Great Expectations: Behind the scenes

We’re thrilled to be re-launching the Cozy Classics series with Chronicle Books! For each of the next three publishing seasons, we’ll be releasing a brand new Cozy Classics title, as well as re-issuing three of our backlist titles. Our first brand new Chronicle offering for spring 2016 is Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. How apropos! PrideAndPrejudice_COV_FnCrx.indd
Cozy Classics was born when two ideas were brought together: Jack’s idea to shake up the word primer genre by abridging classic novels into narrative board books with just 12 words and 12 illustrations, and Holman’s idea to create illustrations by photographing needle-felted figures, either in studio or on location.
Needle felting is the process of entangling wool fibers by repeatedly stabbing the wool with a specialized barbed needle. As the wool fibers entangle, they get firmer and firmer, and you can begin to sculpt the wool.
We usually make figures one at a time to completion, but for some reason, we decided to make all the generic bodies (which look like aliens!) for Great Expectations before adding facial features and clothing. Can you guess who the characters will be in the picture below? Hint: there are younger and older versions of both Pip and Estella.
02 -  - Cozy Classics - Great Expectations - Felt Aliens
Creating younger and older versions of Pip and Estella was interesting. Here you can see “mugshots” of younger and older Pip. The trick was to change up the facial proportions to evoke the proper age, but also to maintain some character continuity with unifying features.
03 - Cozy Classics - Great Expectations - Young and Old Pip Mugshots
Here’s the first spread from Great Expectations, featuring the younger version of Pip. The first image in each Cozy Classics title is always an homage to the famous first line of the novel, which we integrate into the image. GreatExpectations_INT_FnCrx.indd
At the beginning of Great Expectations, Pip helps out an escaped convict by bringing him some food and a file so he can remove his leg irons. They meet in a graveyard, so we decided to shoot our image in an actual graveyard as well. Here’s an image that wound up on the cutting room floor. No grave sites were disturbed or disrespected in the making of this image! 05 - Cozy Classics - Great Expectations - Real graveyard
One day Pip is taken to play at the home of the wealthy but eccentric Miss Havisham. There he meets a beautiful young girl named Estella, who treats him coldly and contemptuously. We tried to capture both Estella’s beauty and cruelty in this scene at Satis House, which was largely recreated through the use of dollhouse miniatures. 06 - Cozy Classics - Great Expectations - Pip and Estella 2
The image below was ultimately cut from the book in favor of a similar scene which also included Ms. Havisham. Sometimes good isn’t good enough for us! 07 - Cozy Classics - Great Expectations - Pip and Estella - PRETTY outtake
Pip falls in love with Estella and dreams of becoming a wealthy gentleman so that he might be worthy of her. One day, he receives notice that he is to inherit some money from a secret benefactor. We recreated Pip’s humble home by first setting up a number of bricks on end for the floor. Then we created walls with foamcore coated with plastic filler, and hand built other architectural details in wood.

08 - Cozy Classics - Great Expectations - MONEY set-up 1
Then we added further architectural details, such as model bricks, a hand-made table and stool, and some dollhouse props. 09 - Cozy Classics - Great Expectations - MONEY set-up 2
A hand-made ceiling was added and the entire scene was lit by candlelight to create warm tones. 10 - Cozy Classics - Great Expectations - MONEY set-up 3
Here’s the final image for MONEY. In the novel, Pip doesn’t actually receive any money at his home (he’s to receive it later in London), but we put bags of money on the table in the scene to better illustrate the concept of money for young children. We also debated whether we should use a dollar sign instead of a pound sign on the bags, but decided that a dollar sign would be too egregious a departure from the novel. GreatExpectations_INT_FnCrx.indd
Fast forward to near the end of the novel, and Ms. Havisham feels badly that she has mistreated Pip in earlier years. Here’s the set-up for SORRY. The wall, fireplace and picture frame were hand-made from specialized pieces of wood and mouldings. The scene was supplemented with dollhouse props. The painting is “Portrait of the Copley Family” by John Singleton Copley, 1776. 12 - Cozy Classics - Great Expectations - SORRY set-up
Of course, Ms. Havisham’s dress famously catches fire while she bends over the fireplace. Here’s our depiction of the iconic moment. GreatExpectations_INT_FnCrx.indd
And yes, that’s real fire in the image! Such is our commitment to realism (and our desire to stay away from digital illustration) that we actually set our painstakingly-made felt figure on fire. Here’s the proof. Early testing proved that wool doesn’t actually burn very well (it only smolders and creates a stink), so we tucked paper into the dress to create a proper fire. 14 - Cozy Classics - Great Expectations - Ms. Havisham set on fire
At the end of the novel, Pip and Estella reconnect again, although under somewhat ambiguous circumstances. But they meet in a garden, and the final image in our version of Great Expectations was shot on location at Van Dusen Botanical Gardens in Vancouver, British Columbia. Milk crates are our friends–they’re a simple way to set up an elevated foreground to a scene. 15 - Cozy Classics - Great Expectations - GARDEN set-up
​We hope you’ve enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at the making of Cozy Classics: Great Expectations. Keep your eyes open for new titles The Nutcracker in fall 2016 and The Wizard of Oz in spring 2017!