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Brown Bag’s Pick of Top 25 Animation Books

Here at Brown Bag, we simply love animation, we love everything to do with animation, from the first second we set pencil to paper to doodle a thumbnail, right up to the moment we see our work on screen!

But before we'd even gotten to these steps, we had soaked up a wealth of inspiration from animation books we've encountered along the way. And since we turn the ripe old age of 25 this year, we figured we'd share the top 25 favourite animation books from around the studio. #BrownBag25

Take a scroll through the list and pick up some new titles for your bookshelf!

1. The Illusion of Life by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston

Created by two of the famed Nine Old Men (The Walt Disney Company's core animators), this book is a must for anyone who appreciates animation, and Disney animation in particular. Detailing Disney's process for completing a picture step by step, the book provides in-depth information for animators covering the history of how animation came to be as well as important animation concepts.

2. The Animators Survival Kit by Richard Williams

This enormous tome (340 pages!) by legendary animator Richard Williams (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Pink Panther), considered the animation bible by many, is an animation students staple! Detailing the basic principles from bouncing ball to run cycles, with great attention paid to technique. The book is written primarily for 2D animators but the techniques are applicable to 3D also.

You can also check out the iPad app version for the techies amongst you or the 16-DVD box-set 'The Animator's Survival Kit - Animated' which features over 400 specially animated examples:

3. Cartoon Animation by Preston Blair

California native Preston Blair (Fantasia) is somewhat of an institution amongst our 2D artists. His animation collection series provides a thorough basis for studying animation principles and techniques, you’ll learn how to develop a character, create dynamic movement, and animate dialogue with action. This is a book that can easily be referred back to throughout your career.

4. Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes: Volume 1 & Volume 2: The Walt Stanchfield Lectures

We're going to be cheeky and count these two volumes as one selection because they just work so well together!

The Drawn to Life volumes collect the notes for life drawing classes from the legendary Walt Stanchfield. It's not a book to be read from cover to cover in one go, instead, pick it up every now and again to read a few pages. Every page contains bits of information or philosophy on drawing that will make you think about drawing in a different way. And that's what our Brown Bagger's love most about this book, it's written by somebody who has a passion for life and drawing and carried it with him his whole life.

5. Directing the Story: Professional Storytelling and Storyboarding Techniques for Live Action and Animation by Francis Geblas

Francis Glebas, a top Disney storyboard artist, teaches artists a structural approach to clearly and dramatically presenting visual stories. But this book isn't just about instructions on how to storyboard from a technical point of view, it highlights how to use the storyboard to tell the story at its best and capture the emotional essence. “Directing the Story” explains visual storytelling by telling you a story, making it very easier to read as you are not only learning about storytelling, you are also engaged in the story and curious to know the ending. It's written in a very clear and entertaining way, and we can vouch you'll feel inspired to tell stories every time you pick it up.

6. Framed Ink by Marcos Mateu Mestre

Simply, one of the best books around on composition with an emphasis on visual storytelling. Using his experiences from working in the comic book industry, movie studios and teaching, Marcos introduces the reader to a step-by-step system to help create successful storyboards and visual communication graphics. Every technique has a concise breakdown, detailing how decisions are made and why shots are framed in a certain way. And can all be applied to animation.

7. Dream Worlds: Production Design for Animation by Hans Bacher

An incredibly practical book, “Dream Worlds” provides lots of examples from Disney’s animation classics like Bambi, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Lilo and Stitch to support design concepts. There are many useful lessons, such as visual development and research, film analysis, camera rules, staging and composition.

8. The Art of Moving Points! Facial Articulation by Brian Tindall

Most books for modelers either focus on skills that become obsolete or redundant very quickly (software, workflow etc.) or they treat modeling like you're creating a static object (sculpting). The “Art of Moving Points”, designed for the intermediate to advanced Character Rigger or Character Modeler, describes the principles behind engineering a working character, something that will come to life. It's rare to have a book about any subject in 3D animation that will sit on the shelf for years to come and remain relevant.

