Writing these books is no simple matter; there are troves of drawings and paintings available for consideration. Conceptual sketches can sometimes be more interesting than finished designs. Dozens of people must be interviewed, and the text must be as compelling as the art. Such books need very tight organization lest the material overwhelms the writer.
Perhaps the most salient fact Hueso realized is that there are two parallel casts in “The Croods”. The first is the cave family, whose journey to safety in a rapidly changing world carries the story. The second cast consists of the fantastic flora and fauna that exists in the imaginary “Croodacious Period” setting. It is here that the imaginations of the DreamWorks crew is at its most unfettered.
Hueso wisely begins by introducing the individual Croods through a wealth of conceptual art. Due credit is given to designers Carter Goodrich, Takao Noguchi, Dominique Louis, and many others who set the look of the protohuman clan. It is fascinating to follow how the artists experimented with depicting characters not far removed from apes by giving them some contemporary human features. Hueso ferrets out informative comments from the design crew in order to illustrate the process.
Immediately after this section, a whimsical double-spread pullout of hybrid animals designed by Noguchi leads into eighty pages in which the layout and design of the various settings is detailed. The Croods and Guy, their guide, travel from the former safety of their cave through jungle, tundra, a field guarded by a fierce Turkeyfish, an above-sea level coral field, gorges, stone mazes, and finally mountains where “the end of the world” takes place.
Each setting is rich with different plants, unique terrain, and a riotous assortment of animals that run the gamut from comic to lethal. Lush double-page spreads abound, and the efforts that went into final design – there is a page with thirteen variations on one minor creature – a cross between a bird and a ram – bespeak the thought that went into the film and the book. A second double-page pullout is dedicated to nothing but conceptual art for the trees and vegetation that appear in the film. As always, there is cogent commentary from the design crew. One lighthearted anecdote recounts how they were eventually able to find a role for a giant ear of corn they admired. Along the way, Hueso elicits comments from Director Chris Sanders (whose artwork also appears) that unifies the material.
For those who cannot get enough of the minute technical details underlying the computer-generated and 3D effects that enhance the film, Hueso devotes the final twenty pages of the book to them, using the anatomy of a single sequence late in the film in order to do so. Modeling, surfacing, character rigging, light effects and matte painting are among the subjects that are lavishly covered.
The Croods has been a hit for DreamWorks Animation during perhaps its most difficult time, and this book more than does the film justice.