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Joseph Gilland is an animator with over 30 years of experience. He has worked with Disney and other studios on movies like Lilo and Stitch, Mulan among many other titles.

When he wrote this book, there wasn't any book dedicated to classical hand drawn special effects animation. It's great to be able to highlight the work done by special effects artists, who are usually the unsung heroes of animation -- if their work is good, nobody notices!

This book focuses more on dealing with liquids, fire, smoke, explosions and (other-worldly) magic. The chapters are broken down into the order of covering design concepts, discussing scale and perspective, then moving to breakdown the energy, action path and timing.

Joseph Gilland presents his topic with examples on his own, complete with tips and common mistakes to avoid. You'll learn stuff like how animators can remove details and yet keep things realistic. For example, when dealing with liquids, he would talk about the different factors that affect animation, like water density, force, gravity, viscosity, after splash, etc. The various examples include the simple water droplet to creating waves on which surfers surf on.

There's also a chapter on props. These are stuff like breaking branches, falling leaves, moving fabric, crumbling clay, etc. Animating special effects is essentially animating energy. Throughout the book, there are a lot of detailed explanation on how different elements and objects interact with one another.

While the book is on classic hand drawn animation, there are also some non-technical writeup on how you can use computers to aid in creating these effects.

Elemental Magic is a tremendously helpful resource that aims to help animators think through their approach before execution, to save time and effort without sacrificing quality. Even if there are other special effects books out there, this one definitely stands on its own.

It's highly recommended guide for animators.
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on 11 August 2010
This book on special effects animation is a great resource for professionals and/or students studying the craft. The author, Joseph Gilland, has packed a lot of thought and step-by-step drawings into this book to give you the best start on special effects animation. He has worked on Disney and Don Bluth films (this is evident in his style) so it's coming from a reliable source!

I myself am studying animation at University and always puzzled how certain effects were achieved and what they look like frame-by-frame. Gilland doesn't pretend to be the only resource or instructor for this type of animation, but his detailed chapters on theory and his incredible original drawings demonstrating the action certainly helps! There are also inspiring photographs of the elements to show where your research should always begin.

The most detailed section seems to be the chapter on water--he covers waves, rain, splashes, drips, surfing and more! It shows a huge amount of research and tips for how to get it looking just right, no matter what style you would prefer to render it in. A lot of his examples are actually lessons on the physics and understanding of it all!

This is a brilliant resource and provides a great read as well as an essential backbone for any aspiring special effects animator, or it will serve as a great supplement to any other type of animation, 2D, 3D or otherwise! Highly recommend this for students!
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*Aesthetic criticism
*What's inside, Thematic material reviewed
*Secrets of capturing Disney-esque animation revealed
*Who's this book for?

If the old adage, "Never judge a book by its cover," hold true, then Elemental Magic certainly reinforces this notion. If there's any concern, it's that the wonders of this book may be passed up because of this nondescript cover layout. I also feel the author could have come up with a more intriguing sub-title.

When I first opened this soft cover, rectangular book, and I thought "OMG!" Inside, this book looks like an illustrator's private sketch book. Hundreds of beautifully hand-drawn, colored sketches: some segregated from the text, others used as a background (watermarked) with the text overlaid.

Next to each illustration is a brief, but thorough explanation of the process. And, the key to understanding this message is summed up in one word: energy.

Joseph Gilland, the author, is a 30-year animator and has worked on some of the biggest animation features over the past 20+ years including Mulan, Lilo & Stitch, Tarzan, Pocohantas and a few others. Some of the sketches that became film cells are reproduced with his notes below the art!

The book is outline with two (2) brief chapters before he introduces the philosophy of animation: The Preface and The History of Classical Animation. The remainder of the book gives step by step analysis not of how to sketch a flame or construct an iceberg, for instance, but of the techniques of how to get in touch with what he refers to as the "energy of the elements." How does one capture the essence of a burning flame? Shattered glass? A wisp of smoke or the pixie dust floating through gust of wind? There is a way to see it, Gilland explains, and it is connecting to the unique movement ("energy") of that natural (i.e., fire, water, rocks, lava, smoke, flame, glass, frost, liquids, etc.) element.

I've been a fine artist and an illustrator for more than 30 years and more recently a graphic artist. Over the years, I've collected many books by celebrated artist, but this is the first by a Western artist that stresses the spiritual dimension of the subject in order to identify with its characteristics. His words and explanations are quite refreshing. I found myself thinking, "How come I hadn't figure that out!"

Okay... who's this book for?

All fine artists.
Any digital artist who may be interested in motion capture or Flash-based software.
A children's book author.
Those who love to collect coffee-table books.
Those who love the art of classic Disney animation.


Again, if I may offer one slight bit of constructive criticism and that is: Change the cover design! It would be a shame if people, particularly, fine- and digital artists walked by this book without knowing the priceless text inside.
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on 19 February 2010
"'Elemental Magic' is jam-packed with rich, original illustrations from the author himself which help explain and illuminate the technique, philosophy, and approach behind classical hand drawn animated effects"

That's basically it really, lots of illustrations... Theory and philosophies which should already be evident to any 2d Animator. This book could possibly be helpful to beginners or first year students, but beyond that the depth of the detail comprises of 'line of action' (one of the basics of animation applied to everything) of the different elements of a certain effect.

The author is obviously a genious and knows what he's talking about, but for some reason he didn't include not one single timing chart throughout the whole book! You have to be clear with what you're animating and a dope sheet is key to visualising the feeling of movement. I expected a complete breakdown of things so I could learn something new but you're only given half the story, I suppose not all those Disney secrets aren't for sale.

I'm sorry to be negative but I was looking forward to this read and did expect more detail, on timings and rhythms especially. All said and done the book does provide different techniques on rendering and does give you help when approaching the different elements

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on 9 October 2016
Very helpful for any animator interested in learning the basics and tips at how to draw 2D FX, I would highly recommend it for anyone that wants to start in the animation industry.
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on 11 May 2016
Son is a designer. Purchased for his birthday.
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