Top 10 Essential Concept Art Books: Part 1

'King' Concept by Felix Yoon from one of the best concept art books ever: 'The Skillful Huntsman'
‘King’ Concept by Felix Yoon from one of the best concept art books ever: ‘The Skillful Huntsman’

My favorite concept art books have two things in common:

1.) The work inside is so inspiring that every time I open one of them, I’m overtaken by a wave of pure, tingling fandom.

2.) They each contain a unique revelation of the actual filmmaking (or game-making) process.

By popular demand (and in no particular order) I’ve assembled a list of my Top 10 Essential Concept Art Books.

In this post I share my first five must-own tomes and tomorrow, I’ll share the rest. (I didn’t actually rank them because that would be impossible.)

…and I reserved the comments section for everyone to share their own recommendations.

So if you’re looking for an excuse to buy a new bookshelf, read on…

The Skillful Huntsman: Visual Development Of A Grimm Tale:

The Skillful Huntsman: Visual Development Of A Grimm Tale At Art Center College Of DesignDuring his time teaching at Art CenterScott Robertson helped to launch the careers of his now-famous students Mike YamadaKhang Leand Felix Yoon.

Under Scott’s art direction, Mike, Khang and Felix developed an obscure Grimm Tale as if it was a sci-fi feature film with a George-Lucas-sized budget.

The final result was an entire “art of” book jam-packed with beautiful concept art and design techniques inspiring enough to cure you of creative block forever.

The Skillful Huntsman is the essential book for aspiring concept artists and pros who need to shake things up.

*Also check out Scott Robertson’s uhMAYzing new book titled, simply: How To Draw

Surf’s Up: The Art and Making Of A True Story:

Surf's Up: The Art and Making Of A True StoryRemember how, back in 2007, Hollywood released like forty-two penguin movies?

Well, they saved the best one for last.

Unfortunately, Surf’s Up was almost washed away by the likes of Happy Feet and March Of The Penguins but art (and story) saved it.

The Surf’s Up art department featured a line-up of some of the greatest animation-concept-art-all-stars EVER!

They’re like The Highwaymen of visual development: SerranoVignaliMateu-MestreLasaine (the list goes on)…

Surf’s Up: The Art and Making Of A True Story features some kaRAYzee-amazing composition, super-appealing character designs and some scintillating color keys.

Rarest of them all, you’ll find high-res Character VisDevs of the entire principal cast. This kind of character painting is often left out of animation art books in favor of sketches and more painterly concepts.

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The Art Of Star Wars Epsiode II: Attack Of The Clones:

The Art Of Star Wars: Episode 2Be careful not to let any lingering prequel-hate sour some of the most delicious concept art you’ll ever see.

The Art Of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones catalyzed the pervasive concept art craze of today.

…and speaking of all-star art departments, headliners Terryl WhitlatchIain McCaig and Ryan Church defined the term “concept art” for future generations by pouring passion into every pixel and pencil line in this collection.

These days, every artist in the entertainment industry will tell you that strong draftsmanship is generally lacking in concept art portfolios.

Look and learn how these Jedi masters structure their designs. Emulate their extraordinary strength of drawing.

…but don’t become a clone.

The Art Of Mulan:

The Art Of MulanThis is one of the best Disney “art of” books ever published.

First of all, it’s HUGE!

Second of all, Hans Bacher.

You’ll gain a new understanding of “visual language” as you unfurl this exhaustive exploration of the film’s primary design challenge: “Disney feature animation meets ancient China.”

On a personal note, this book features one of my favorite animation concept paintings EVER. Keep an eye out for a minimalistic image of silhouetted soldiers surrounded by pink trees – painted by my friend (and previous landlord) Sunny Apinchapong-Yang.

*Also check out my article about The Technique Trap where I linked to the Mulan Style Guide!

The Art Of Robots:

The Art Of RobotsDidn’t see this one comin’, did ya?

The Art of Robots might actually be the most underrated book on this list.

As I mentioned at the end of the Surf’s Up blurb, most concept art books don’t show much more than the loose, early development work.

…but there’s a lot more to a production than just pre-production.

Pixar’s Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi began his career at Blue Sky Studios and this book is full of his beautiful pre-production paintings – as any fan of animation concept art would hope.

…but author Amid Amidi made the extraordinary decision to include ordinary production assets in this book.

Here you’ll find art director “texture call-outs,” high-res Character VisDevs (like in the Surf’s Up book), notes and work-in-progress 3D sets.

If you want to understand the real-world of animation concept art, this book is an amazing reference.

Continued in Part 2

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