The Art of Cars

by Michael Wallis with Suzanne Fitzgerald Wallis

Published by Chronicle Books

160 pages, 2006



Animated Autos

Reviewed by David Middleton


North America is very much a car culture. We love our cars so much that not only do we personalize them, we often give them personalities as well. Pixar Animation Studios -- the same people who created Toy Story, A Bugs Life, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo and The Incredibles -- takes the idea that a car can have personality one step further by dreaming up a world completely peopled -- er, autoed, um, inhabited -- by vehicles.

The story of the movie, Cars, centers around a race car named Lightning McQueen who, while traveling cross-country to California, finds himself lost on Route 66 and ending up in the small town of Radiator Springs. Lightning runs into a host of characters in the town from hillbilly-esk tow trucks to perky lady Porsches. Vehicular high-jinx ensue.

But The Art of Cars is less about the movie's story and more about the story behind the story and the creative process of turning cars into characters. The Art of Cars is full of beautiful artwork with everything from rough character pencil sketches to full color digital renderings and everything in between, tracking the evolution of how simple concepts can turn into grand visions.

We get an insider's view on how an entire world gets fabricated out of nothing but an idea and some talented artists. Authors Michael Wallis and Suzanne Fitzgerald Wallis remind us that Cars is not just pretty pictures and goofy fun. Apparently director John Lasseter and several members of the Pixar crew spent some considerable time at racetracks and on the road -- specifically Route 66 -- in order to really get the feel for the affection a lot of us have for the culture of the automobile. The team "... spent quality time at pie places, greasy spoons, motor courts festooned with neon, garages, melon patches, human and auto graveyards, tourist traps, curio shops, trading posts, deserted reptile ranches, museums, and bona fide ghost towns."

Any creative person knows that once the floodgate is opened and inspiration hits it can be hard to hold back the ideas you can come up with on a single subject. The Art of Cars seems a testament to all that inspiration and research and is crammed with enough ideas to fill several movies. And while Cars the movie may appeal to the kid in all of us, The Art of Cars speaks volumes about the process of art. Something that takes a second or a minute to go by on the screen may have taken hours, weeks or even months of dedication in front of a sketch pad or drawing board. Fortunately The Art of Cars gives us a chance to appreciate all that talent and dedication. | May 2006


David Middleton is the art and culture editor of January Magazine.