The Making of the Pixar WALL-E Picture book – Lots of Bots
Lots of Bots c2008 – Text by Kiki Thorpe – illustrated by Ben Butcher
Ben Butcher of Pixar recently stopped by to give us a preview of the new WALL-E picture book Lots of Bots which he illustrated. The book is the precursor to the film, which is due to hit screens this summer. In the interview below, Ben discusses his thoughts and process in the making of this beautiful book. Where it was possible, we’ve included Ben’s original artwork alongside images of the finished book.
Could you tell us a little about the upcoming WALL-E film and how the character WALL-E fits into the story?
WALL-E is a beautiful story about this little robot who is the last one left on earth and how he finds himself through the relationship he develops with a sleek female robot that enters his life. The book is a separate side story about WALL-E’s adventures and mishaps as he works his way through a bunch of different robots to get to his best friend EVE.
How did you go about translating the three dimensional WALL-E character found on screen into the two dimensional character seen in the book?
The beautiful thing about Pixar films is they all start with great designs and shapes before they hit the screen. Once I decided what direction I wanted to go with this book I reduced the characters down to the most basic shapes I could while still retaining the life and personality. The hardest thing to do when designing anything is reduce it down to the simplest form. It is much easier to add things and complicate shapes and forms but to achieve the look I wanted with this book it was imperative that I reduce it down to the minimum and then only add things where they were absolutely necessary. The fact that I had severe time constraints really helped out in this area. No time for nit picking.
What medium/ materials did you use to illustrate the story? Why? Could you describe the process?
My favorite medium to work in is paper. Scrapbook paper, newspaper, tissue paper, and on and on. I love the immediacy of the decision and choices you make and also how you can get a lot of mood, atmosphere, and depth with relatively flat colors. “Lots of Bots” was illustrated using only colored paper. I wanted to keep the colors flat and simple so the designs and compositions would be as interesting as the character moments. To create the illustrations I roughed out my compositions and then transferred them to the size I would be creating the final illustration in. Approximately 12″X18″. The next step was to figure out the colors I would be using for each page. I wanted the color palette to follow the mood of WALL-E and so I started off with a more muted palette and slowly progressed until the last portion of the book was filled with bright and cheerful colors. Once I have the colors selected I lay the background shapes in first and then continually build forward until the illustration is complete.
How long did it take you to complete this project?
Ideally this large of a book,(48 pages) you would want about 3 months from thumbnail to final. Due to circumstances outside of my control I had a month and a half. What it made it really crazy is the fact that I had to keep up with my regular job so I did it all in my evenings and on the weekends. There was a lot of long nights. The benefit from this limited time was that I was forced to make choices instinctively and I didn’t have time to second guess myself. It doesn’t always work out in your favor but on this project I really feel like it made me make better more concise decisions.
Are all the robots that are within the book featured in the film?
No. Where possible I used robots directly from the film, but in some cases I needed to create new robots that were mentioned in the story. I still worked within the design parameters that were established in the film so that there was a consistency throughout the book.
How did you come up with the robots that are exclusive to the book?
The new robots were created using components of other robots from the film and using elements that were necessary to describe the function that was needed for the book. All the design components and motifs were clearly established by the film makers when they made the film so I just followed right where they left off.
We’ve talked in the past about your interest in illustration/ design/ art work created during the 1950s – 1970s. Could you tell us some of the artists you admire and if any of their work inspired you in the creation of this book?
Illustration and design from the 50’s and 60’s is a huge passion of mine and something that I consistently go back to for inspiration. Paul Rand, and Ivan Chemayeff, are two of the big ones that really inspired the direction for this book. Paul Rand’s children’s books are some of my absolute favorites. With this book I wanted to create a world of flat colored shapes that were interesting to look at even if you didn’t read the story. Outside of illustration and design I draw a lot of my inspiration from the fine art world. Stuart Davis is my absolute favorite artist and his work constantly inspires me to think about composition and color in ways I never would have on my own. Some others that I refer to consistently are Ellsworth Kelly, Ad Reinhardt, Robert Motherwell, and Josef Albers. All of these guys were masters at using shape and color.
Any funny/ odd/interesting stories you’d like to share related to the creation of the book?
Below is the piece I created on a weekend to sell Disney Press on the idea of illustrating this book in a more flat graphic style. It took about 25 hours to complete but did the job. As you can tell from the final illustrations, I refined the look a little bit more but the overall essence is here in this piece.