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BooksFeature Film

How NOT To Make An ‘Art Of’ Book

Coraline A Visual Companion

I’d been forewarned that the art of book for Coraline was not very good, but that didn’t prepare me for the publishing disaster that is Coraline: A Visual Companion. After looking at it in the bookstore recently, I can say with some confidence that this is the single worst ‘art of’ book I’ve ever seen published in conjunction with a major animated release.

For beginners, all of the film stills in the book are pixelated and muddy. I’m not talking just about the full-page frame blowups, even regular-sized images that take up only a third or half of the page look like hell. Beyond the poor image reproduction, they also made an inexcusable editorial decision to print the visual development artwork of only two illustrators: Dave McKean and Tadahiro Uesugi. The book, in fact, neglects to showcase the work of any of the animation artists who worked on the film, including the people who actually designed the look and feel of the movie.

One of the film’s primary character designers Shane Prigmore recently did a post on his blog about working on the film. In that post, he mentions some of the artists whose work shaped the film visually, including visual development artists Dan Krall, Shannon Tindle, Chris Appelhans, Jon Klassen, Andy Schuhler, and Stef Choi, sculptors Kent Melton, Damon Bard, Leo Rijn, Tony Merrithew and Scott Foster, and story artist Chris Butler, Andy Schuhler, Vera Brosgol, Graham Annable and Mike Cachuella. Unbelievably not a single piece of artwork from any of these artists can be found in the book. Instead it is page after page of Tadahiro Uesugi’s work. A lot of it is repetitive because they are costume suggestions that he drew using characters that had already been designed by the artists listed above. The irony is that even fans of Uesugi’s work will be disappointed because of the small print size of his artwork.

For all I know, the writing in the book (and there is a lot of it) may be wonderful. The book, however, is called “A Visual Companion” and on that mark it is a complete and utter failure. I’ve never seen an ‘art of’ book that eliminates the work of every single artist who worked on the film save for one whose work wasn’t even a primary factor in the film’s final look.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing Coraline for a long time and I still am. Unfortunately, with tie-in books like this and the film’s lackluster marketing campaign (the subway and bus stop ads around NYC are a subject for another time), I may be watching the film in an empty movie theater.

(To see a representative sampling of artwork from this film, check out a discussion panel with the film’s key designers on Saturday February 7 at Gallery Nucleus.)

  • Let’s get into the poster campaign. I’m interested to hear what you think.

    While I believe they are well-designed, I think they’re terrible posters. As the Brits say “too clever by half”.

  • JJ

    Why don’t they get some of the people who do ads for Nike to market the film? They may not know “film,” but they’ve made some great ads that have elevated a few pieces of leather, rubber, and cloth put together very inexpensively in Asia into massively expensive, must want icons.

  • creepy

    This is at best, a halloween movie. The ads tell the whole story, and I have no idea who the target audience is.

  • Barbara

    I don’t know, I saw a very festive-looking window ad in Chicago for this movie over the break, contrary to the other more somber ads that have been shown, and it looked very enticing. It was a display of Bobinski and his jumping mice. Perhaps the ads are just scatter-brained.

  • I don’t know, I think most of the posters I’ve seen (in internet, mostly, cause I live in Spain and we’ll have to wait to see this movie) are pretty well designed and classy. What’s so bad about them? Maybe you find them a little dull for the people that don’t know much about the movie? I’d agree they are not SPECTACULAR, but at least they look fine and they’re not ugly, like most of the posters from other animated features, especially the “Shrek” ones.

    I should see more to get what’s your problem with them.

  • OtherDan

    It would be nice to get an explanation for the exclusion from the publisher. There has to be a reason for such an oversight. Hopefully, the movie itself will tout the same artists that Shannon and Shane listed in it’s credit list. I know that in the case of Mirror Mask McKean would have preferred to to do every aspect of that film on his own.

  • Celia

    I agree, the subway ads are terribly executed.

    For a film so visually splendid, why hold back on the print design?

  • Andrew

    There is a huge billboard for Coraline hanging overhead near Times Square. For the life of me, I haven’t taken the subway in a while, but I also saw many commericals for it on various channels.

  • I haven’t seen a copy of the book yet at my local book stores, but it sounds awful. I usually don’t check out the “art of” book before the movie comes out cause usually I’ll just spoil many details of the plot.

  • It’s worse than the Home on the Range Book?
    Wow. That is quite a feat.

  • I think it’s fairly obvious (at least, to the ones advertising the movie)that the target audience is children. Perhaps with the exception of Adult Swim (which holds a good portion of CN’s viewers), Coraline television ads are only on Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and other time slots with children’s programming. I haven’t seen the Coraline ads on other networks.

