Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Book review - Chronicles: Art & Design: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Please welcome to Farsight Blogger guest blogger Richard Williams, a fellow gamer, writer and weird stuff enthusiast.

by Daniel Falconer
Publisher: HarperCollins

Anyone who has already bought a Lord of the Rings/Hobbit artbook will already know both the quality and style of this book. While I maintain that I would have preferred the books to be portrait format rather than landscape, so as to better fit in with my other books, I must admit that the Hobbit artbooks do look very nice.

As to the interior I was more than pleased when I first flicked through the pages. As ever there are the stunning location designs; moody forests, soaring mountains and towns and villages that frankly make you want to pack your things and move there this afternoon. Gus Hunter's image of the Ancient Dale is easily worthy of gracing anyone's living room wall, right next to Eduardo Pena's picture of the same. What I'm saying is that there isn't just rough design work, as you'd expect from concept art books, but gallery-quality art too.

The Orcs get a nice section to themselves this time around as there are three characters in particular that play a major part in the film. Once more the designs show a lot of thought and consideration behind why the Orcs would dress the way they do or have what they have. At the heart of it I would say it's this fact which gives the work from Weta's art department so much life and realism. Things have a reason for being there, not just because they look cool, but because there's a history and a story to everything. If a creature is shown wearing a fur hide then someone, somewhere, has thought about where it came from and how the wearer came to possess it.

There is also a decent chunk of the book dedicated to Beorn; his home, his lands and, of course, the man himself. This is where we find a lot of the John Howe and Alan Lee sketch work and I'm not sure I've ever wanted a timber framed house more than I do when I look at it. They should go into business with Ikea to make a range of Middle Earth flatpack wooden houses. As ever it's not just the big picture that warrants attention but, again, it's all the little details. Things that you might not even notice when watching the film, such as the chair backs, a hand-carved chess board, archways and mantelpiece ornamentation, which the artists focus upon to make the world a living, breathing place.

But by far my favourite section of this book is the Mirkwood Elves. Forget what you know about glamorous High Elves with fine clothes and ornate buildings. What we see here is considerably moodier, darker and more menacing, yet still with the signature Elven grace and elegance. A fine balancing act for the artists to accomplish. While there is much in Middle Earth that I wish I could see with my own eyes, Mirkwood is not one of them. The images found here will leave you in no doubt that it is a hostile place and even if there weren't elves to contend with then you'd still do well to heed Gandalf's advice and 'stick to the path'.

Mixed in with all of this is the usual cornucopia of costume designs, interior and exterior building sketches, the always reassuring pencil work of Alan Lee and John Howe (which some might say is worth the price of the book alone), superbly realised tools, weapons and other sundry items and, if that weren't enough for you, there's even some work involving a dragon.

In truth there's too much amazing artwork here to talk about it all and still do it justice. Suffice to say that it is all a treat for the eyes and imagination. The work doesn't so much show you the world of Middle Earth as invite you to the table with it. This book is a must-have for any Lord of the Rings fans and lovers of fantasy artwork. Buy it and be happy.

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