Top 10 Essential Concept Art Books: Part 2

Young Ellie reads to Carl from her Adventure Book  in an early scene from Pixar's 'Up.'This is part two in a series about my top 10 favorite concept art books (in no particular order).

In part one, I explained that, to make the top 10, these books had to meet two criteria. I won’t repeat myself here except to say that they all possess both inspirational and educational qualities.

I know that this series is getting more expensive with every click, but nonetheless, I encourage you to read on…

The Art of Pixar: The Complete Color Scripts:

The Art of Pixar: 25th Anniv.: The Complete Color Scripts and Select Art from 25 Years of AnimationThe Art Of Pixar: The Complete Color Scripts has plenty of the funky, playful Pixar concept art we all expect, but it is unlike any concept art book ever published.

This thick volume features a comprehensive collection of color scripts by the legendary Pixar art directors.

I think most of us had no idea what a color script was before The Art Of A Bug’s Life was published in 1998.

In fact, I don’t think color scripting was even a common practice at other studios until the Pixar books made it popular. I know the concept of “beat boards” goes all the way back to the beginning of feature animation, but I’m pretty sure color scripts are a relatively recent phenomenon.

My point is that in this book is far more than page after page of prettiness. It is the visual anthropology of one of the most influential studios in the history of filmmaking.

One Pixar book to rule them all, One Pixar book to find them, One Pixar book to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them!

The Art of Monsters, Inc.:

The Art of Monster's Inc.It would have been easy to inundate this list with Pixar books.

I considered including only the color scripts book but failing to acknowledge The Art of Monsters, Inc. would be like forgetting my own name…

I could talk for hours about how the movie changed my life, but since we don’t have time for that right now, I’ll just say this:

I told a story in a recent podcast episode about how I used to set an open concept art book on either side of my computer monitor as I created digital paintings for my portfolio. I would glance back and forth, comparing my own work to the quality I observed in the books.

About a year later, I got my first visual development gig at Disney.

This book was one of the two. (The Star Wars book in my previous post was the other.)

This book taught me to relax and be myself.

This book taught me that concept art is boundless playtime.

It’s emotional.

It’s whimsical.

…and yet it is still a craft.

The Art of How to Train Your Dragon:

The Art of How To Train Your DragonI saved the Kung Fu Pandas for my list of top 10 character design books.

…and The Art Of How To Train Your Dragon would belong on that list as well.

But the epic environments and high-res but never-over-rendered Character VisDev paintings justify it’s place on this list.

Even after concept art books had become an expected part of feature animation marketing, this one raised the bar for the entire industry.

Inspired? Please click here to share this on Twitter!

The Nine Old Men & The Art of Animation:

Walt Disney's Nine Old Men & The Art of AnimationThe work of Disney’s Nine Old Men should hang right next to John Singer Sargent‘s in the gallery of the greatest American artists.

Taxonomically speaking, this book might not belong on this list but I added it anyway because awesome.

The Nine Old Men & The Art Of Animation is mostly about the history of the grandfathers of Disney Animation but it’s also full of masterful animation drawings.

This is essential study, considering the current scarcity of strong draftsmanship.

Here are a couple of fun links related to these animation legends:

Read the pulse-pounding, edge-of-your-seat thriller that is the story of how I came to own this rare book.

Check out the Nine Old Men-themed giveaway I’m promoting on my character design resource page!

The Disney Archives Series: Design:

Walt Disney's Animation Studios The Archive Series: DesignI’ve been inside The Disney Archives and I’m tellin’ ya…

The Disney Archives Book Series really is the next-best-thing.

The Design edition leads you through the entire history of Disney animation visual development. It even includes excerpts from abandoned projects.

The Bambi concepts alone are worth the cover price.

In the post that covered the first half of my top 10 list, blog readers filled the comments section with their own recommendations. (And my Amazon Wish List lengthened accordingly.)

One thing I noticed is that the same, few, recent books were mentioned over and over.

While the concept art of recent years is mind-blowing, you’re compromising your own creative potential if you never look further back than the past decade.

The Disney Archives might be an ideal place to start.

Learn More:

Infuse your digital paintings with classical quality when you join The Magic Box!

Check out the personal blogs of Pixar art directors Bill ConeLou Romano (formerly of Pixar) and Dice Tsutsumi.

Do You Like Lists?

For years, my subscribers have been asking me to share my top 10 concept art books and for years, I’ve been avoiding it.

…because it’s an overwhelming, intimidating and basically impossible.

