Bringing Your Book Teaser to Life by Chris Gall

I admit it. I’ve always secretly wished I had been in the movie business. It’s not so different a world from picture books—both tell a story with words and pictures. Fortunately, I found a way to satisfy my desires—and so can you.

 Your new book is coming out in a few months and you want to do all you can to promote it, naturally. An animated book teaser is a great way to introduce your title, as well as bring your illustrations to life. So put on your director’s hat, pretend just for now you are a famous filmmaker, and get down to work.

I tend to keep my book trailers to somewhere around 60 seconds. Sometimes they are longer, but only if I just can’t live without a certain sequence. That way it will feel like a television commercial, and you won’t risk losing your audience. Remember, the whole animation needs to drive towards selling the title at the end.

The next step may seem like it should be the last step, but I’ll explain. I choose my musical track, or tracks first. (I generally don’t consider a narrator for several reasons. Competent voice talent is pricey, and using a voice that isn’t quite “right” makes your trailer sound amateurish, or worse.) I need to find the music first because I’ll never be able to find the right score that perfectly matches the action after all the animation is finished. I’m not John Williams. But if you’re musically inclined—by all means experiment. I am looking for a score that feels like it reflects the mood or action of my book.

In a perfect world we’d all have unlimited access to our favorite music to use as we see fit. But as we all know by now, using someone else’s music to sell your goods usually requires you to pay for rights. You can find some royalty-free music out there but the most professionally produced scores tend to be rights-reserved. Fortunately, it has never been easier to sample music tracks, negotiate the fee, and download the music. I use, though there are many others.

Now I can start to storyboard what I want to happen in the trailer. Nothing fancy, just a diagrammatical sequence of what scenes will go where. I pay special attention to music breaks, change in tempo, etc, as opportunities for edits or changes in the action. You are creating a commercial in essence—you are trying to entice the audience to buy your book.

My first animation attempt was very crude. For There’s Nothing To Do On Mars and Dinotrux I created a motion sequence in Photoshop, and then edited the results in IMovie. The process was arduous and limiting. But I was hooked on the results and I wanted more, so I began to learn Adobe After Effects. If you are comfortable in Photoshop, then it isn’t a big leap to transition to AE—both are layers-based. And since they are both Adobe products, they work together seamlessly. AE will let you import or create content so that you can place it in a timeline. It also allows you to add audio, special effects, and typography. 

There is some technical jargon that you will need to get up to speed on initially, especially when it comes to formatting, but there is plenty of help online. My first AE created animation was for Substitute Creacher, and you can see the difference.

 I confess to somewhat of an advantage in this area. Since my illustrations always finish their lives digitally in Photoshop, my art already exists in layers. A lone figure on a background can be easily removed from the background this way. This allows me to separate elements out of the art and animate the parts with relative ease. If you work traditionally, this will mean extra work in scanning your art, as well as some serious Photoshopping to get your elements separated. If this is all too much for the traditional artist, never fear. You can still give your art the illusion of movement with the Ken Burns technique of panning, scanning, and zooming.

When your animating is done and your edits are timed perfectly to your score, it’s time for a little post-production. If you’re not using narration, you will probably need to insert copy to help tell your story. AE has a vast array of tools to help you insert type and even animate it with special effects. You may also want some sound effects. Freeware sound effects (a cough, a burp, a clank) are plentiful online, or you can record your own on an inexpensive digital recorder, as I often do. I use the freeware program Audacity to manage and edit my music and sound effects.

When it comes time to export your masterpiece, you’ll need to learn a bit about digital formats, but it isn’t too bad. From there you’re just one click away from Youtube and the fame you deserve!

 And you won’t make the mistake that I made when working on my teaser for my upcoming book Nanobots. I succumbed to temptation and borrowed a score from John Williams to create an animation strictly for my publisher’s sales team. It worked! They loved it. 

But for public distribution I now have to start all over again with different music.

Look for NanoBots on August 23. 


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