Book - Ava Evolved

AVA Evolved

Susan Omand tries to pass the Turing test and reviews the beautiful concept art book based on Ex Machina, Ava Evolved by Jock and Alex Garland...

First up, I have a confession – I have not yet watched Ex Machina as a film. I must admit the media hype surrounding the film, both good and bad, put me off it a bit and I am aware of the internet furore surrounding it but I’m sure I will get round to watching it later. For this review though, I don’t feel that an indepth knowledge of the film is relevant, and I will keep my opinions to myself as to the handling of the subject matter. I do, however, know the concept of the film and, as an artist, I am a huge fan of Jock’s work in 2000 AD, so when I got the chance to review Ava Evolved, I jumped at it.

WOW!

Director of the film Alex Garland, in his introduction to this book, points out the absolute importance of getting Ava, the female AI and central character in the film, to look right. Budget limitations constrained the amount of CGI used but Ava couldn’t just be “an actress in a robot suit” as the story could not afford the misinterpretation that Ava was anything other than machine – so there could be none of the Bladerunner Rachael “is she/isn’t she” debate, she had to look purely mechanical. Also, she couldn’t look like any other filmic robot but had to be completely unique. No pressure then.


Ava

Apart from the introduction, there is very little writing in the book, other than the artist notes of Jock attached to a few of the pictures, explaining a concept or showing what he was working to achieve in the look. The rest of the pages are given over to the beautiful concept artwork and ideas. And what artwork it is. All through art history the female form has been studied again and again and you can tell, especially with the quick pen and ink sketches in the book, that Jock is familiar with not just the aesthetic but the anatomy, with sketches of her standing, sitting and moving. This became especially evident when one of his artist notes pointed out that the hips of the machine Ava would have to remain upright when seated, because of the hinging being a single point rather than multiple, a fact that I hadn’t even considered. I enjoyed seeing the process of evolution alluded to in the title, as sets of pictures show the disjointing of the natural form and removal of sections to transform Ava into machine form. The importance of colouring in keeping the originality of the android was also touched upon, with one of the pictures of Ava, in yellow, being affectionately titled She 3PO. The book finishes with some poster ideas, which Jock terms “explicit but has beauty” and I agree that they superbly sum up the feel of the film that I get from this book.

Concept art

I only got to see a pdf copy of it rather than the A3 looseleaf print promised by the limited edition book itself but luckily, for my own art, I have a large, hi res monitor so could view the artwork in all its glory and, boy, did the quality of both the art and the production shine through. If you’re looking for a behind the scenes on how the film was made, or for any commentary or debate on the film or the way it handled the subject, then this is not the book for you. If however, you are looking for a book of beautiful pictures with insightful artistic notes on the thought processes that go into the evolution of a single concept to the finished product, then this is well worth the £40 price tag.

Images - Rebellion

The book is limited to just 500 copies and will be available exclusively from the 2000 AD webshop at http://shop.2000adonline.com/products/ex_machina_ava_evolved (currently available for pre-order)