's all left for the DVD (which, by the way, Pixar always does a great job in producing).

The text ties it all together well enough. If it's just the production art that interests you, however, Chronicle Books also offers a beautiful post card set that has a few extra pieces as well. The notebooks they offer also sport imagery that hearkens back to classic 1950's advertising, almost as if this were an attraction at Disneyland 1956. Which, no doubt, was part of Pixar's intention.

As books go, The Art of the Polar Express is actually stronger. Similar in layout, and also co-written by Vaz, this book offers more in taking us all the way through the innovative process of the film. Photos of the actors are juxtaposed with photos of the characters in the film, often in the same pose.

Perhaps Robert Zemeckis' effort was the more innovative film in terms of effects, giving Chronicle Books a clearer mandate. Despite its title, The Art of the Polar Express is as much about the technology, and it is fascinating.

Both are beautiful books, and worth having on the shelf. If you know a family that loved either one of these films, the accompanying book would make a great gift.

The Art of The Incredibles

The Art of The Polar Express

Derek McCaw

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