The Best New Concept Art Books (2019 Edition) :: VSP #4


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By Lauren Morse and Jessica Doll for The Oatley Academy Of Visual Storytelling, Lauren Morse, and Jessica Doll for The Oatley Academy Of Visual Storytelling. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Imagine you’re walking along a street in a big, busy city.

Despite all the noise and movement, something shiny catches your eye.

It’s a key.

You pick it up and realize it’s the most unusual and ornate key you’ve ever seen.

You take it home, toss it in a drawer and forget about it.

…or maybe you display it, so you can share it with others. After all, the key is a beautiful work of art in and of itself.

Now imagine, one day, a good friend comes over for coffee.

They notice this beautiful key you have displayed and they say to you: “I think I know where to find the lock. It’s on a door just down the street. Wanna go see what’s inside?”

A single piece of Concept Art is a key.

Some aspiring Concept Artists spend all their time collecting keys but never bother to unlock any doors.

They scroll the Internet, collecting single pieces of Concept Art and toss it all into a hoard file on their hard drive.

Sometimes they’ll share it on Social Media but, either way, they’re not learning anything about what it really means to be a professional Concept Artist.

Your random collection of keys won’t unlock anything on their own. You have to find out what’s behind the doors and why.

I know it can be overwhelming to research the history of Concept Art and stay relevant in such an innovative industry…

…but this list of The Best New Concept Art Books will help you do both.

Watch The Episode:

[download the mp3]


Hello, my friends and welcome to The Visual Storytelling Podcast – where I help Artists and Writers find healthy, fulfilling careers in Animation, Games, Comics, Film and Illustration.

I’m your host Chris Oatley. I’m a Visual Development Artist and Illustrator – most notably for Disney – and if you want to become a professional Visual Storyteller like the guests on this show or many of my students, check out my courses and resources here at!

Join the notification list for my free mini-course: You’re A Better Artist Than You Think You Are: How To Improve Quickly Without Ever Picking Up A Pencil

…and I’ll follow-up via email when the next session opens!

The Art Of ‘God Of War’

Creative Director Cory Barlog and his team at Santa Monica Studio created a relentlessly intense, story-driven epic and saved the God Of War franchise in the process.

The book is not just a collection of Concept Art.

It’s a record of the commitment to believability that separates professionals from amateurs.

Bonus Features: Clay Maquettes, Comics as a Style Guide & What to do when your reference is lost to history!

[ buy the book ]

‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’: The Art of the Movie

What could have been “just another superhero movie,” became a project that basically every Animation Concept Artist wishes they had worked on.

Into The Spider-Verse from Sony Pictures Animation pops and pulsates with a kinetic style that brings new meaning to the term: “controlled chaos.”

The book shows, in multiple ways, how the Concept Artists defied genre conventions by using the most conventional tools available: Value, Color, Gesture and Texture.

Bonus Features: Concept Art All-Stars, Story Sketches & Big pages with full-bleed, gatefold spreads!

[ buy the book ]

The Art Of ‘Missing Link’

…speaking of defying Animation conventions, the Laika styles are always a surprise.

Though wonky, Laika-esque stylizations are common in Visual Development portfolios, they almost never demonstrate the refinement and meticulous focus found in an authentic Laika production.

The Art Of Missing Link is a showcase of nuance with exhaustive color and texture reference, subtle variations of shape language and an enlightening lack of arbitrary angularity.

Bonus Features: Character Designs with production-ready puppets side-by-side & Behind-the-scenes photos of the stop-motion sets!

[ buy the book ]

The Art & Making Of ‘The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance’

We live in The Age Of Superfluous Reboots.

…and it’s rare that any reboot (or remake or sequel) surpasses the original.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (from The Jim Henson Company and Netflix) does so in both story and scope.

Any purveyor of the high-fantasy genre knows that epic scope is a fundamental tenet of worldbuilding. They also know that scope is very hard to control.

The Dark Crystal Concept Artists found a brilliant solution to their scope problem: Focus the design process with the perspectives of the three main characters.

Watch the series (Seriously… Watch it. It’s uhMAYziiing.), read the art book and consider how every aspect of the design process relates to one or more of the protagonists.

…and then apply this lesson to your own projects.

Bonus Features: Numerous photos from the Jim Henson Creature Shop, Brian Froud & “mMMmmm!”

