Book Review: The Art of Wreck-It-Ralph, by Jennifer Lee & Maggie Malone
“Wreck-It-Ralph is different.”
These were the words that were often used to describe Walt Disney Picture’s 52nd full-length animated feature. Taking place within the world of video game consoles in Litwak’s Arcade, this was definitely not a fairy-tale story.
According to the opening foreword by director Rich Moore, John Lasseter (Chief Creative Officer at Walt Disney Feature Animation & PIXAR Animation Studios) called him up to ask if he would consider coming in to work on an animated feature at Disney. This would be Rich’s first feature production, given that much of his reputation came from working on Matt Groening’s The Simpsons and Futurama. Rich accepted John’s offer, and soon found himself down at the House of Mouse. Upon finding out that there had been development of a video game-related film for years that hadn’t been able to find its niche, Rich and several others ran development on the film, and soon found a storyline that stuck.
Lasseter’s bringing an outsider into the folds of the studio, reminded me of the same move that he had done almost a decade before, when he rang up Brad Bird, and invited him and several of his co-horts (who had worked on The Iron Giant) to develop something at PIXAR. Just like The Incredibles was a step outside of the comfort zone for PIXAR’s animators, Wreck-It-Ralph was a hard right-turn away from what Disney’s animated features normally brought to mind.
The Art of Wreck-It-Ralph showcases plenty of material, such as creating contrasting environments, designing 8-bit video game characters to move properly, and much more.
One of the sticking points for me when it comes to Making-of books, is how much verbiage there is in relation to the art. While the book is not chock-a-block full of text, there is enough in the opening pages to give us a general idea regarding the craft and care in making this film. There are also candid quotes throughout the book, from various members of the crew as well.
Image-wise, the character development is very in-depth, notably that of Ralph. The concepts show Ralph’s concept art taking him from being a hairy beast with spiky claw/hands, to a rotund gangster-looking fellow, before ending on his final hillbilly-like features.
Almost all the main and supporting characters are given a few pages to show their development, including the tenants of Fix It Felix, Jr’s Niceland Apartments complex, where the citizens are square-shaped, and move in a blocky fashion.
One of the most interesting pieces of concept art, were the images of Sergeant Calhoun in rough pencil, done by Glen Keane. With the dearth of new artists at the studio using digital technology, seeing some of the old guard at work on developing the characters was definitely eye-opening.
Also of note are the development of the environments that are showcased. Unlike some films from Disney that take place within one large world, Wreck-It Ralph has 7 different worlds to deal with. Key to the film are the early 80’s 8-bit world Ralph is from, the gritty first-person shooter world of the modern-day Hero’s Duty, and the candy-coated styling of the late 90’s arcade racing game, Sugar Rush.
The detail in the artwork is nice to observe, and the concepts for Hero’s Duty stand out more here then in the film. It also helps that the concept art for the game, was done by artists who have worked on concept art for similar first-person shooter games for other companies.
Though when it comes to development, it looks like Sugar Rush was the one place that really had plenty of it. Thorough detailing was used, from recreating the grand stands of the game’s big race in physical form, to viewing the lighting and texture of real candy. The details that were created are pretty detailed, to the point that when my friend and her husband went to see it, he claimed he felt a little nauseous looking at the landscape.
The development of the race cars is also a high-point in the book’s art. One can only guess that what we see here is but a fraction of all the different concepts that were made utilizing all sorts of candy-stuffs.
We also get a final section in the book that deals with deleted scenes, characters, and environments. After seeing the film twice, I’m glad they decided to not include these in the final product. Even so, the section offers a nice example of how not all stories are perfect the first time they are pitched.
Unlike some of the Making-of tomes from Chronicle Books, authors Jennifer Lee & Maggie Malone actually have the inside track when it comes to writing about this film. Malone works in the development department of Disney Feature Animation, and Lee was one of the co-writers on Wreck-It-Ralph. Their final product is a wonderful book chronicling the making of this film, unique to the legacy of Walt Disney Feature Animation.
“The thing that probably attracted me most to the project was something Rich (Moore) said to me early on. He said that in twenty years, he wanted people to look back and say, ‘How the heck did you ever convince Disney to take a risk on a crazy movie like this?’ The idea of pushing Disney’s storytelling limits got me very excited” – Phil Johnston, co-writer of “Wreck-It Ralph”
The Art of Wreck-It-Ralph is published by Chronicle Books. Standard List Price: $40.00 (US)