STORMDANCER: THE DESIGNER'S PERSPECTIVE
20 September 2012
By Bella Pagan
I've had many a long discussion with Pan Macmillan designer Neil Lang on cover art, whose talent is apparent on many of our fabulous Tor jackets. He's taken particular trouble to get Jay Kristoff's Stormdancer right, so I was very happy to get a view of the cover from his perspective. See below for a thorough explanation of the cover from Neil and a load of preliminary images and source material.
NEIL LANG ON STORMDANCER . . .
'I think the first thing I should say is that Stormdancer is a fantastic book that everyone can read and enjoy. While that sounds perfect for a buyer or for sales, it is the hardest job for a cover designer in that you want to appeal to everyone and not alienate anyone!
Having read the novel I tried several routes, such as icons, various steampunk ideas, and some fantasy illustrations but eventually I decided to focus on the Japanese side of the novel, keeping it fairly minimal with stand-out lettering. A large proportion of the sales will come from online, and so you need something simple yet elegant that will stand out as a small thumbnail. With that in mind I needed to create a believable landscape, with a character that fits the descriptions from the book.
I started with an image search across several libraries and from literally hundreds of images I created the background. This was probably the easiest part of the design, as it was only made up of around fifteen images (!) to create some depth and perspective in preparation for integration of the figure.
The figure was more of an issue as I had to make sure it fit the descriptions given within the text. No amount of Photoshop was going to do that, no matter how I tried, so a shoot was commissioned.
That seemed like the perfect solution, but as well as the perfect model (for which we needed a casting of several models, as they don’t all look like their pictures!), you also need costume and weapons. Jay was very keen that we got both of these aspects really right. Weapons came from a company in Hertfordshire, which seems slightly strange. Then to make sure we had authentic costumes we bought the Wushu Tai-Chi suit from South Korea, and the Ninja Tabi boots boots came from a shop in Japan.
The shoot was then arranged with London photographer Colin Thomas, and we had to ask the model to throw herself around as if she was filming Crouching Tiger: swinging the sword, staring at camera, asking for big high kicks etc., and anything else we could think of while Colin captured as many shots as he could. It was a fantastic day where both both the photographer and model did everything they could to give me the best choice of images for the book.
Lettering was specially commissioned to give it something extra, more of a Japanese feel rather than just using a standard font, and that makes all the difference for me. As always it's the whole package, and without the lettering I don’t think the end result would be as strong.
I’m happy with the end result as I think it works well and gives me options for a series style without too many restrictions, the muted colour means that the figure stands out well. Then red from the blossom gives you that hit of colour, all of which has been spot varnished over a matt finish for the hardback jacket to make the physical object more desirable.
For a bit of fun and to create a bit of publicity, hopefully useful for bloggers and fans, I’ve also created an animated version of the cover where the blossoms fall from the tree (see top of post). I can’t see it really being used within mainstream sales avenues, but if we can do anything different with a cover and push a design that bit further then why not. Enjoy the book!'
You can also see these images on Tor UK's Stormdancer Pinterest board here.