“Devastation Class” is not your average book-to-movie adaptation. For one thing, when film rights were snapped up in 2018 to adapt the science fiction book series by Glen Zipper and Elaine Mongeon, the project hadn’t yet found a publisher. A few months later, HarperCollins’ Blink YA Books secured the literary rights.
Mongeon and Zipper took their time writing the first of the two-book series, which is set to be released Sept. 8, because they wanted to plant Easter eggs that would pay off in subsequent stories. The tale centers on a small group of military cadets and students who must mutiny to take control of a starship to save themselves — and the world — from a force of invading aliens.
To help whet readers’ appetites, and with an eye toward its cinematic future, Mongeon and Zipper decided to follow the lead of YA titles like Edward Hogan’s “Daylight Savings” and produce an animated cover. They enlisted the services of illustrator Michelle Holme (album cover art for Bruce Springsteen, John Legend and Aerosmith, to name a few), animator Brandon Mahlberg (motion graphics for “What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali”) and mononymous composer Starcadian to create an eight-second clip that synthesizes the tone of the novel.
“Director Thom Zimny [‘Springsteen on Broadway’] recommended me to Elaine and Glen. They were really attracted to this notion of a starfield, and so I started playing around with this big expansive space.
I started by putting together a mood book of references, because sometimes it’s hard to verbalize visuals, and I find it’s a good way to guide the project.
We looked at old-fashioned science fiction book covers such as those by Denis Sheckler, Ayham Jabr and Frank Moth, and I had some ideas of a collage — but as we went through the process, we decided to touch on the details from the book, such as the pink sea and exploding planets, because those were closer to the story. I also wanted it to feel cinematic because the book had already been optioned.
In terms of body position, I wanted the figures to be in the resigned pose of young adults or teens so they matched the reader.
I was trying to hint at a retro sci-fi book-cover feel. I wanted the title going across the whole side rather than along the top and being broken up. By doing that, it left more landscape for us to work on art. It also stands out on the shelf. It’s a book, but it’s also a movie, so it was really about trying to find the space in between.”
“I saw Michelle’s cover, and I loved the feeling of it because it had that nostalgic look and feel to it. It reminded me of ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Dune.’ It wasn’t complicated to animate because it was so well laid out.
With the animation, I didn’t want to give too much away. I wanted it to be serene. There’s a calmness as, with a glare, it zooms out. Explosions and ships are coming on — this is stuff going on in the background. You see the characters, and it tells this brief story within this short window of time.”
“Elaine, Glen and I geeked out over our favorite science fiction films. I’m a walking encyclopedia for weird ’70s and ’80s sci-fi soundtracks. I went to the ‘Total Recall,’ ‘The Last Starfighter’ and ‘Alien’ soundtracks.
The music pretty much wrote itself once I saw Brandon’s motion cover. I started with a French horn, trying to get a simple melody that was recognizable, and slowly started building the orchestra around that. And I had to add an electronic sound.
I had eight seconds, so it was a great challenge. I realized I had four-to-five seconds to establish the theme. You don’t need more than three seconds to hum the ‘Indiana Jones’ theme song. It felt like doing the TikTok version of an album and squeezing the concept into [it] as much as humanly possible. It’s exciting because it makes you think about how much you can condense into a song.
It took two days to complete. When inspiration hits, you see a cover that’s so cool, you hear it in your head. It’s like explaining a scene to a cinematographer and they imagine the lighting, the bounce light and lens distance. As a musician, you hear the horns and electronics. From then on, it’s just craft and technical stuff, which isn’t the hardest part of [my job]. Music is the hardest part.”