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*Aesthetic criticism
*What's inside, Thematic material reviewed
*Secrets of capturing Disney-esque animation revealed
*Who's this book for?

If the old adage, "Never judge a book by its cover," hold true, then Elemental Magic certainly reinforces this notion. If there's any concern, it's that the wonders of this book may be passed up because of this nondescript cover layout. I also feel the author could have come up with a more intriguing sub-title.

When I first opened this soft cover, rectangular book, and I thought "OMG!" Inside, this book looks like an illustrator's private sketch book. Hundreds of beautifully hand-drawn, colored sketches: some segregated from the text, others used as a background (watermarked) with the text overlaid.

Next to each illustration is a brief, but thorough explanation of the process. And, the key to understanding this message is summed up in one word: energy.

Joseph Gilland, the author, is a 30-year animator and has worked on some of the biggest animation features over the past 20+ years including Mulan, Lilo & Stitch, Tarzan, Pocohantas and a few others. Some of the sketches that became film cells are reproduced with his notes below the art!

The book is outline with two (2) brief chapters before he introduces the philosophy of animation: The Preface and The History of Classical Animation. The remainder of the book gives step by step analysis not of how to sketch a flame or construct an iceberg, for instance, but of the techniques of how to get in touch with what he refers to as the "energy of the elements." How does one capture the essence of a burning flame? Shattered glass? A wisp of smoke or the pixie dust floating through gust of wind? There is a way to see it, Gilland explains, and it is connecting to the unique movement ("energy") of that natural (i.e., fire, water, rocks, lava, smoke, flame, glass, frost, liquids, etc.) element.

I've been a fine artist and an illustrator for more than 30 years and more recently a graphic artist. Over the years, I've collected many books by celebrated artist, but this is the first by a Western artist that stresses the spiritual dimension of the subject in order to identify with its characteristics. His words and explanations are quite refreshing. I found myself thinking, "How come I hadn't figure that out!"

Okay... who's this book for?

All fine artists.
Any digital artist who may be interested in motion capture or Flash-based software.
A children's book author.
Those who love to collect coffee-table books.
Those who love the art of classic Disney animation.


Again, if I may offer one slight bit of constructive criticism and that is: Change the cover design! It would be a shame if people, particularly, fine- and digital artists walked by this book without knowing the priceless text inside.
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Joseph Gilland is an animator with over 30 years of experience. He has worked with Disney and other studios on movies like Lilo and Stitch, Mulan among many other titles.

When he wrote this book, there wasn't any book dedicated to classical hand drawn special effects animation. It's great to be able to highlight the work done by special effects artists, who are usually the unsung heroes of animation ' if their work is good, nobody notices!

This book focuses more on dealing with liquids, fire, smoke, explosions and (other-worldly) magic. The chapters are broken down into the order of covering design concepts, discussing scale and perspective, then moving to breakdown the energy, action path and timing.

Joseph Gilland presents his topic with examples on his own, complete with tips and common mistakes to avoid. You'll learn stuff like how animators can remove details and yet keep things realistic. For example, when dealing with liquids, he would talk about the different factors that affect animation, like water density, force, gravity, viscosity, after splash, etc. The various examples include the simple water droplet to creating waves on which surfers surf on.

There's also a chapter on props. These are stuff like breaking branches, falling leaves, moving fabric, crumbling clay, etc. Animating special effects is essentially animating energy. Throughout the book, there are a lot of detailed explanation on how different elements and objects interact with one another.

While the book is on classic hand drawn animation, there are also some non-technical writeup on how you can use computers to aid in creating these effects.

Elemental Magic is a tremendously helpful resource that aims to help animators think through their approach before execution, to save time and effort without sacrificing quality. Even if there are other special effects books out there, this one definitely stands on its own.

It's highly recommended guide for animators.
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on February 24, 2010
I received my college education in Classical Animation. I wish I had of had access to this book when I was learning about SFX. It is detailed in the explanation and illustrations of certain environmental visual effects. You have explosions, fire, water, air, rock, wood, etc.

Elemental Magic: The Art of Special Effects Animation is a must have to anyone looking to learn about Disney animation styled SFX thought process. Or just to improve on their SFX visuals in illustration they have made to make them come alive.
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on January 8, 2011
Great reference for animators and 2d artists. I am 120% impressed with this book and the price amazon offers, definately would reccoment to my friends.
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on August 2, 2015
A MUST for any serious artist willing to improve in their art!
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on November 23, 2014
A classic! A must for any animator.
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on April 22, 2010
This is a great book and a rare book on hand drawn special effects. I've been looking for a book like this for years and it doesn't disapoint. Lots of theory lots of practical explanations and examples. I'm very glad to have bought it.
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