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The Art of the Polar Express    by Mark Cotta Vaz, Steve Starkey & Robert Zemeckis order for
Art of the Polar Express
by Mark Cotta Vaz
Order:  USA  Can
Chronicle, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I haven't caught the movie yet, but the previews look great and intrigued me to read about The Art of the Polar Express. The movie's director Robert Zemeckis, speaks of the 'childlike wonder' of the story and the 'mystery of a restless Christmas Eve'. Producer Steve Starkey describes Santa Claus as 'a child's first mystery' and speaks of the 'cinematic journey of discovery' which transformed the original book into the current impressive animated movie.

It's very interesting to see the conceptual origins of scenes and their details (even images on kids' clothing) in the movie version, as well as the technical explanation of modern animation techniques like 'motion-capture suits' (familiar to those of us fascinated by Gollum's serpentine movements in Lord of the Rings) and 'close-up capture' (I hadn't realized that Tom Hanks played so many parts, changing only his shoes!) The division of function is described between camera operation (in a 'three-dimensional, virtual space'), and color and lighting done by the art department. We see digital storyboards of the 'Hot Chocolate Dance Number' and of the North Pole factory community, hear how the 'Ticket Journey' evolved, and about the 'Roller Coaster Development'. We learn what a 'filmscape' is, and about a movie's 'color palette'. The 'Roundhouse' reminds me of Thomas the Tank Engine, a favorite of my sons when they were younger. And I definitely could use a 'Gift Wrap Hall' in my home any day now.

There's a great deal of nostalgia built into this lovely book, that will absorb anyone interested in the animation process, or curious to know how much is involved in movie-making. The Art of the Polar Express is a totally fascinating account of the magical making of a magical movie, which I'm now even more keen to see soon!

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