Barnes & Noble Animates the Classics in Collaboration with Authors

  |  September 8, 2008   |  Comments

Bookseller creating short animated clips drawn from legendary works of literature, beginning with Huck Finn.

For more than six months, Barnes & Noble has experimented with placing video content on a dedicated section of its Web site. Called Barnes & Noble Studio, the section features a mix of original and publisher content with a focus on author interviews and new book previews.

Now the bookseller has expanded the initiative into new terrain, debuting the first in a series of animated videos, voiced by well-known authors, that portray scenes from classic literature.

The first installment in the Moving Paragraphs series is drawn from Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Russo provides voice-over, reading from a scene in which Huck and Jim float down the Mississippi on a raft while the boy muses about his life. The video was posted to the site three weeks ago.

The series is the joint creation of Mike Skagerlind, VP of digital media at Barnes & Noble, and Toby Barlow, creative director at Team Detroit.

"We were having a conversation about animation and we came up with the idea of using it to promote literature," Skagerlind said. "We have access to well known authors and we decided we could bring our relationship to bear while Toby could bring...the animators."

Barlow used Radium, a digital effects studio with outposts in Santa Monica/San Francisco/ Dallas, for the job. "They have a formidable team of animators and we'd worked with them before, so they were natural to turn to," he said.

The nearly two minute animated video features life-like CGI characters. Brady Baltezore, designer/director at Radium, said an actor playing Huck was shot in front of a green screen, with images of water, the raft and a lighted cabin that were created using 3D imaging software Maya. Russo was recorded in a New York studio and the track was sent to Radium, which created the film in its San Francisco office.

Barnes & Noble created Moving Paragraphs in part to sell more books; offers for Huck Finn and Russo's latest, "Bridge of Sighs," are displayed near the screen while the video plays. But that's not the only goal.

"The other is to have people enjoy a new way of experiencing great literature," Skagerlind said. "We don't just sell books; we celebrate them and love the subject matter. We want people to understand that. If they're inspired, we make it easy for them to buy the books, but the video stands alone. It's pure entertainment."

Skagerlind said Barnes & Noble Studio has 1,300 pieces of video, but Moving Paragraphs differs from the other content because it is animated and because of the author collaboration. Russo selected Huck Finn before the film was made. When asked how many times the video's been viewed, he said, "It's done pretty well, it's been in our top 10 for the past few weeks."

The next installment of Moving Paragraphs is planned for the holidays with another famous author Skagerlind won't name. After that one new video will be produced each quarter.

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