Art of the Secret World of Arrietty

By Studio Ghibli and Hiromasa Yonebayashi
200 pages, color
Published by Viz

As much as I love Studio Ghibli’s films, occasionally they’ll sneak past me in the movie theatres. That was the case with The Secret World of Arrietty, an animated movie based on the novels of The Borrowers that was released in North American earlier this year. While I continue to wait for a DVD release, though, I’ve found that yearning at least partially satiated by The Art of the Secret World of Arrietty, a book detailing the artistic creation of the film.

Studio Ghibli fans will no doubt be the most interested in the early concept design sketches, which are split between director Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Studio Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki. They’re rough but beautiful in their own right, with soft, gentle colors and lines as you get to see the looks of the characters of The Secret World of Arrietty slowly form. It’s interesting to see some characters go down different paths at least initially. Yonebayashi’s early sketches of Arrietty have her looking like more of a warrior than an every day girl, for example, until Miyazaki vetoed the idea, and Miyazaki initially envisioned Pod looking very Germanic. It’s actually a little fascinating to see how much Miyazaki’s originally envisioning of settings like the mansion or the home of Arrietty translated into the final product; the sketches might be rough, but everyone involved still seized on the details that are still present and brought them to life.

Beyond those earliest production sketches, though, there’s a lot of other interest packed into The Art of the Secret World of Arrietty. There’s an essay talking about the changes made from the books to turn it into a movie, discussions on shifting everything to the tiny size of the characters, and even explaining how they got around the fact that the home of the little people should have been pitch black since it wouldn’t have a window to the outside world. It’s a surprisingly thoughtful write-up of just about every aspect of creating the film, save for voice acting (which of course the art department would have nothing to do with), and even without having seen The Secret World of Arrietty yet for myself, it’s still interesting.

And of course, there’s a lot of art reproduced from The Secret World of Arrietty, even beyond all of the (increasingly detailed) production sketches. Even something as simple as a still from the movie looks fantastic; then again, this is a Studio Ghibli film. The images of the exterior of the house are breathtaking, and if anything it makes me want to see The Secret World of Arrietty even more. We also get to see a lot of the production art side-by-side with the actual scenes from the film; while the finished product is crisper and more polished, it’s once again a little surprising to see how closely the film followed those early paintings.

The Art of the Secret World of Arrietty closes with a printing of the entire script of the film, which is a surprising bonus. (As tempting as it was to read it, I’m going to hold off on that until I finally get to see the film for myself.) The Art of the Secret World of Arrietty is the first Studio Ghibli Library art book on my shelves, but I’m already planning on getting a lot more; especially the ones for my favorite films like My Neighbor Totoro. The Art of the Secret World of Arrietty does the near-impossible; it managed to plunge me deep into the world of a film I’ve yet to actually see. That’s no small feat.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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