The Art of The Mitchells vs. The Machines–Go behind the scenes of the hit Netflix sci-fi comedy

Review by C.J. Bunce

Sony Pictures Animation, the studio that made Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse and the LEGO movies brought its latest and greatest animated film to Netflix earlier this month with The Mitchells vs. The Machines–a sci-fi, apocalypse, coming of age story (reviewed here) about a normal but weird family that tries to dodge a planet-wide extermination resulting from the very technologies humans are so addicted to.  Much of the action takes place during a cross-country trip, and it’s that imagery that is underplayed on the big screen, but really comes to life as incredible art in The Art of The Mitchells vs. The Machines, a behind the scenes book of exploration coming to Amazon here and a bookstore near you next week.  Gravity Falls creators Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe wrote and directed the film, a visually stunning spectacle, with contributions by the Academy Award winning duo of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (both known for the LEGO movies and Into the Spider-verse).  Author Ramin Zahed interviews those creators and more and shares hundreds of concept art images for this next look into the development of cutting edge animation.

The end papers and double page spreads showcase incredible landscapes across the Midwest.  Even as digital concept artwork mock-ups they appear like the real thing.  Beginning with a chapter on pre-production and project development, the books takes readers to key department creators, discussing their roles, including head of story Guillermo Martinez, production designer Lindsey Olivares, art director Toby Wilson, lead color designer David R. Bleich, head of character animation Alan Hawkins, and visual effects supervisor Mike Lasker.  Nearly 100 pages are devoted to building, drawing, and bringing to life each character.  So much of the film whips across the screen, so this book lets readers see what they might have missed.

In contrast to the pastoral view of America is the film’s futurism, a wild mix of retro sci-fi in the realm of Tron and Tron: Legacy, but definitely forward-looking with its Terminator-inspired cautionary tale story.  Thumbnail storyboards in The Art of The Mitchells vs. The Machines give readers a quick glance perspective of the flow of the film from normal America to evil tech-occupied America in the form of the sinister Pal Labs.  In a live-action movie propmakers are tasked with creating real world props that reflect the backstory of characters, including photographs of key characters in the past.  That takes on a new light in an animated movie, and in particular one focused on a family like the Mitchells.  Readers get to see both the development of characters from the sketch stage to as-filmed clips, but they also get to see this impressive, life-life visual backstory of the family, all showcased in the film via framed photos and insertions into Katie’s documentary films.

Each of the characters could have looked very different–and readers get to see several iterations for each, arriving at that final look (and yep, you’ll find many excellent looks at the Monchie the loveable dog).  Another section of the book looks at Katie’s style in her films within the movie, showing the incorporation of multi-media presentations–a component similar in concept to the incorporation of Miles Morales’ street art into the canvas of Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. 

As in a live-action movie, selection of setting is important.  With this movie there’s location shooting of a sort, but it’s all from the minds and pens of the artists.  From the Mitchells’ house to highway stops (like the dinosaur tourist trap) to the new, twisted world of robots, the concept art reflects the film’s success at blending Americana and classic invasion disaster trope science fiction.

Consistent with the movie’s focus on family, Michael Rianda’s mom Debbie provides a foreword for the book.  The wide format hardcover of The Art of The Mitchells vs. The Machines means that the double-page spreads provide a worthy showcase of the creators’ artwork.  Worthy of the great achievement in animation it highlights, The Art of The Mitchells vs. The Machines is available from Abrams for pre-order now here at Amazon, arriving in online and brick and mortar bookstores Tuesday, May 18, 2021.

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