The rocketing speed of the incredible racing scenes at the Indianapolis 500 is very difficult to translate to readers, as opposed to audiences. In Robert Abele’s The Art of Turbo, concept art by Marcos Mateu-Mestre on pages 114-115 comes close, but only captures the bare essence of the speed that blazes throughout the movie.
None of this is the fault of Mr. Abele; snails may race at supersonic speed but books can't. Abele, however, makes this book as much a winner as the titular snail through concise and detailed interviews with the production team. The Art of Turbo revels in details that nicely complement a viewing of the film. One excellent example: Character Designers Shannon Tindle and Sylvain Deboissy give the author a discourse on how to overcome the "ick factor" associated with the unwelcome, slimy mollusks we see in our gardens, as well as how to get a full range of appealing expression out of creatures that have no limbs and carry their eyes on stalks.
We also get insights on how "Los Bros" Tito and Angelo were designed as a circle and a square respectively to highlight their opposing personalities. Shannon Tindle also used Tito’s roundness to tie him thematically to Turbo’s shape. Abele does a fine job of relating why cinematographer Wally Pfister and his lighting effects were essential to the look and feel of Turbo.
The book contains one pullout spread, which details Turbo's transformation into a full-blown speed demon courtesy of a bath in nitrous oxide. Director David Soren relates how Spider-Man’s origin story inspired the sequence, and how details like having Turbo’s blood cells line up like racing tires enlivened it.
Most impressive is the section detailing the locations used in the film. Production Designer Michael Isaak explains at length why realistic backgrounds and settings were more desirable than stylized ones, and the thousand details that went into the depiction of the Indianapolis 500 Speedway, including changes made for dramatic effect. (I actually live an hour from this racing shrine and can attest that Isaak and team truly put their car on the right track).
Part of this book's appeal is the playfulness that Abele chose to include. He relates how Producer Lisa Stewart and others actually took harrowing, high-speed rides in Indy cars as part of their research, and there are pictures of the crew taking in the sights at the Speedway. Indy champion Guy Gagne was modeled directly on head story man Ennio Toressan, and you can see a comical comparison on pages 46-47. If you missed President Barack Obama’s surprise cameo in the film, Abele provides it for you on page 80. Such details add a touch of fun not found in most “Art of” books.
It is of some interest that in the section about the racing snails that befriend Turbo, none of the artists cite what appears to be an obvious influence. The snails, outfitted with hemi-headers, hood scoops, and exaggerated spoilers are direct descendants of the dragster demons created by the California artist Ed "Big Daddy" Roth (1932-2001). Anyone familiar with Roth who doubts this should check out character designer Phillipe Tilikete’s concept art for the White Shadow on page 68.
Overall, Abele's book is strongest in conveying the conceptions behind the film, and the insights and ideas of the designers and artists. Many "Art of" books are skimpy on text, but Abele takes a fuller, more cerebral approach. Don't worry; there are more than enough stills and concept art to delight the eye. The snail is fast; to appreciate that, see the movie. To understand how DreamWorks made him that way, check out The Art of Turbo.