Those popping into Penguin Young Readers Group booth (1520) will get an animated preview of the exotic cast of The Creature Department by Robert Paul Weston, an illustrated middle-grade novel due from Razorbill in November. Projected on a screen in the booth is a 3-D creature that interacts in real time with passersby, a feat masterminded by Framestore, a visual effects studio that uses innovative artistic talent and technology to create show-stopping images for multiple platforms. The studio has contributed visual effects to numerous book-inspired movies—the Harry Potter films, Where the Wild Things Are, and The Golden Compass—and now brings its expertise to the pages of a book.
In The Creature Department, two kids befriend the outlandish, secret employees of an electronics company—creatures with wings, tentacles, horns, even one with three heads—and motivate them to invent something that will save them all from villains. Weston, whose earlier work includes Zorgamazoo, an E.B. White Read Aloud Honors book, says that The Creature Department sprang from a conversation he had with Ben Schrank, Razor-bill’s president and publisher.
“We were talking about ideas for a book, and talking about things we liked as kids, namely crazy inventions and strange creatures,” recalls Weston. “And then I thought about the idea of strange creatures making crazy contraptions, and from there it ballooned in a number of different directions.”
The plot was partially inspired by the history of a real-life electronics company. “Sharp’s very first product was the mechanical pencil, and the idea that they would go on to become a large global electronics producer after beginning with a pencil intrigued me,” he says. “I began thinking, ‘What if the reason they were able to make a leap that seems so miraculous is that there are strange creatures working in secret making these contraptions?’ So that gave me the premise.”
Schrank was drawn to Weston’s idea and convinced that the author could do it justice. “Rob is a special guy, and I knew he can do incredibly imaginative things, and we also knew we wanted to do something special with this book,” says Schrank. Familiar with Framestore’s work in film, he brought the studio on board to create digital art for The Creature Department and work closely with Weston to develop the novel visually.
“Initially, I wrote the framework, with a description of a plot and of the characters and contraptions they invent,” says Weston. “And the team at Framework would come back to me with feedback about what they thought would work visually, or not. It was definitely a dialogue, and the drawings they came up with were amazing. I’d never seen anything quite like them.”
Unveiled at BEA, Framestore’s interactive, 3-D animation of The Creature Department will be further developed for use in marketing for the novel, and the characters will literally lend their voices to the book’s promotion. “I envision them walking and talking on screens and Web sites, and speaking up about their own book,” says Schrank.
That’s a prospect that is very appealing to London resident Weston, who is unable to attend BEA. “This 3-D character in the Penguin booth is a much better ambassador for the book than I am, and it’s very special that he can even have a conversation with people there,” he says. “I find this all very, very exciting.”