9. Character Animation Crash Course by Eric Goldberg

Eric Goldberg, animator, voice actor and film director, is best known for his work at both Walt Disney Animation Studios and Warner Bros. Animation. Having been lead animator on the character of Genie in Disney's Aladdin, it's little wonder his own book is quite magical, stuffed with everything an aspiring animator could wish for! Techniques, analysis, and detailed insights into the world of animation are interspersed with Goldberg's witty, informative observations based on his 30-plus years in the animation industry.

10. The Digital Matte Painting Handbook by David B Mattingly

The Digital Matte Painting Handbook is a hands-on practical guide with clear step by step instructions that's useful for any matte painter. Mattingly walks you through the process of creating a matte painting, starting with rough concept sketches, working out the perspective drawing, adding light and shadow, and texturing all of the elements in the painting. With detailed guidelines including showing how to take a scene from day to night. A great resource for animation and digital art students!

11. Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney's Animation By Mindy Johnson

It's not often we get an in-depth peek behind the scenes into the work of a studio, let alone a peek highlighting the incredible work by its female artists, so it's quite a joy to flip through the pages of this book and get a sense of the history of animation itself with its celluloid beginnings.

12. Acting for Animators by Ed Hooks

Ed Hooks is an industry leading acting instructor for animators providing Masterclasses worldwide. He uses basic acting theory to help guide animators in creating their characters in a realistic way. The book provides a plethora of acting theory, examples and exercises to help you develop the acting skills needed to breathe life into your animated characters.

13. The Animation Producer's Handbook by Lea Milic & Yasmin McConville

This book covers the whole animation pipeline process from setting up a production to the final product being delivered to the client. For anyone starting out in the industry, or even wanting to gain knowledge on how other departments work, this book is incredibly useful and is relevant for all levels who wish to learn about animation. It has helped some of our production team to understand the flow of a busy pipeline and helped provide clarity on animation processes, something that is particularly useful to anyone coming in from a Live Action background with little training in animation.

14. Creating Animated Cartoons with Character by Joe Murray

Our next pick, by Emmy Award-winning animator, writer, illustrator, producer, director, and voice actor, Joe Murray, is an insightful and fully illustrated guide to creating an animated series, drawn in Murray’s quirky signature style. Murray is the creator of hit shows like ‘Rocko’s Modern Life’ and our very own ‘Let’s Go Luna!’ So, we can definitely learn a thing or two from him!

If what you're searching for is a book that motivates and guides the reader to discover and explore their creativity on their own terms, then look no further! It has it all, from initial idea, character development all the way through to pitching and producing, Murray offers valuable insight into every step of the process with the added bonus of a behind-the-scenes peek into Murray’s personal projects, packed with cool photos, art and advice from industry insiders.

15. Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration

“Creativity Inc” is a must-have on every animation artists bookshelf. Ed Catmull (one of the three founding fathers of Pixar and godfather of 3D animation in general) takes you inside Pixar, recounting the history and the philosophy of one of the biggest studios in the animation industry.

16. The Art of Pixar: 25th Anniversary: The Complete Color Scripts and Select Art from 25 Years of Animation by Amid Amidi

And a compliment to the previous title is “The Art of Pixar”, a beautiful journey through the color scripts of the studio's first 25 years. It is a visual feast and a delight to flip through and absorb the sumptuous color schema of incredible movies, such as “Ratatouille”, “Wall-e” etc., in a few pages each.

17. Elemental Magic: The Art of Special Effects Animation Volume 1 & Volume 2 by Joseph Gilland

Another two-volume series, the “Elemental Magic” books are a great resource for anyone interested in the special effects area of animation.

Animation guru Joseph Gilland breaks techniques down with clear step-by-step diagrams and explanations on how to create the amazing and compelling images you see on the big screen.

18. Draw Stronger by Kriota Willberg

Draw Stronger is a guide to taking care of yourself and your body while drawing. Knowing its target market, it’s cleverly designed in the form of a comic so you’ll actually want to keep reading and learning! It's done in a really nice simple style and it's super informative and great to have around just in case. Really, it's just super useful information that anyone working for 8 hours a day at a desk should know!