That said, I already started new top 10 lists for books on character design, storytelling, animation layout & backgrounds, color styling, creature design and more!

If you did like this list, what topic would you like me to cover next?

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }


These are great picks. Between your recommendations and those from other commenters my Amazon wishlist has exploded. Definitely want that Pixar color script book. Lately I’ve been finding inspiration from the concept art of ‘A Monster in Paris’ but sadly I can’t find a book from that one (unless anyone can point me in the right direction). The pre-production art they did was fantastic.


Chris Oatley

I’m right there with you, Tim.

I don’t think a day goes by where I’m not wishing for a ‘Monster In Paris’ art book.

That one definitely wouldn’t go to the Wish List. It would be an instant buy!


Eleonora Lorenzet

Ok, I fell in love with the second part of the list too. I’m totally adding Up to my to-buy-list (With How to train your dragons, Mulan, Brave and Frozen)!
Thanks for all the titles, I’m building my own little library and I was looking just for that kind of inspiration.
Right now I’m reading (and loving) The art of Rise of the Guardians.
And I think I’ll look for something about Coraline, I really liked the “making of” on the dvd, hope there’s a book.


Chris Oatley

You have great taste, Eleonora!


Denzel De Meerleer

Man, what a list! Some of these 10 were on my list, some I didn’t know and I think I have the odd one or two (yes that noise you hear is my money crawling to the back of my wallet)
I would recommend the Art of Hotel Transylvania as it really has character designs that go back to 50’s animation and Axis Mundis – The art of Mathieu Lauffray
Don’t know if it exists in English (he’s a French comic and concept artist). The book has amazing concept art both with traditional media and digital art. And then there’s his line art which is some of the best you can find! Mindblowing stuff!


Eleonora Lorenzet

Denzel, thanks for talking about Mathieu Lauffray. Didn’t know him, I’m watching right now some of his works. So stunning!


Denzel De Meerleer

My pleasure :) His work truly is awesome! I know they translated the Long John Silver comics he did in English! They’re gorgeous and so well told!


Chris Oatley

“Yes, that noise you hear is my money crawling to the back of my wallet…”

Haha! So funny!

Hotel T and Mathieu Lauffray are amazing too!


Denzel De Meerleer

haha Yeah I had just -finally- ordered Dream Worlds and The Noble Approach of amazon, but couldn’t resist ordering The Skillful Huntsman as well today… :)


Angela S.

Next topic should be character design, for sure!

Those Disney archive and animator books look amazing! Even though I fall more into illustration, I know they can teach me a lot about framing, composition, and just making interesting narrative things. I’ll definitely have to make room on my shelf for them.

Would you recommend the Drawn to Life Disney books at all? I keep spying them on Amazon and wondering what they’re all about.


Denzel De Meerleer

They’re amazing!
Seriously though. They contain all the notes that Walt Stanchfield made while teaching gesture at CalArts. They’re so in depth and incredibly useful (also for not animators as it talks about posing, putting life in your drawings,…)
And really they’re not expensive for the amount of pages and learning that comes with every page.


Britny Lewis

“One Pixar book to rule them all, One Pixar book to find them, One Pixar book to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them!” – I’m using this line to convince my husband to buy it for my birthday.

I was just going through my Disney Archive Design last night and looked at the character designs of Ursula. The EYEBROWS, man… the EYEBROWS. And the weight.

Is there a book that is particularly good or has a section on drawing mass or weight? There’s a section in The Illusion of Life that talks about drawing a flour sack. I’m really struggling with it.

Anyway, my book wishlist has sploded. I’m excited to see the other lists too! It’s gotta be hard to narrow it down. There’s so many good suggestions in the comments.


Paul Burrows

Not sure if these were mentioned in Part 1 or not but recently I really get inspiration from the Legend of Korra and The Last Airbender art of books, both are the most in depth books I’ve ever read on the creation of a world and of the making of a great TV show. Another one is The Legend of Zelda Hyrule Hystoria which is another great book on creating worlds and it has character designs on pretty much every game from the original all the way back to Skyward Sword. Also The two Hobbit books are a lot like the Star Wars Prequel books. and Lastly The Art of Frozen is such a fun and easy read with tons of great artbook and insight in to the making of the movie. There’s so many others that I could list, but don’t have the time.

On a separate note it would be awesome Chris if you did one or two of these posts of a top ten list of artists sketchbooks.



