Finally we arrive at one of the most scrutinising aspects of animation, and that is of course achieving the background artwork and layout drawings. As a brief recap, the two components help different areas of the studio; background paintings are the environments to which 'cels' are placed under, whilst layout drawings provide animators a guide to how their characters should move around a particular scene. The two work hand-in-hand, so combining them in one book was a good move.
Just like previous editions of The Archive Series, we have the same high quality heavy weight pages. The detail present on this paper is extraordinary for printed media, and is really the only way to appreciate the subject without resorting to a HD TV! This probably taps in to why the series of books have so far cost considerably more than other books, because the presentation is absolutely spot on. The same high quality front and back cover is also here and does a good job protecting the product, although still adds to the weight, and is prone to marks. I'm very surprised Disney don't protect these books with a cellophane wrapping, as these will surely make presents for some people.
Again, like the previous books, we have a collection of 'Silly Symphonies' cartoons and full length feature films for which artwork can be taken from the Walt Disney archives. Unlike the other members of The Archive Series however, I feel that 'Layout & Background' fails to live up its potential on several occasions, for many of the film scenes which the artwork has been taken from have, largely, already been covered in the previous books. It was my belief that each time a book was released, Disney would use the opportunity to explore different areas of each film/cartoon from the chronology, but this isn't always the case. I use 'Fantasia' (1940) as my primary example - a film with some of the most intriguing and clever artwork for any Disney film, and yet despite its 2-hour runtime, 'Layout & Background' yet again covers a couple of pages from the Night on Bald Mountain segment. What about the beautiful paintings from The Sorcerers Apprentice, or for one of only few Disney films to cover so, the abstract artwork that was produced for the Toccata and Fugue segment?
'Fantasia' is of course only one example, and it may be apparent that subjectivity is a part of choice too, but Disney should have really capitalised on some of their most popular and important films.
In addition, I would also question the choice of films towards the end of book. Although layouts and backgrounds play a vital role in many forms of animation, the inclusion of some films that use predominantly CGI for environments (and dynamic ones - not just 'flat' images) suggested me wasted space since the art form and execution is completely different to the traditional techniques used previously. Some may see this as a harsh comment, but it has nothing to do with the quality of the films themselves - simply their relevance here.
Conversely we do have some variation and advantages from this book - 'Sleeping Beauty' (1959) being a primary example, because we can now explore how many of the dynamic tracking shots were created, and how the super wide aspect ratio of 2:55.1 was utilised. The result is a collection of stunning artwork that gives a great sense of how the artist's mind thinks beyond simply colour and form, and into territories beyond art as we know it. 'Sleeping Beauty' is such a fine example because the quality of the print within this book really highlights the ridiculous amount of detail present. It pains me to think how much time must have been spent painting such pieces of work when they were only gifted seconds or minutes on the screen.
For those wanting to achieve a greater idea how a layout and backgrounds role within animation, then this book really does allow the images to speak a thousand words, which is of course the beauty - no text or captions are required. How does it hold up against the previous editions? I personally believe 'Animation' still connects on a much greater level with the audience for the importance of techniques such as posing and defining personality, whereas 'Layout & Background' is for a more technical flavour of appreciation. Because of this, I would suggest that the reader either investigates other products from 'The Archive Series' first, as layouts and backgrounds are somewhat less exciting in the books 'entirety', since the styles of artwork changed so much.
In short however, this is another strong addition that lives up to the same high standards as its predecessors.