19. The Art of John Alvin by Andrea Alvin

Not only did John Alvin create superb concept artwork and some of the most iconic posters of the last four decades, for many animated films like Disney's The Little Mermaid, The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast, but his work also extended to film classics Blade Runner, Jurassic Park, and Star Wars Celebration posters. This book not only collects some of Alvin’s finest work, but also includes previously unseen comprehensives and in progress sketches, accompanied by commentary from John’s wife, and his colleagues and admirers. A delight for any artist!

20. Colour and Light by James Gurney

Hands down the best book out there on colour and light! Gurney breaks down every possible lighting situation with detailed explanations. This is a book every artist should own.

21. Batman Animated by Paul Dini & Chip Kidd

Is there anyone out there who didn't stare wide-eyed at the beautiful art in Batman: The Animated Series? Take a peek behind the curtain of this revolutionary show and its impressive take on the legendary Caped Crusader and get an inside look into the creation of the series. It's the perfect 'Art of' book - honest about the difficulties the studio faced between censorship, violence and trying to make a show that appealed to kids as well as adults. Teaching that sometimes limitations in an animated TV show can be embraced and tackled in a fun way without losing any integrity. The layout and structure of the book are so great too. Everyone should have a copy! :) 

22. Alla Prima: Everything I know About Painting and More, Expanded Edition by Richard Schmid

Although expensive, Alla Prima is a bible on all things painting. The information in this book has been passed down from master painters such as Monet, Degas, Zorn, Sargent and Sorolla. Schmid, who is a modern day master breaks down and explains his own approaches in a thorough, funny and clear way. This knowledge can be taken and applied to the digital world.

23. Animals in Motion (Dover Anatomy for Artists) by Edweard Muybridge

Not necessarily an obvious candidate as an animation book favourite, “Animals in Motion” is a handy resource for understanding movement and identifying key poses. The book includes high-speed shots of more than 34 different animals and birds in motion with different types of actions. It’s incredibly helpful for viewing movement details or grabbing key poses as a reference for four-legged characters. Although, we now have access to film references online this book is still something our artists will fall back on for horse or cat animation references.

24. Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist by Chuck Jones

Chuck Jones is an animation icon - three-time Academy Award winner, director of scores of famous Warner Bros. cartoons and the creator of such memorable characters as the Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, Pepé Le Pew, and Marvin Martian, you can be guaranteed his memoir will entertain! A must-read for any animation enthusiast!

25. FORCE: Dynamic Life Drawing for Animators by Mike Mattesi

Every artist and animator knows that life drawing is an essential skill to master and “FORCE” is a terrific practical guide to help hone your skills! Whether you are an animator, comic book artist, illustrator or fine arts' student you'll learn to use rhythm, shape, and line to bring out the life in any subject while Mike Mattesi's infectious enthusiasm will have you reaching for your pencils. It definitely has us reaching for ours every time we flip through it!

Special mention should go out to all the incredible Art Of books out there - if we were to include them all our list would never end so here's just a quick selection:

Disney Pixar's The Art of Coco by Lee Unkrich & Adrian Molina, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse -The Art of the Movie by Ramin Zahed, The Art of Ponyo by Hayao Miyazaki, Cartoon Saloon's Song of the Sea Artbook, The Art of How to Train Your Dragon by Tracey Miller-Zarneke & Cressida Cowell, Art of “Star Wars” The Clone Wars by Frank Parisi, Dave Filoni & Gary Scheppke, The Art of Kung Fu Panda 2 by Tracey Miller-Zarneke, The Art of Ice Age by Tara Bennett, Awaking Beauty: The Art of Eyvind Earle by Ioan Szasz with Michael LaBrie.

So there you have it - our artists' #Top25 (and a few sneaky extras ;) ) for your animation reading list!

What's your favourite animation book? Pop it in the comments below!


Anahita Tabarsi

Anahita is Brown Bag Films' Marketing Director, Digital & Social and drinks more than five coffees a day...

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