Three Recent Computer Graphics Books From Focal Press

April 23, 2013 1:30 am

Tags: 2D, Adobe, animation, Book Review, Flash, Focal Press, Illustrator

"Focal Press has been a leading publisher of Media Technology books for 70 years. We provide essential resources for professionals and students in many areas including: film and digital video production, photography, digital imaging, graphics, animation and new media, broadcast and media distribution technologies, music recording and production, mass communications, and theater technology."
-Focal Press website

Focal Press has always been a favorite publisher of mine. Although I've mostly reviewed their books on computer graphics for Renderosity, my own personal library is filled with their books on music/sound, video production and theater. The main reason I find Focal Press so interesting is that their books are always well produced and well edited. Plus, Focal Press publishes books on cutting-edge subjects by authors who know their subjects well.


I've chosen three recent Focal Press releases to tell you about. The subjects range from starting out in Adobe Illustrator, to learning "secret weapons" to animate in Flash, to figuring out how to create original stories and characters for your animated film.

All three books are unique in design and style and are written by professionals who have worked in their fields for many years. All three books can be ordered directly from Focal Press, via your favorite bookstore or through


Illustrator Foundations: The Art of Vector Graphics, Design and Illustration in Illustrator by Rafiq Elmansy

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Focal Press; 1 edition (September 24, 2012)
  • Price: $39.95
  • ISBN-13: 978-0240525938

A good example of the excellent formatting and design Focal Press creates for their books is Illustrator Foundations. Full-color illustrations (a lot of them) are carefully laid out on the pages to support the text. There's no thumbing three pages back to get an illustration for the tutorial you are currently reading. The use of color coding in the book is very helpful and the organization of the book from general to specific is excellent.

If you've never used Adobe Illustrator it's the preeminent application for creating all kinds of vector graphics and illustrations. Mr. Elmansy does a fine job of introducing the current version, Adobe Illustrator CS6, to a beginner and/or an intermediate user who wants to update their knowledge to the current version of Illustrator.

Starting with a very basic introduction to the Illustrator interface, Mr. Elmansy covers everything from drawing, printing, tracing, using color and creating mock websites using Illustrator. His tutorials are clearly written and each one builds on what you've learned before. Since I am new to Illustrator, I found myself becoming quite enthused as I learned just how powerful a program Illustrator can be.

Focal Press provides a companion website which is well done. Mr. Elmansy's personal website is helpful as well. I recommend Illustrator Foundations to anyone who wants to start out with this powerful art/graphics program from Adobe.


Pushing Pixels: Secret Weapons for the Modern Flash Animator by Chris Georgenes

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Focal Press; 1 edition (November 16, 2012)
  • Price: $39.95
  • ISBN-13: 978-0240818436

The style of this excellent book on animating in Adobe Flash very much reflects the personality of the author. It's fun and a little whacky at the same time. But don't think for a minute that this book is slight on content because it's packed with absolutely essential information for creating your own Flash animated film. In fact, a better title for the book would be Record, Create and Animate in Flash!, because the book is really about production for the beginning filmmaker rather than secret weapons in Flash.

The author works through two distinct Flash animation projects, which reveal increasingly useful tools and techniques for working in Flash. The illustrations, which are in color, are fantastic and really help to get the authors ideas across. Pushing Pixels also covers useful extensions for Flash with links to download. Wish Focal Press had included a CD with this book, but that would have driven the price up. The Focal Press page for Pushing Pixels provides downloads for all project materials, though, and the author provides links to all software mentioned and has an excellent personal website with info:

I recommend Pushing Pixels highly. If you have an interest in learning how to create your own Flash animations, this is the book to get. It's funny, stylish and full of very well written tutorials.


Prepare to Board! Creating Story and Characters for Animated Features and Shorts, 2nd Edition by Nancy Beiman

  • Paperback: 345 pages
  • Publisher: Focal Press; 2 edition (October 10, 2012)
  • Price: $39.95
  • ISBN-13: 978-0240818788

The second edition of Prepare to Board! Builds on the success of the original edition which was published back in 2007. In addition to describing the story-boarding process in more detail, this new edition covers "some of the technical changes since the first edition was published."

Ms. Beiman is a professional animator and knows the production process for animation backwards and forwards. She breaks down the book into three parts: the first covers methods of developing story content, the second part covers the technique of realizing the story/characters, and the last part of the book covers the presentation of what you've created in the previous two parts.

This is as thorough and detailed an examination of the story/character development process as you are likely to find in any book. The style is slightly more formal than Pushing Pixels, but the author has a real knack for taking complex subjects and breaking them down into understandable chunks. Ms. Beiman is a very capable teacher, and through chapters like "Appealing or Appalling? Beginning Character Design" and "Am I Blue? Creating Character Through Color" you are sure to not only get a thorough grounding in the story/character process, but have a few laughs along the way.

Focal press has done a superb job of putting Prepare to Board! together. Full color illustrations, well placed on the page, provide excellent support to the text. I loved the witty style of the book and found the "Further Reading" section at the end of the book to be a fountain of information: interviews with several noted animators, a bibliography of animation books, suggested artists websites and listing of dvd's for study.

Prepare to Board! is an outstanding book and should be on every animator's bookshelf. The companion website is very useful as is Ms. Beiman's personal website.


Focal Press publishes books not only in computer graphics, but in video production, sound, theater and other related topics. For upcoming releases by Focal press check their website here. I'd also recommend signing up for the Focal Press newsletter. You can tailor the newsletter to specific interests and receive free tutorials along with updates on new publications. The Focal Press Facebook page is quite useful and informative as well.

I'd like to thank Focal Press for providing review copies of their books.

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Ricky Grove [gToon], Staff Columnist with the Renderosity Front Page News. Ricky Grove is a bookstore clerk at the best bookstore in Los Angeles, the Iliad Bookshop. He's also an actor and machinima filmmaker. He lives with author, Lisa Morton, and three very individual cats. Ricky is into Hong Kong films, FPS shooters, experimental anything and reading, reading, reading. You can catch his blog here.




April 22, 2013

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