[ buy the book ]

‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild’: Creating A Champion + The Art of ‘Super Mario Odyssey’

Big games deserve big books.

The Breath Of The Wild book features Character Designs (with multiple costume changes), Lighting Keys, Prop, Environment and Set Designs, Character Paintings, Orthographics and a worldbuilding guide that will blow your mind.

The Mario Odyssey book trades the focus on production assets and worldbuilding for an emphasis on Art Direction. (I love when Concept Art books show the ugly stuff. …because that’s such a significant part of the job.)

Bonus Features: Draw-overs, A comprehensive history of Hyrule & Almost eight hundred pages of Nintendo’s mysterious process!

[ buy the Zelda book ] [ buy the Mario book ]

Star Wars Icons: Han Solo

You might think there’s nothing more to learn about Star Wars.

However, this first installment of the new Star Wars Icons series, focuses entirely on the development of one single character – Han Solo – and in doing so, inspires new admiration for the franchise as a whole.

Bonus Features: Ralph McQuarrie Concept Art with pencil sketch overlays, Nightmarish versions of Chewbacca & Why Han Solo and The Millennium Falcon are the same character!

[ buy the book ]

They Drew As They Pleased Vol4: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Mid-Century Era + Awaking Beauty: The Art Of Eyvind Earle

Until Mary Blair arrived, Walt Disney was famously consistent (or notoriously conservative – depending on who you talk to) when it came to stylistic experimentation.

That’s not to say Walt never explored style. Almost every sequence in Fantasia and Tyrus Wong’s influence on Bambi are notable examples.

But the openness represented in the work of Disney’s mid-century era is arguably unprecedented.

They Drew As They Pleased Volume 4 is a picture of Disney-in-transition. The artist biographies, paintings and sketches featured here offer insight about how to innovate without breaking the brand.

…which is the responsibility of every Concept Artist (unless otherwise directed).

Eyvind Earle – who inspired the ground-breaking design of Sleeping Beauty – is noticeably absent from the book. Author Didier Ghez devoted more space to lesser-known artists because The Disney Family Museum would soon publish Awaking Beauty: The Art Of Eyvind Earle.

While the aforementioned book about Han Solo offers new perspective on a familiar franchise by focusing on one character, Awaking Beauty does the same by focusing on one artist.

Bonus Features: How Mary Blair found her visual voice & How Eyvind Earle tried for fifteen years until finally getting hired at Disney!

[ buy ‘Drew As They Pleased’ ] [ buy ‘Awaking Beauty’ ]

The Big Bad World of Concept Art for Video Games

Author Eliott Lilly developed an impressive resume as a Concept Artist for AAA games (Doom, Call Of Duty) until pivoting his career to focus on writing and teaching.

Graciously, Eliott invited me to be a contributing author for the most recent volume in his Big Bad World Of Concept Art series.

With advice on portfolios and self-promotion, how to pass art tests, interviews and salary negotiation, staying relevant and work/ life balance, these books are an essential resource for artists trying to break in or move to a new studio.

Though the title indicates a focus on Video Games, almost all of the advice applies to any kind of Concept Art career.

[ buy the book ]


Find me on Instagram and Twitter.

If you liked today’s lesson, please share a high star rating (and, if you have time, a positive review) on our iTunes page at:

Join the notification list for my free mini-course: You’re A Better Artist Than You Think You Are: How To Improve Quickly Without Ever Picking Up A Pencil

…and I’ll follow-up via email when the next session opens!

If you liked this post, check out my original blog series on my Top 10 Essential Concept Art Books (Part 1) and (Part 2), my series about Visual Development Portfolios and learn more about the power of shape language in Good Character Design Goes Deep!

If you follow one of my Amazon links on this page and complete an order, my team and I will get a small commission (a percentage of the total order) and that commission will help to support the production of this show.

Review copies of the Spider-Verse, Missing Link, Dark Crystal, Han Solo and both Disney books were provided by their respective publishers but these reviews accurately represent my own personal opinions.

Our Theme Music was composed by Seth Earnest, produced by Seth Earnest and Chris Oatley and performed by Seth Earnest with guitar work by Storybook Steve.

Our Album Art was designed by Maike Oatley with Chris Oatley.

Until next time, my friends, remember: Books are meant to be read. …not just decorate your shelves.

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