    Unless we take action, animated films are, for the most part, going to continue to be aimed for children. The bright colors in some of the subway ads just scream “TAKE YOUR KIDS TO SEE ME! YOU GET TO TAKE A NAP FOR THE NEXT 2 HOURS!!!”

    It’s sad.

  • I think I will skip the book and just go see the exhibit at the Cartoon Art Museum instead. The puppets are so amazing in real life.

  • To be fair, if the book was called THE ART OF CORALINE, that’d be different. (And would probably make for a different book, much like that of the many “Art of” Disney/Pixar books.) The title of CORALINE: A VISUAL COMPANION pretty much gives away that it’s more about the film and the people behind it (mostly Neil Gaiman).

    I do agree about the quality of some of the photos, though. (I looked through the book on Saturday, while I was at Borders.) It’s a pretty good book, but the photos need a bit of work.

  • It doesnt matter how crappy the book is, this is a higly anticipated film and let me tell ya, no matter if you bash one aspect of it, theres going to be people on the theater [Dont Worry Amid, Ill huggle you!].

    As for the marketing campaign, lets state some facts:
    1. Laika is a small company, their whole filmography is not a huge blockbuster list, they have minimal finances after the making of this film.
    2. Neil Gaiman probably is not happy with the AD-O-RAMA that major Summer flicks do. Its better to be humble, than to be invasive.
    3. People WILL go see this movie regardless of its campaign. Period. Why? Because its in THREEE-DEEEE, and thats a huge push.

    So, as anal retentive as any other animator, I will check the “art book” and probably get a better copy than the misprint that you skimmed over. Its a shame that artists where not credited, but its not a reason to not support this little cute project. They would be happy to know that people at least have an interest on the subject.

  • A Long-time Observer

    The companion book has been around since December at Barnes and Noble, depending on the location. I was tempted to look at the book, but after this, it sounds like the cover is the most colorful part. What about the puppetry? Is there a good representation of the work behind that?

    Felicia: I must be catching it in all the odd places. I’m pretty sure Coraline has been advertised ad-nauseum past 11 PM. Try catching Comedy Central…almost every time Stewart and Colbert are on, reruns included, there’s a Coraline commercial. There’s even an “extended” commercial that’s trailer-like. I think the marketing, TV wise, is doing a good job attracting more than a children’s audience.

    The only posters I’ve seen in the city have either the small square (of her looking into the wall) surrounded by darkness or the simple Coraline text in a black background. Personally, since it seems the main character finds this ‘world’ in a hole in the wall, the first poster seems to me a clever marketing technique. It’s getting far better press than Bolt! did.

  • David Cuny

    I’m been looking forward to the film, and I was pretty excited to see the book at the local Barnes & Noble.

    Like others, I also was disappointed by the low quality of a number of the shots. I’d hoped it would be more a “behind the scenes” sort of book, but (as others have noted) that doesn’t seem to be the primary purpose. It didn’t get me nearly as excited as I’d expected, and I haven’t opened the book back up on return trips to the store.

    Hopefully they hit the mark with their target audience. I think I’ll hold out for a softbound version of the book.

    The wishful thinking part of me hopes that someone takes this as an opportunity to come out with a different sort of book. (Then again, with the money being tight, I’d probably hold out for a soft cover version of that, too).

  • Mike Fontanelli

    Nonartists making creative decisions, case #399,873,398,330,051…

  • Brannigan’s Law

    I agree about the book 100%. I was lucky enough to see the film last week and I was looking forward to the art of book. It has managed to make the wonderful sets and visuals small, boring, and seem almost unimportant. Where is all the amazing concept work, larger than life sets, fun and quirky cast pics. Very disappointing. It seems that those great little making of shorts have surpassed the book, which I almost always get, this time around. Passing on this one.

  • don’t forget vis dev artists chris turnham (who was one of the last artists left on this film), michel breton, and katy wu. this book is a hugely offensive slap in the face to all the artists who worked on the movie, not to mention hideous and a tremendous waste of paper.

  • Adam

    I went out of my way to see this book for myself, and you are spot on, Amid. Sad.
    BUT! Nothing will keep me from seeing the movie. Hopefully people will see past these missteps.
    The enormous billboard in Hollywood, by the way, leaves a lot to be desired.

  • nick

    I’ve seen a lot of different Coraline posters in NYC. They do strike me as as effectively clever from the point of view that the do seem quite mysterious as to what they are for. So I’d see different ones and have been genuinely puzzled enough to look at them long enough to figure out they were Coraline posters. This has happened to me several times. I think they really do stand out in that they look more like wallpaper stuck in an incongruous location than ads. I can definitely see a criticism that they aren’t actually promoting the characters (and big logos). My guess is they might start up with standard style posters in time for the release. All I can say is I did look at them and found them less an eyesore than the vast majority of advertising.

