There have been several fine books about Pixar's relatively brief yet extraordinary history and artistry, as well as "Art of" books on the features. None of these books take such a detailed, thorough and image-rich look at this extremely important aspect of "how Pixar does it."
Amid Amidi, co-creator of the essential website Cartoon Brew, gives roughly half of the moderately coffee-table-sized volume over to an intense chronicle of Pixar's story told through its shorts, which are truly instrumental in the development of Pixar's features, technology and especially their creative team. What is especially impressive is seeing the degree of loving detail that goes into these mini-masterpieces, which can be as short as 3 minutes and 20 seconds (For the Birds).
I can really appreciate the difficulty of writing the establishing section, distilling highly technical systems and challenges in understandable terms while avoiding the obvious out of respect for the readers. As each short appears in the book, historic narrative is woven in order sustain the context of the films and their impact. For that reason, the very early film sections (devoted to Andre and Wally B., Luxo Jr., and Knick Knack) are somewhat lengthier. Once the Pixar organization is "up and running" as far as the text is concerned, than each entry focuses on the films, their directors, artists and particular challenges.
At this point, each film is examined for one or more artistic landmarks or histories: Geri's Game for its remarkable human animation; the evolution of For The Birds from a Cal Arts project; the singularly unique vision so much a part of the director's personality and background in Boundin'; the sometimes contentious partnering of two very different directors at the helm of One Man Band and the transformation of a sound designer to a director for Lifted.
The remaining shorts (Presto was not released in time for inclusion in the book) are all based on features: Mike's New Car, Jack-Jack Attack and Mater and the Ghostlight, but are no less meticulous and easily stand on their own.
The entire book then becomes a sumptuous portfolio of concept art, storyboards, production stills and wire frames. Again, seeing it all at once is staggering. As you peruse the pastels, pencil sketches, pen & marker renderings and finished scenes, the personalities of each artist, including John Lasseter himself, come through loud and clear -- Pixar has a style, but one that is the sum of its parts rather than a stern adherence to established creative restrictions.
You can't help feeling that, if Pixar did nothing more than produce short films, they would still be an industry flagship.
I was especially taken with each director literally having a personal "stamp" for approving the film art (in the case of One Man Band, a shared stamp). The stamps reflect their style just as the films do.
This is a book worth revisiting for reference and inspiration. It's also recommended if you happen to have the Pixar Short Films Collection DVD from last year that collects all of these film on one disc, along with several audio commentaries.