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Book Review: Elysium: The Art of the Film

Posted by Patrick Sauriol on Monday, August 19, 2013

Books about the art design of mainstream movies can be lavish tomes filled with conceptual drawings and paintings, but the better ones devote a decent amount of space on their pages to the artists that thought up these fantastic worlds. This approach was done for Titan Books most recent coffee table release, Elysium: The Art of the Film, which details the creation of director Neill Blomkamp's dystopic world of 2154. At 176 pages, Titan's Elysium tome covers the art design from the film in a good way that won't leave you regretting your purchasing decision, if you crave to know more about the influences and reasoning that went into the Elysium universe.

Former Empire editor Mark Salisbury wrote the text that accompanies the artwork on the pages, and it's well chosen so that you get a decent background on the decisions that Blomkamp and his head creative team made for the look of Elysium's characters, vehicles and places. Broken up into two sections, Earth and Elysium, things are further subdivided into specific items. For example, "Robots" gives us 10 pages of detail showing different conceptual looks for the mechanical cops, factory workers and non-humanoid looking 'bots we see in the movie. In this section it's primarily Blomkamp that gives his take on how he developed the initial look for Elysium's robots before handing it off to the artists that came up with the final designs.

Robot artwork design from Elysium: The Art of the Film.

Other sections include "Exo-Suit" which explores different concepts of Matt Damon's prosthetic; "Weapons" which shows off some of the swell detail (and made-up logos of imaginary future corporations) on the rifles and pistols; "Factory", which explores Damon's character's work environment; and even "Tattoos". In this last section we have prosthetic makeup supervisor Sarah Rubano provide her explanations for the various tats we see on Elysium's characters, and the meaning behind some of the designs we see on the favela gangs' tats.

The other major category in the book is devoted to the space station Elysium. In this section there's a dramatic contrast between the run-down, poverty stricken environments found on Earth and the clean, cutting edge tech found onboard Elysium. The looks of the vehicles, robots, devices and weapons shift to create a different emotional feel from the film's first half.

Among the people interviewed to discuss the Elysium artwork is legendary concept artist Syd Mead. A man who's design genius goes back four decades in Hollywood, Mead has worked on big name projects before, creating multiple visions of future tech and worlds such as the colony in Aliens, the digital world of Tron and the spaceship in Disney's The Black Hole. So how does a guy like Mead reach back into the creative well and come up with yet another futuristic hallway or vehicle that doesn't borrow too greatly from his past work?  "Corridors are the prime example of [design in] science fiction films, where you've got a character running down a corridor, and it has to look cool," explains the man.

The art featured in Elysium: The Art of the Film follows the movie's storyline chronologically, but you should be prepared to encounter spoilers and have the ending of the movie revealed. Salisbury's choice of quotes from the movie's creators are well-chosen, and you finish the book understanding a good chunk of info that is only hinted at after watching Elysium the first time. There's also an introduction written by director Blomkamp that speaks about his own fondness for "art of" movie books, and the pleasure he got as a kid from seeing all that cool stuff that gets created during the worldbuilding phase of making a movie.

All in all, a solid book to consider picking up if you enjoyed the movie and want to discover more about the realistic tech approach to Elysium's world.


Review Score: 65 / 100

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