Cinematic Book Trailers On A Budget by Ian Lahey

RED Camera
Image by TheArkow from Pixabay

WARNING: In this article I showcase two book trailers I made. I think they’re pretty awesome and above the average self-made material out there. Despite the evident awesomeness, the objective of this article is not to boast about my outstanding multimedia skills, but simply as a case study. The ultimate goal here is for you to become aware of the software tools which are available for free (or for a moderate investment) as an alternative to spending hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, (up to $15,000) on a professional job. IF, and I repeat, IF, you are willing to climb a few learning curves.

First of all, I would like to discuss WHY you should invest time (or money, should you choose the professional option) in a book trailer.
Book trailers are living blurbs. They engage the senses with a concentrated, sizzling bomb of pure narrative. Compared to a properly designed trailer the typical text blurb is no more than a footnote. Prospective readers can see your protagonist, hear the soundtrack and survey the setting. A book trailer can convey the atmosphere, the theme of the novel, and will make it clear to the viewer that if the trailer resonates with them, then they HAVE to buy the book.

In order to reach this goal, whichever route you choose to take, you need to be able to produce at least a decent summary of what your story is about. An illustrated storyboard of the trailer would be ideal. I mean, you can always toss a copy of the manuscript in the artist’s hands and let them come up with an idea but:

1. it’ll cost you more and
2. it’s YOUR story, dammit.

To me it’s like asking the neighbor to pick your daughter’s prom dress, and hoping he doesn’t get the wrong idea and follow his personal hentai tastes. So, no matter what, either make a pencil & pen ink sketch of your trailer, or use storyboarding software.

Boords” is a free-to-try storyboarding platform, but they’re so cool about the whole deal they also give you links to alternative options.
If you wish seek the help of a professional for your book trailer, then you can stop reading here. There are many excellent videomakers out there and not one of them offered to sponsor me, so no links.

If you wish to know how I made my own book trailers, and want to try yourself, then we’re ready for the next step.


Yes. you have to do that bit anyway. It is essential for you to get a clear idea of the timing, because a good trailer lasts between 20 and 30 seconds, and there is always the tendency to try and cram too much in that time.

A storyboard will let you visualize your scenes and realize you’re never gonna fit the whole book in five panels.

So? What should your trailer be about? Think about your story…does it rely on strong characters? Does it narrate a fall into darkness, a rise to higher levels of being? What color is your novel? Try to visualize your work in terms of movement, color, light and character.

Case study: The Descent

For my Historical fiction novel “The 45th Nail” I didn’t take too much to find the correct format. The narrative starts as a light-hearted escapade to Italy, but gradually descends into a dark quest of a man seeking impossible forgiveness. The key-word there was “descends”. And the trailer is a long, slow scrolling movement downwards. A narration, in the voice of the protagonist, gives a first-person retelling of the blurb while a few items flutter past and the whole background darkens. The final landing displays the title of the book.

How I did it:
I used a free image editing software called “Gimp” to patch together images into a long, vertical strip. If you have Photoshop or have worked with it, Gimp is fairly similar and there are a lot of tutorials online to learn the basics you need to stitch pictures together. Time: 3 hours

The image of the golden “bulla” was created using a free 3D tool. (The one I used back then is not available anymore but there are many titles out there. If you can create a sphere, flatten it, and apply a picture of a gold medallion as texture, you can make the bulla. Depending on the software it may take you more or less time to figure out how to animate it spinning on itself. This was the result:

Notice the black background. Some programs will let you create videos with transparent backgrounds, but they’re usually not free. Black is a good workaround. Time: 2 1/2 hours.

All the other things you see floating up in the video are static .png images I made using Gimp. .png images can have transparency. Time: 30 minutes.

I found the music on which is exactly what it looks like: a free sound library. You are required to create an account and, if the composer requires it, mention them in the credits. I used Audacity to put the sounds together with my own voice. I was able to balance the levels and darken the tone, after twiddling around a bit with the various effects. Time: 1 hour.

I put it all together with video editing software. There are free video editing programs (DaVinci Resolve is Hollywood-grade production software and it’s 100% free. It’s also bloody murder to figure out.) I bought Filmora, which is $60 and is much more intuitive. Time: 2 hours.

A total of nine hours of work, and I got to keep the video editing software for future book trailers. Did I do it again?

You bet I did.

Case study: The Character

For my recent novel “To Cipher and to Sing” I wanted the viewer to do two things: get to know one of my main characters and get really suspicious about him. Once again I opted for the downwards scroll. I may have a thing about vertical drops, I don’t know. Anyway, this time the fall had to be a real one, a drop from a futuristic high-rise.

The trailer begins as a futuristic ad for some kind of A.I. chip. As the chip upgrades make it faster and more powerful the ad itself glitches off as the technology evolves into a robotic skeleton.

As the figure continues to evolve the camera speeds ahead and, upon reaching the bottom of the building, it witnesses the landing of the finished product, a complete android with eerie golden eyes which turns towards the camera and, in a not altogether disturbing way, smiles.

How I did it:
Again, I went hunting for freebies and found Kitbash 3D, an amazing team that produces professional cityscapes and which, occasionally, gives out some free kits. I got their “Utopia” city, a $199,00 value, for free. The sheer quality of their kits has me thinking seriously of spending some real money the next time I need a 3D cityscape and I’m not lucky enough to find another freebie. I also used it as background for the cover of the book.

I used Meshmixer to select and move the buildings around, and save the result as an .obj file. Then I used it in Daz 3D Studio, where I created my character.

Now, Daz 3D is a BEAST of a program. It relies on high-performing computers to give you photo-realistic poseable humans. Yes, it’s free.

But you need to pay if you want to buy more props and characters. The prices are not terribly high and if you need something specific, you might want to spend twelve dollars on top of a fully-fledged 3D video studio which you just downloaded for free.

It takes a while to figure out all the things you can do with Daz3D, so take your time. All in all, between creating my character, finding some stray 3D skeleton on-line, importing everything, lighting and animating, it took me over ten hours.

Plus another FORTY HOURS to render the final animation. Luckily I was able to render blocks of frames and save them as clips, so I could use my computer for other things. Otherwise, while rendering, the intense CPU usage made it impossible to even browse the Internet.

Once more, I used Filmora to patch the clips together and include the soundtrack and sound effects from Freesound. I also made use of the excellent title kits and special effects included in the video editing software.

A conclusive thought:

I personally rely a lot on 3D animation, because I happen to have a background in multimedia design, and it comes in handy, especially if the subject is science-fiction. But bear in mind that I designed my trailers with the foreknowledge of the video footage I could produce myself or the 3D models I knew I could find.

You can reach great results even if you choose to shoot a whole live-action sequence with real actors and costumes, if that’s more in your set of skills. Use the material you are most familiar with, and your result will be more in your own style. Remember that in order for your trailer to be effective it has to focus on the emotion and the atmosphere more than the plot itself.

Thank you for taking the time to read this longer than usual article. I hope you found it useful and inspiring.

Author Ian LaheyIan Lahey, author, dreamer, and Olympic-level binge-watcher, teaches English Language and Literature in Italy. Apart from writing arguably decent fiction, he also cooks with nearly edible results, tinkers with computer graphics, and does quite a lot of gardening, since he needs to replace all the plants he’s inadvertently killed.

Enjoyed this post? Then why not sign up to receive Ian’s newsletter (and also have the chance to win an Amazon gift card)

To Cipher and to Sing Book Cover


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.