Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Other Side of the Island

by Allegra Goodman

Editor/Art Director: Jessica Rothenberg // Razorbill Books / Penguin
Jacket photograph by Andrea Chu
Model: Alexis Y // Generation

In the eighteenth glorious year of Enclosure, long after The Flood, a young girl named Honor moves with her parents to Island 365 in the Tranquil Sea. Life on the tropical island is peaceful—there is no sadness and no visible violence in this world. Earth Mother and her Corporation have created New Weather. Sky color is regulated and it almost never rains. Every family fits into its rightful, orderly, and predictable place...
Except Honor’s. Her family does not follow the rules. They ignore curfew, sing songs, and do not pray to Earth Mother. Honor doesn’t fit in with the other children at the Old Colony School. Then she meets Helix, a boy who slowly helps her uncover a terrible secret about the Island: Sooner or later, those who do not fit disappear, and they don’t ever come back.

This was my first assignment working with a YA (Young Adult) Publisher.

Having worked strictly for the adult trade market, I had to learn as I designed what was the appropriate look for the teen/tween market. My first attempts were either too sophisticated or too subtle for young reader. I had to learn a more direct language.

My first approach was to suggest the near future Utopian Island:
How about bullseye, because the character is an expert archer, overprinting in silver to represent a technology that blocks any signs of bad weather and the truth.

Nope? How about Adventure? (Honor is an excellent shot with a bow and arrow and uses her skills to save her parents):

Nope? Maybe I'll focus on the extreme atmospheric changes on the other side of the island
(In the future, They can control the weather so that it's always sunny over their community):

That's close. Let's depict the girl running in a storm (She searches for her missing parents on the "Other Side" on the island where the weather isn't under the government's control) Usually in adult trade, I try to avoid depicting the main character so up front. But for the YA market, it's OK to visualize them. Sorta like how Harry Potter is visualized as a branded character:

Out of all of those, let's go with this one:

Love the concept but can I find another stock image where the girl is much younger, wears no make-up, has the right expression of fear and determination and is set against a much stormier sky.

Hmmm, trying to find all of this in a single stock photo is impossible. IMPOSSIBLE. It would be much easier to shoot this. Luckily they agreed and increased my budget.

Photographer Andrea Chu had sent me a promo earlier in the week and Kelly Blair also recommended her as a person she worked with. Her portfolio showed lots of experience with working with children so I hired her for the shoot. We found the lovely model Alexis Y through a modeling agency.

The photoshoot. Alexis was so professional, patient, conveyed the characters emotions perfectly and was just a breeze to work with.

An outtake shot:

Thanks to LeeAnn Falciani for manning the wind machine.

and the storm cloud background by ryan/beyer/getty images

Almost there:

But the type was too active. Go simpler and more legible please.

After a bunch of tweaks to the type, coloration of the sky, and opening up the shadows on her neck and hair, VOILÀ! The FINAL DESIGN:

Here's a good tutorial on Masking Details No Bigger Than a Hair in Photoshop and a video tutorial: Masking Hair in Photoshop CS3


Tori said...

Great post. I love getting a glimpse into your process like this.

Anonymous said...

We all know you're a star Henry and once again you proved it. That little girl, wow, I'm so impressed by her. The final photo is stunning. What a little beauty.

The thing that this project points out, through the process, is that daily us designers face the struggle constantly of what is "in our heads" vs. what we can "find". It's so cool to see you being able to get just what you want. It really gives you the power to bring to life exactly what you intend, down to the most subtle details. Like "the perfect expression". Those little things matter.

That said, I have to say there is something to being restricted to "what you can find" Sometimes that can bring you to places you never expected or planned. It can be frustrating but can be very rewarding in the end. Anyway. :-)

Bravo Henry! Thanks for sharing, it's so inspirational.


Anonymous said...

A great insight, thank you!

Anonymous said...


I enjoy your site!

At art school we just did a simulation of working with an artdirector (I am an illustrtion student and the art director was a graphic design student also in third year).

They had gotten a budget that we did not know about and we were supposed to work something out.

So here is my question. When you decided that you could not find a picture, how did you get your artdirector to give you money for the shoot?

Was that photoshoot very expensive compared to your own quotation? If you can't say how much it was precisely, would it be possible to say what the relation/ratio was between your earnings and the cost of the photoshoot?

Thanks in advance...


nate s. said...

Looks great Henry. I'm really impressed with the final result.

Anonymous said...

An incredibly striking cover. I really liked some of your proposed covers, but I can see why this one made the most sense. So fascinating to see how it all came together-- making adjustments for the market, the back & forth. It's very generous of you to share your process like this.

A slightly naive question-- is there a particular reason this wasn't shot on green screen, since you knew it was going to be on a different background?

H3NR7 said...

@ Anonymous:
I've never shot against a green screen to isolate an object before, so it didn't come to mind at the time. We chose a gray backdrop for that purpose. I should look into that. Any leads would be helpful.

H3NR7 said...

@ Freddie:

I had already spent a lot of time and effort just trying to get to a concept that everyone could agree on. And trying to find a single stock image that had all of the required elements would be impossible. I could have found all of the elements separately and Photoshopped it together but that would have been time consuming and no guarantees that it would all work together in the end. The aim is always to get the best results that's cost effective. I discussed it with the editor and they agreed that shooting it, we would have a better chance at controlling and getting exactly what we wanted. I requested for a separate photo shoot budget that didn't eat into my design fees. And that the model fees would also be a separate fee from the photographers. We established the maximum budget and I hired the photographer Andrea Chu. We discussed ways in which we could keep cost down to work within our budget. She was going to shoot strictly digital so that would be a huge savings. Minus her expenses for studio rental, assistant, cameras, equipment, make up artist, and a fan, there was still enough left over for her creative fee that made it worth her time. When working with small budgets, I try to make make it worth the sacrifice of money by giving them creative freedom. And hopefully create a product that will be a highlight in their portfolio. My job on the set is to come as prepared as possible with a clear concept of what needs to be accomplished. To be able to change direction if something new comes up and edit out distracting ideas. All to protect the photographer and the model so that the shoot flows smoothly.
My favorite part of the process was working as an acting coach with the model Aexis to get the right body language and emotions behind the eyes.

Anonymous said...

wow! thanks so much for that post. it's so great to see the different concepts and evolution, and you explicated it perfectly.

Anonymous said...

The 2nd anonymous, back again. I'm a retoucher for a portrait company that routinely uses green screen. We photograph the subject against an evenly lit painted green backdrop. Then we use PhotoLynx ImageMatch to automate the removal of the green backdrop and place the subject on their chosen backdrop. The results are pretty realistic (i.e. not choppy) but some detail is invariably lost. Also, ImageMatch is kind of a fussy program to work with. Not anywhere near as flexible or stable as Photoshop, but useful in a high volume context.

The images that can't be fixed in ImageMatch (for example, the subject is wearing green or has especially difficult hair), we take to Photoshop and use Primatte, which is pretty great but still not perfect for very fine hair detail. Of course, preserving every last flyaway hair is not usually desirable.

Anyway, I was asking because I was wondering whether there were any prejudices against green screen amongst more professional digital artists (such as yourself). Nifty as it is, I can't say we get results quite as detailed as the hair on the cover of this book, but maybe that's because we deal in bulk and work on a pretty tight production schedule. (Art it is not. It's a living, a foot in the door. People like you inspire me to stay ambitious and keep pushing forward.)