Hi! Great to see the second part of the list. To give a little update based on my comment of the previous article:

I received The Art of Titanfall and wouldn’t recommend it for looking at conceptart, as 99% are all shiny promoartworks. (Still interesting though)

So when it comes to early sketches and designs, roughs, etc. I would definitely go with The Art of Darksiders (both books) and also Monster Hunter Illustrations (both books).

However, after all I am very happy with The Art of How to train your dragon and The Art of The Hobbit 2 (great pencildrawings and such) as well and look forward to more Artbooks that are done for animated movies.

More lists would definitely help. I’d be very interested in books featuring character-development (especially facial expressions, gestures, bodylanguage, etc.) for games or movies, that have a lot of content (not only 120 pages or so, I always search for books with almost 200 pages or more).

If anyone wants to see my full list that is in the previous article’s comment-section, just ask and I will put my list into an answer underneath your response right here.

Have a good day,

– David



Love this list! Thank you! I picked up Framed Ink based on the OA/Paper Wings article/podcast with Justin Copeland. A top 10 list of books that focus on creating picture composition/storytelling would be awesome. If it exists somewhere already please point me in that direction! :)


Chris Oatley

I have some visual storytelling resources in my ‘Key To Great Paintings’ series, Seven.

You can count on a Visual Storytelling book list at some point. …maybe we can pull in Lora and Justin for that one!


Jonathan Smuda

Do you like lists?
Yes, Chris we do.
Because you know what you are talking about and always point to awesome stuff. To bad there is not just an import to wish list function on Amazon…


Chris Oatley

HAHA! Awesome.

Thanks, buddy! That import button would be dangerous! 😉


Jonathan Smuda

Check this out dude, we kind of do have an add to wishlist thing

Dude, list the books out with you affiliate link and get this party started.


Tegan Clancy

woooohooo I own most of these! The Disney archive design book has been flipped through many of times, with reactions like this “what!” “wow!” “no way” “how did they?”


Chris Oatley

Hahaha… My thoughts exactly.



I’m surprised you haven’t included Hans Bacher’s “Dream Worlds” that’d be first on my list. You’ve created a great list though. The Nine Old men book is great, especially to show the diversity of the group; and the Pixar Colour scripts book is great too, highlighting an often un-appreciated part of the film-making process.


Chris Oatley

Oh Dream Worlds is awesome but it’s more of a Visual Storytelling book, IMO. …rather than concept art.


Beka Duke is starting to get irritable. I go to add one of these books to my wish list and Amazon mutters severely “You already HAVE this on your wish list.”
I guess I have some buying to do.
And speaking of color scripts–I do hope they make an Art of The Lego Movie. I am intrigued by that whole process of working within set design perimeters.

But seriously, leave no thrift store shelf un-searched! I found my Art of Disney among a pile of sweatpants in a local Salvation Army and an antique clapboard in a pile of rubbish in Israel. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure:)


Chris Oatley

Yes! A Lego Movie Art Book would be awesome!

…and wow, what a find!


Bethany Lizette

Thanks for the list, Chris! Too bad my bank account isn’t feeling as “inspired” as I am…

Looking forward to future book recommendations! ^_^


Chris Oatley

HAHA! That’s hilarious…

You’re welcome!



I know how you feel about art book Chris, I feel the same way for comics!

What has inspired me the most has always been comics. I mostly had always read european comics by people like Guarnido, Buchet, Marini, Munuera, Meglia and many more! I also like american stuff like people like Jeff Smith, Ryan Ottley, James Jean, Adam Hugues and more. I especially like sketchbooks and ”art of”. For some reason, I been more drawn to theses books more than artbooks, I don’t know why…



Did anyone mention ‘Color and Light’ by James Gurney? (Dinotopia) its my favorite for dissecting & explaining realism and light lighting. check it out!


Ben Coombs

OOH! OOH! Storytelling! I’d love some books that better teach this concept!



OK – after a VERY hard back and fourth between which book I wanted to buy ( It was between basically ALL of them haha), I just purchased The Art of Pixar. It will be here on Monday and I could not be more excited. Thanks for the suggestions Chris!



David Ramirez

Hi, I love your posts and all the good stuff you share but it´s very frustrating that there is no way to know when something was posted (the date does not appear). For instance I would love to know how up-to-date your Magic Box course is. Another example is this very page of your podcast, when was it written? I can´t tell! What about the replies?



I particularly like the World of Warcraft art books – they have many – and this is partly because of my love of the game but also because of their amazing ability to make beautiful and completely lovely landscapes in so many moods.


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