Five Things I Learned From Making my own Book Trailer

I wanted to post about what I learned while cutting the book trailer for Peter Nimble.  In part this is a way for me to make a document that I can refer to the next time I am foolish enough to try something like this.  Much of what I learned is fairly technical — stuff only another person animating in Adobe Flash would want to know.  I’m aware that most people don’t need those details, and so I’m limiting all the computery stuff to footnotes, which you can read at your own peril. 


It’s Advertising, not Art
I originally saw this trailer as a chance to highlight some of my favorite illustrations from the book.  So instead of writing a script that properly introduced the story, I wrote something that tied together images that may-or-may-not have been essential to the premise … the result looked pretty but was fairly meaningless to viewers who had not already read Peter Nimble.  I eventually scrapped this concept in favor of something that could draw in new audiences — After all, a book trailer is advertising not art.1

Measure Twice, Cut Once
As a writer and artist, I  spend a lot of time stepping back and surveying my work mid-process I’ll print out pages to read aloud.  I’ll photocopy a drawing and look at it upside-down.  I believe this is a valuable practice in the making of art.  In book trailers, it’s a huge waste of time.  That didn’t stop me from doing it: as soon as I would create a rough image for the trailer, I’d scramble to insert it (half-finished) into the video to see what it looked like.  I wasted a lot of hours going back and forth between Photoshop and Flash in order to make little tweaks.  It would have been much smarter to discipline myself and only switch programs when I had completely finished my task at hand.2

Simple Is Better
I sort of went overboard creating distinct animations for each part of each object.  That shadow of Peter walking past the window had seventeen moving parts — it took me three straight days to get it not to resemble a lurching zombie. Looking back now, I think I could have gotten away with moving a still image across the window (shadow puppet-style).  Instead, I labored far too long over something that is only on screen for a few seconds.3

Don’t Blink
I have very little success writing when I am near distractions (I’m looking at you, Internet!).  This is because every time I pull myself out of a story, it takes me a lot of time just to get back in.  When I first started started learning Adobe Flash, I was cramming so much new information into my head that stepping away for a day or two was like hitting the reset button — I’d sit down to the computer having forgotten everything.  If I had really kept my head down and barreled through the trailer, I think I could have finished this whole thing in three weeks.  As it was, with all the the stopping and starting, it took me over two months.4

Consider the Cost
It is an absurdity of our age that a person with a hole in his sock will spend less in buying a brand-new sock than he would in buying needle and thread to darn the old one.  Book trailers might also fit into this category.  I spent almost two months learning Adobe Flash and animating the video.  Between software, music, and voice over, I shelled out about $900 — and it could have been a lot more if my composer and actor hadn’t been kind enough to give me “friends and family” discounts!  This is still well below market rate, but when I add to it my own time investment (est. 200 hours), an outside book trailer company starts to look like a worthwhile investment.5

I wanted to make my own trailer because I figured it would (a) be fun and (b) learning Flash would empower me to make trailers for subsequent books.  Much of it was fun, and I am indeed now capable of making my own trailers … but it was also a pretty big investment both in time and money.  Also, a lot of frustration.6  There were also logistical costs:  in the perfect world, the trailer would have come out in mid July, not last week.

So was it worth it?

You tell me …

  1. Know your medium: what looks good in print does not work for video. I spent countless hours pixel-editing illustrations in Photoshop only to have them look grainy and jagged in Flash. It wasn’t until I gave up and started re-drawing images from scratch using a softer brush, lower dpi (150), and Gaussian blur that images started looking smooth in Flash.
  2. Don’t export your art until you’ve optimized it for Flash. Also, take an extra five minutes and add a solid light-gray layer beneath your image so you can erase any errant pixels/lines obscuring the transparency — take you time with this last step because otherwise you’ll have to go back to Photoshop do it again. (and again, and again).
  3. Learn how to use a “boning tool” … which is designed to make puppet skeletons easier.  As it was, every time I made a minor adjustment to Peter’s body, I had to re-animate every one of his limbs to match!
  4. Adobe Flash is a ridiculous program that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.  Just because you know things like Illustrator, Photoshop, and Final Cut, do not think that knowledge will apply to Flash. For that reason, I was incredibly dependent on my one-month subscription to Lynda video tutorials, which do a marvelous job of walking even the most clueless user through Flash.
  5. If I do this again, I will make a point of paying to upgrade the RAM on my Macbook Pro from 4gb to 8gb … as it was, I had trouble keeping both Flash and Photoshop open at the same time.
  6. One last tip (gripe) about Adobe Flash: I couldn’t export my 24fps video without getting all sorts of awful “artifacts” in the final product. Many hours of experimentation and Googling taught me that if I exported at 1/2 the frame rate, I could speed it back up in another program (iMovie, also terrible) without problems.

13 Comments Leave a Comment

  • sprunty says:

    It looks terrific! Seriously impressed. The walking movement was noticed and cool.

  • Rich says:

    I agree with Sprunty. Sounds like animating the Peter’s shadow was a pain, but it blew me away. I actually thought, “he could have just used a solid image, but he went the extra step.” If you put that kind of detail into your trailer, I can’t wait to read your work.

    I posted your trailer on my fanpage as an example of a book trailer that does its job. I’m quite envious, actually.

    BTW: it looks great when played through Airplay on our 52″ TV.

  • Sarvenaz says:

    It’s a beautiful trailer and it stands out because it’s not just slow zooms into stock footage, so I think it was well worth the work…and probably something I would now never take on myself. :-)

  • 200 hours is a lot of time, but I assure that you would not have been able to find many places that could have done something so lovely on a reasonable budget. Most book trailers look, well, no-so-good.

    It’s beautiful. Congratulations!


  • JWA says:

    What a saga! But you learned a ton, so don’t lose it. You’ve got an eye for how to put together a visual/aural story.

  • Mark Appert says:

    Artsy farttsy, to hand do this yourself… I am certain and time will testify this is priceless.

  • AB says:

    this trailer is fantastic! It is worthy of the excellent book it promotes.

    That said, I agree flash is awful and think you were crazy for trying to do this on your own.

  • Colby Sharp says:

    It was worth it. I’ll be showing the trailer to 26 fourth graders who are always looking for an adventure.

  • Scope Notes says:

    It turned out incredible. And very professional – I didn’t realize you created it until I read this post. While it sounds like the process was difficult, you should be really pleased with the results!

  • OMG – I know that took a lot of man hours and way too much money but that was incredible! One of the best i’ve seen. You did a great job.

  • Katie Davis says:

    I feel the EXACT same way about Flash! I learned it in 2007 for this trailer ( and spent TONS of time trying to perfect the walk – you did a MUCH better job. Yours is an incredible trailer! PS I’ve never used my Flash-y knowledge again!

  • Laurie says:

    I just showed the trailer to a few of our booksellers and managers, and here were some of their comments:
    ‘I guess I’d better read that book.’
    ‘Looks like it should already be a movie.’
    ‘This is the author that’s coming to OUR store?! When is his signing?’

    Can’t wait to see the reaction of all those students you’re showing it to in the coming weeks. Very nice work!

  • Marie Taber says:

    Loved it. Let me guess….now you are working on your own website design! You’re a regular 21st century renaissance guy.

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