The Art of Onward by Drew Taylor REVIEW

An emotional story of childhood and self-discovery.

the art of onward

I set out to tell a personal story.

Dan Scanlon is the director and writer of Pixar’s Onward. The Art of Onward opens with his introduction, explaining how the premise of the film is connected to him. Inspired by his childhood where his own father died when he was only young, and being brought up by his mother and brother, Scanlon set out to tell an emotional story of magic, self-discovery and family.

The book starts off with a progressive chart of the film’s internal screenings. They explain that each film goes through a series of previews with storyboards and temporary voices before going back to the drawing board to discuss improvements. Throughout the book, most of the drawings are labelled with a number and a colour that correlates with a screening. It’s insightful for those wondering how Pixar starts their filming process and how they get to their finished project.

After that, the book goes into detail explaining how they created each character, from the brothers, Ian and Barley, to the magical creatures they encounter, and even the background characters. I was amazed at the amount of thought and creative decisions that were given to even the smallest detail. Obviously, every choice is done on purpose, but it’s interesting to see the choices they make, such as Ian’s hair being the only messy thing about him while the rest of him is put together. The extra little detail that his hair gets ‘wilder’ by the climax of the movie, visually reveals to us his growth.

A detail that I appreciate with the book is how much the artists and writers look back to Dan Scanlon and his passion for the story. Numerous times they refer to needing his council on certain decisions, such as the bond between the brothers, Ian and Barley. It is said, that while others have a more love/hate relationship with their siblings, Scanlon saw his brother more as a parental figure and loved him dearly. That was a real driving force behind the decision making and it’s nice to see the team refer to that.

My favourite part of the book is the way in which the world is carefully constructed. While the artists want the world to have a mixture of both fantasy and urban elements, it must be a measured amount to convey the feel of the world. I found it extremely interesting how they followed a basic hero’s journey but added a modern twist. For example, instead of the heroes getting lost in the swamps, it’s at a downtown gas station that’s lit with a green overtone to give it the same feeling as a swamp.

My only fault with the book, and it’s a tiny detail, is that it lacks larger art pieces. I’m an avid lover of Disney’s and Pixar’s art books and I can’t help but compare it to others they’ve produced. The Art of Onward has a collection of sketches that show the progression of their decision, which is interesting, but I would have loved more larger concept pieces to really gawk over.

The Art of Onward is an interesting book with tons to read on their approach to world building and character creation.

Review copy provided

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the art of onward
Dan Scanlon’s vision for Onward is documented beautifully in this lovingly detailed book.