  • i don’t think posters in NYC matter that much. Considering everytime I watch the daily show, colbert report, and adult swim they have had an ad for that movie like every commercial break for like the past 2 weeks. I would say there advertising this film alot on tv and the internet. Really most people in this country only see posters in theaters right before there about to see it. I don’t see how thats really that big of a deal.

  • Hmmm.
    I don’t even watch much television and can say Coraline has been advertised heavily for weeks and weeks now.

  • Sarah Serata

    I am probably going to get in trouble for posting this but here goes.

    They can’t make a great Making of Coraline book and here is why. Due to Neil Gaiman’s relationship with Harper Collins, all books regarding Coraline, including the “Making of the Movie”, must be the right of Harper Collins. Neil selected Stephen Jones to write the book. Jones has done nearly all of Neil’s movie books. Stephen Jones NEVER visited the studio. He NEVER interviewed anyone. He took all of his… Read More information from EPK tapes. He NEVER asked the Art Dept for hi-res files, therefore the art in the book looks like crap. Some were 72 dpi.

    Now here is the good news. The Coraline DVD has an amazing and comprehensive look at how the film was really created and credits those who did the work.

    Hopefully people will look forward to seeing it. I have seen some great stuff being prepared and the truth will come out.

    How do I know this? I was the Art Department Supervisor on Coraline, and yes, Tadahiro was the influence on design, but the execution should be credited Chris Appelhans, Jon Klassen, Shane Prigmore, Shannon Tindle, Andy Schuler, Chris Turnham and Katy Wu.

  • Blisscape

    Too bad about the book & the advertising in NY. It’s getting a lot of exposure on billboards & bus stop kisosks in L.A. (have been tempted to nab one of the better ones in the wee hours…..)

  • This book was on my Amazon shopping list until I read this. I guess I’ll have to walk into the bookshop instead to check it out myself. Someone on Amazon rated it 5-stars!

    Thanks for the short review. Maybe this time round I’ll just make do with the DVD when it’s out.

  • Thanks Sarah. That would explain it.

  • Deegan Howards

    Yeah, I also noticed that the “Making of Robots” also didn’t contain any artwork from Story artists as well.

  • If you’re in the San Francisco area and want to see some of the art in person, stop by the Cartoon Art Museum before Feb. 15th… the Art of Coraline exhibit there is truly amazing!

  • I think that the ads have been lackluster so far. The poster ads (the non-subway ones) look good and the billboard in times square is descent, for me though I think the biggest issue was the first round of TV ads, of late though these have been improved and give you a little bit better of a look into the film’s plot.

    The one thing that I find interesting that is not being pushed is the 3D.

    Here is some more by the nytimes:

  • Hi. My name is Steve Jones, and I am the author of the book you are all trashing on this site.

    I do not usually respond to reviews – either good or bad – except with a polite “thank you”, and I certainly put no store in a reviewer who apparently can’t be bothered to even READ the book they are supposed to be reviewing!

    However there are so many inaccuracies and innuendoes in Amid Amidi’s review and the subsequent posting by Sarah Serata (who seems to have some personal axe to grind against me, despite the fact that I’ve never met her) – and it is obvious that none of the people posting here have the slightest idea how these film tie-in books are put together – that I thought I would provide you with some actual FACTS, so you can make a CONSIDERED opinion instead of listening to misinformation and speculation.

    So here is a little piece I like to call:

    “How NOT to Write a Review of an ‘Art of’ Book”

    First of all, you have to understand that these types of books are essentially produced as a selling tool for the movie company. As a result, every aspect of the book is controlled by the film/distribution company/companies, and not by the publisher and certainly not by the author. As is usual with this type of book, in my case it was a “work for hire” deal.

    Serata claims that “Jones has done nearly all of Neil’s movie books”. In fact, before CORALINE I have done exactly one other – STARDUST. And it was only because Neil Gaiman and his agent were so pleased with my work on that project that they asked me to do the CORALINE book. I still had to be approved by HarperCollins, LAIKA and Focus Features before I got the job.

    The reason I wanted to do the book in the first place was my great respect for Neil, his original novel (which I initially read in manuscript form some time before it was published) and filmmaker Henry Selick.

    However, I had no interest in doing a straightforward “puff” book about the making of the film, as those kind of tie-ins rarely survive in bookstores longer than the initial release of the movie they are based on. Instead, I came up with the idea of concentrating on the various different versions of CORALINE – from the genesis of the original novel – through the various short films, music, graphic novel and theatrical adaptations – up to and of course including Henry Selick’s new movie. That’s why the book is a “Visual Companion” – it encompasses ALL of the various versions, with the film only taking up around a chapter-and-a-half of the three sections the book is broken into.

