The Art of Ferdinand–A how-to guide to making the modern animated movie

Review by C.J. Bunce

The Art of Ferdinand is the latest in a line of books chronicling the creative process behind genre movies, but this is the first we’ve seen that explores the director’s process for envisioning and executing an animated film from beginning to end.  Showcasing a fantastic film, December’s Ferdinand from Blue Sky Studios (reviewed here at, writer Tara Bennett uses interviews with the director and an army of production artists and incorporates digital artwork and final renderings from the film to explain how a film is made that merited an Academy Award nomination for the year’s best animated film.

Movie buffs and fans of the original story will likely encounter a new lexicon of moviemaking in The Art of Ferdinand.  Not only do readers see the typical concept art and production stills you’d find in a feature film, director Carlos Saldanha explains each step he took adapting one of the bestselling books of all time, Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson’s Ferdinand, and collaborating with a staff of artists to expand upon the original 30-page tale into a big-budget animated movie.  Saldanha tells how he started with the last third of the film, sequences he knew would need to look a certain way and more closely mimic the events of the storybook.  Each animated character was taken through an elaborate design process.  After development of both the young version and much larger version of Ferdinand the bull, they moved to the supporting characters with drawings, paintings, sculptures, and digital renderings of each in multiple poses with updated techniques but mirroring what you may have seen in “making of” features from animator Walt Disney from decades past.

A different language of animation is also explored in the book: light sources and bounce-light have greater meaning in an animated film such as Ferdinand, and the director and artists must sketch character turnarounds, color callouts, and texture art, as well as shape, movement, gesture, and expression studies of characters, and a color script similar to storyboards in live action movies, identifying the flow of color throughout the film.   Interaction and movement an actor would perform must be blocked out in the most intricate of ways.  Shape language must be considered, design themes and color themes, proportions of objects, and the use of negative space.

Readers will quickly notice a new variety of production staff players in addition to the significant contributions to this book by director Saldanha and production designer Thomas Cardone. Concept art is included from set designer Sandeep Menon, digital artists Chip Lotierzo, Sergio Pablos, Nathan Fowkes, Aidan Sugano, Vincent Nguyen, and Robert MacKenzie, character designers Sang Jun Lee and Jason Sadler, concept art painters Peter de Sève, David Dibble, Ron DeFelice, and Ric Sluiter, production artists Ardan Chan, José Manuel Fernández Oli, Peter Chan, Dan Seddon, Annlyn Huang, Scott Caple, and Andrew Hickson, color key artist Mike Lee, and three-dimensional renderings from sculptor Vicki Saulls and Alena Tottle. A highlight is the reproduction digitally of the Plaza de Toros de las Ventas arena in Madrid, including its 20,000 seats and surrounding buildings.

The creators visited Spain and its countryside with copies of the original book at their sides when deriving the look for the movie.  The use of Spain as a virtual location in the film, the choice of color, and design styles developed for Ferdinand and his friends, will mean that anyone can identify the this film years from now from even a single frame.

A great study in modern animation and look at behind the scenes artwork and final images from the film, The Art of Ferdinand is available now here at Amazon.

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