Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Why Are These Pics So Badly Cropped?

I'm a crap photographer and I know it. There isn't a single picture I've ever taken that isn't improved by cavalier use of Instagram filters. So as a self-confessed crap photographer I can see when the original pic has been badly composed and then is cropped to buggery(*) to try and salvage something from it. And I'm not proud to admit that my first sight of the new D&D covers was accompanied by an immediate feeling of being baffled as to why these pics have been so badly cropped that the resulting layouts are all dreadful.






What weapon is bottom right man swinging in his left hand? Actually I'm assuming he is swinging a weapon but he could be doing anything. Is he on is own? Is their a party of accomplices lurking off in the dead zone off the cover. Who knows? The whole composition is cropped too tight.

(Also, if you are going to do a homage to not only the Red Box but the ultimate Purple Box printing of Cyclopedia-era Basic why go green and not red?)





What is the weird mace-head thing bottom left? In this age of Photoshop if you absolutely have to crop to this sort of level why not just p'shop the distracting cruft away from the edge of the printed area? I'm assuming there was a head on that lightning-bolt-smacked statue on the left but it has been lost to the crop.




Why is one of Tiamat's heads vanishing off the left hand side? Why is there no "quiet" area where the title is to go leading to the lettering completely obscuring another dragon head? Why is the wizard at the bottom so badly cut off? Why doesn't Tiamat's claw fit in? Who cropped this?


Is there anything interesting or noteworthy on the end of that staff? Again, why is no real quiet area such that the Frost Giant's right hand is under the title? Why is the weapon vanishing out of the bottom. Why are there so many southpaws in these covers? Have they been mirrored from the original artwork?






What is happening bottom left corner? At least this one has a quiet area for the title if not the red-backed splash in the bottom left.

These aren't attempts in the 1980s to license a piece of art from somewhere else and try and make it fit a White Dwarf or Dragon cover - presumably these have been produced under a very tight brief. Yet none of them fit. Very odd.

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Also, and unrelated to above, I had a Fighting Fantasy related dream last night - I bought a copy of Masks of Mayhem with the cover ripped off for £9 because it was some rare anthology printing with two books in one binding. I then felt massive buyer's remorse when I remembered that I already owned a copy. This reminded me that I periodically have dreams about finding bookshops with caches of green spine FF books (it's always green spines) that I have never heard of and feel the urge to buy all of them.

Later on the dream developed into time travelling back to the 1950s where an ex-work colleague smoked a pipe while tuning in a crystal wireless set so that we could listen to Richard Burton reading poetry on the BBC.

(*) Always a splendid evening's entertainment that.




20 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. That is a possibility but it does seem very late in the day for that, especially for the Starter Set which is perhaps the worst offender of them all.

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  2. I think what they're going for is "the action is too big to fit in this little book" - the page is a window onto the imaginary world and there's just *so much stuff going on* it can't all be contained. and I think it's trying to do something basically cinematic rather than graphic, looks like a frame from a JJ Abrams or Micheal Bay movie, which is a shame because it's a book, not a film. Also the focus on combat to the exclusion of all else (cw. Easley's DMG / UA).

    It's epic! it's awesome! It comes off as looking a bit badly composed.

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    1. I admit, the idea of there being a deliberate Jack Kirby thing going on did cross my mind but the lack of anybody poking their head out of the page borders Chad-style suggested not.

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    2. The addition of 1960s NY business men in magenta business suits coming into the fame, pointing and shouting could only help matters. The apparent lack of intentionality and awkwardness in the framing that gives it a shaky-cam / reportage / faux-vérité action movie feel. The PHB screams 'bullet time'.

      Also... gaping open mouths are *very*, aren't they?

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  3. Exec: I want the customer to feel as if they're right there in the action when they look at the artwork, make them a part of the scene!

    Intern: Sure, how about I zoom in batshit crazy close?

    Exec (excited): Do it!

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    1. When I did some packaging design for a line of Hasbro products (many years ago) I was a newly contracted designer/illustrator (with about 10 years experience under my belt at the time) that had a whole lot of art plopped in front of me and very loose guidelines and spent a week whipping up the box backs, not a single exec went anywhere near it, the head designer (not an exec) liked them and they went off on the products.
      Sometimes every art element is micromanaged to the point of insanity other times it feels like no one is paying attention.

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    2. I am under the impression new D&D products used to get the old waft under a bosses nose for approval back in the day (there is that famous tale about the three headed beast drawn to look like the higher-ups which caused a last-minute recall) but that things are different now. All I can say for sure is that I agree the composition is a bit shonky.

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  4. Not only cropped, but also chronically uninspiring (with the possible exception of the cover of The Rise of Tiamat)

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    1. I want to like the MM cover but I can't decide whether the turbanned chap is shouting "COME ON YOU SLAGS!" or "SHIT RUN AWAY!".

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    2. It looks like he's just lobbed something, perhaps the spiky lump thing in the bottom left corner. Maybe the cover depicts some fantasy version of pétanque.

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    3. It's a shame the ham-fisted layout guy has cropped the jack out as well so we have no idea how close Monsieur Turban has got with his boule. I assume the floor of the dungeon is covered with a suitable layer of sand.

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  5. You know, I've been seeing dozens of posts in my feed where everyone has an opinion on why those covers suck. I have not paid much attention to them, nor the pictures.

    Being a "crap photographer", you are the first that have managed to tell me what's wrong with those pictures. Thanks

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    1. To be fair, I quite like the illustrations. While I probably give out completely the opposite impression to readers of the blog I don't have hold that older art was inherently superior and I like a lot of modern stuff. It's the layout that breaks them.

      Who knows, the Starter Set illustration might even look finished if we were granted the luxury of being able to zoom out and see the bloody thing.

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    2. On of the things that passed by in the feed the last few days was actually a posting of the full pictures, by the artist I suppose. It was interesting to see them in full.

      Personally I think the only D&D cover I really liked was the orange spine edition of 1st ed AD&D DMG. The one before I didn't like, and none after.

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  6. I'm guessing the closeups are to put you in the heart of the action. Claustrophobic pictures of the monsters may add fear, etc.

    What always bothers me is when everything is the same hue for stylistic purposes. In that last picture, why is everything purple, and what colors are their individual armors really? In the first, why is there green ambient light everywhere? FF covers are great because they rarely did this.

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    1. I guess it's because "limited palette" is recognised as Proper Art Technique.

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  7. Interesting stuff. I appreciate your critique.

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  8. I envy your dream life. I'd pick FF antiquing over badly-realised psycho-sexual metaphors any night.

    Speaking of which; congrats, Wizards. It takes real talent to make action! and adventure! feel so drab.

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  9. Each one of the covers feels to me like the perspective is trying to evoke a POV/FPS perspective, ala Skyrim. Basically, you are seeing through the eyes of your adventurer, who is clearly a bit too close to all the action for their own good.

    I do like your critique, though. It's the first one I've read which sounded cogent, honest and impartial; I also love the actual art, interesting to see why the way its presented could be what's setting people off. Could be it doesn't bother me because I play too many video games, where close-up art like this is pretty common?

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