Creating a Cinematic Novel

Action & Adventure | June 17, 2019

I’ve always loved reading and writing stories and making art. As a kid, I was drawn to the beautiful books of Dr. Seuss, the dark journey of Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, and yearned for the call to adventure and danger that was Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and gorgeously illustrated by N.C. Wyeth, that inspired me as a young man. I loved where the author’s words took my imagination but I found the pictures in my imagination completed the story in ways that the words didn’t.

 

I put writing on hold and studied to be a book illustrator in college and ironically embarked on a successful career as an animation artist and film designer instead. I developed a passion for film working on amazing movies for studios like DreamWorks, Disney, and Pixar Animation, but I never let go of desire to write. When I began to write again I approached it differently. My time in animation inspired me to create a book that not only was illustrated but felt like you were both reading and experiencing a movie!

 

My approach to writing, and illustrating Timeless became a hybrid process of traditional novel writing with imagery driven by cinematic lighting and story composition. In writing I would build on ideas, research, outline the story beats, write, and refine drafts. Simultaneously I would visually outline the story with storyboards that featured the lighting, color, and compositions of the art. I add specific location and character sketching and paintings to add to this process.

 

For complex action scenes, I would storyboard the sequence for clarity and impact while checking the visual storytelling against my writing…sometimes eliminating text for visual storytelling and other times throwing out beautiful artwork because the words served the story more effectively. In the early stages I sought to make my characters as real as possible through drawings, paintings, and sculptures. These would sit perched on my desk as I wrote about them, their history, character traits and motivations. Sometimes as I refined my drafts I would sketch and paint complex illustrations to test the strength of the ideas in my mind; if the image resonated with the feeling and purpose I’d imagined, then I’d commit it to words. In the end my process was organic and circular: the concept art inspired story, the writing determined the final art, and the final art sometimes reshaped the story.

 

The hardest part about integrating story and visuals is balancing what you put in and what you leave out. The challenge in my process has always been in orchestrating the right amount of visual and written detail to make the story rich while creating the strongest impression to engage the reader’s imagination and emotions. Timeless was an ambitious book in its scope and complexity that reads like a book and feels like a film. With every new book, the adventure builds upon the last and the visual tapestry of the world expands.

 

–Armand Baltazar, author of Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic

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