    The next thing you need to understand is that this kind of book always has a short deadline. In this case it was three months from start to finish. That means that I had to research, interview, write and deliver everything in just three months. That’s not a lot of time, and I am extremely proud of what I achieved.

    Serata is correct when she says that I never visited the studio. That’s because I live in London, England, and CORALINE was made in Portland, Oregon. As much as I would have loved to have been invited out to see the filming, it would have taken time away from actually writing the book. Serata also fails to mention that it wouldn’t have done me much good anyway – all the principal actors had recorded their dialogue up to two years previously, the pre-production work had been done long before I ever came on board, and stop-motion is an incredibly slow and time-consuming technique.

    As a result, LAIKA and Focus Features sent me hours and hours of interview transcripts, plus footage of exclusive behind-the-scenes material (including interviews with designers and technicians, all of whom are credited in the book), promotional DVDs, and literally thousands of design concepts.

    Where Serata is NOT correct is when she says that I never interviewed anybody. I interviewed a great number of people for the book – either face-to-face, over the telephone or via e-mail (including Neil Gaiman, Henry Selick, actor Ian McShane, illustrator Dave McKean, etc.). This material, combined with what the studio supplied, formed the core of the book – not just on the movie, but also on the publishing, theatrical and other media versions.

    The next thing you need to understand is that ALL the images from the movie in the book are supplied by the studio. We had no control whatsoever over the visual material we received from them. These kinds of books are produced way ahead of the film’s release, and movie companies are always difficult about releasing pictures that early. However, after delaying the process for a few months, LAIKA finally came up with all the shots from the movie that are used in the book. Let me repeat that – THEY supplied the pictures. They APPROVED the quality. THEY chose the images we could use – including Tadahiro’s design material. Neither HarperCollins nor myself had any control whatsoever over that. I found all the other visual material in the book.

    Despite Serata’s complaint that I “never asked the Art Dept for hi-res files”, she should know that HarperCollins use professional book designers. In this case they had two. LAIKA supplied all the images and, so far as I am aware, there is only ONE low-res shot in the book – of a teaser poster that apparently never existed in any other version. If I had known that before the book came out, I would have asked them to replace it with another image. I have asked them to do so with any reprint edition.

    Amidi complains that all the stills in the book are “pixelated”. He does not seem to be aware that that is how pictures are printed in books! They are made up of lots and lots of little tiny dots. Despite that, the quality of the picture reproduction in CORALINE: A VISUAL COMPANION is EXCELLENT and much better than some other books I have been involved with. He also says they are “muddy”. They are not, unless that was how the image was supplied to us by the studio.

    Amidi also seems to think that Dave McKean was involved in the film’s development. If he had even bothered to actually read the book, he would know that Dave had nothing to do with the movie. His artwork – and that of P. Craig Russell (who I also interviewed, incidentally) – were used on other adaptations of CORALINE.

    It would have been great if I could have interviewed all the behind-the-scenes people that Amidi and Serata list in their blogs, but books like these have a limited word-count. Hundreds and hundreds of people work on a movie. You can’t acknowledge them all. As a result, I had to concentrate on the main cast and crew members, department heads, and those people LAIKA/Focus Features provided me with material on. The same with the artwork that we used. If you want to blame anybody, blame THEM, not me and not the publisher.

    I don’t know what their problem is, but Amidi simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about (especially as he hasn’t actually got a copy of the book, let alone read it), while Serata’s comments smack to me of sour grapes, for some reason that I don’t understand.

    At the end of the day, every word I wrote, every photo and illustration used, and every caption in the book had to be approved by numerous people involved in the production and distribution of the film. Neil Gaiman likes the book. HarperCollins likes the book. Henry Selick likes the book. We’ve got lots of great reviews. CORALINE is going to be a wonderful film, and I truly believe that our book does it justice, given the material we had to work with.

    All I ask is that you READ it before you start trashing it. If you still don’t like it then, then that’s your prerogative. At least your criticisms will be INFORMED. I’d be disappointed, but that’s what happens when you put your name to a piece of work. But until any of you actually do that, then I’m afraid that you have no idea what you are talking about . . .

    Stephen Jones
    London, England

  • Peter Mickelson

    I read the book, Stephen. It looks terrible, and it’s got your name on it. Explain away…

  • steppo

    Stephen, I’m sure you did your best and the publishers took care of the rest. But I come from a funny world that values an accurate account of history.

    I don’t personally hold anyone responsible for the physics of this publication – but I do shun the book all the same. It is unfortunate that your name is on the front lines between artists of the animation world and executive choices. I’m sure you care a great deal about your profession – as do we. And out of professional loyalty – I can’t help but squeeze a big fat turd on this published reflection which claims to accurately portray a labor of love.