The Music of the LOTR Films

A look at the book design




Design & Art Direction of the book was by Gary Day-Ellison.

"Lord of the Rings fans will best know Gary through his work on The Alan Lee Sketchbook, and this Children of Hurin calendar. And of course I have to laugh, since Gary also has prior experience working with Douglas Adams properties!" Doug Adams [1]


Perhaps I should divulge that I am a late in life Graphic Designer with a special interest in (although no exemplary skills in) book design. How to format text and content so as to make it attractive and functional intrigues me. Therefore, I have some decided opinions on the design of the book.



In preparing my comments for this page, I went back to reference some old information from Doug's blog. There are some good conversations and bits of information there about the design of the book. I will quote liberally from some of them. Rather than try to provide a link for each quote, can I just direct you to pages of conversations?

[1] Happy Anniversary/Happy Day! - Doug introduces Gary

[2] The Music of the LOTR Films: First Look Inside

[3] The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films

[4] Book Update, May 2010 - this is a very good account of the process Gary and Doug used to create the book.

[4] The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films (Part One) & (Part Two) - Gary's account of designing the book



There are too many illustrations in the book to count. It is chock full of illustrations. I actually think any fan of the movies that has no interest in the music would enjoy leafing through the book to enjoy the illustrations. They include:


Sketches by Alan Lee & John Howe

"John Howe gave us an FTP full of imagery. Alan Lee delivered hard drives packed with design work and finished pieces." Doug Adams [4]

"never-before-seen work from John Howe and Alan Lee" Doug Adams [4]

"Gary has a preexisting relationship with the great Alan Lee, having assembled The Alan Lee Sketchbook for him, so Alan granted us access to his massive collection of hard drives at Gary's request." Doug Adams [2]

"John Howe has been a tremendous supporter of the book for over a year, and generously sent over his beautiful art when the book started incorporating more and more sketch work." Doug Adams [2]

A small drawing of a rucksack, variations on round Hobbit windows and pipes, an Elvish doodle, a solemn portrait of Saruman. The sketches are presented in a range of sizes from quite small to full page. Some will look familiar. Others are concept sketches of things we've never seen. I think one could easily spend an hour just insuring that one has found and taken in each of them.


Movie stills

"The film imagery is all licensed from New Line. In fact, the sketches are as well. The stills were sent over by the studio during the days of the Complete Recordings, so these images, including the footer icons, come directly from their files." Doug Adams [4]

Some of these are familiar as a shot from the movie, some are promotional images that were staged for the shot. I occasionally am reminded of how spectacular the movie's cinematography is. Thumbing through the book provides me with one of the 'occasional' times. I have to admit, I took a little breath when coming upon a photo portrait of Elrond (pg 167) as it provided a little reminder of how much I love these movies.

It occurs to me that the color palette of the shots chosen for the book are somewhat subdued. Not subdued in terms of saturation but in terms of palette. It may be a result of the movies' overall color palette but it may also be a conscious choice that kept the overall color palette of the book somewhat subdued. (see more in my discussion of color and white space) But I think it is effective. The photos provide a 'mood' of sorts and the allow the eyes to take a rest from text and the mind to take a rest from processing information but the photos do not demand attention on their own thereby competing with the content for the reader's attention.


Photos of movie props

"Alan also has Gandalf's staff ... as in the original prop from the films! We were allowed to snap a beautiful new picture of this for the book." Doug Adams [2]

"Gandalf's staff from @TheLordoftheRingsTrilogy is sitting on my studio floor!" tweet from @GaryDayEllison

"I have to ask, why the Gandalf staff on the title page?" Timdalf
"In Middle-earth, the arrival of Gandalf's staff often indicates the beginning of a journey." Doug Adams

Gandalf's staff does indeed reside on the title page of the book. I also spotted a photograph of The Red Book (pg 140). These two may be the only prop photos. But I haven't done a thorough scouring so I can't say for certain.


Photographs & Graphics

These are found primarily in the Recording Sessions section of the book and serve to set a mood more than to illustrate specific information. Also in this section one can find graphics such a log and a seating chart for various recording sessions.

Additionally, there are small decorative icons at the bottom of all numbered pages. These came from NewLine.


Musical Notation

"music examples (which we nicknamed 'the tadpoles')" Doug Adams [4]

Each theme has a few bars of notation to provide an example of the theme's melody.

Additionally, examples of full orchestration of passages- both professionally typeset and hand written photocopies - are scattered throughout the book. I presume that there is some instructional value to these but surely they are also meant to function, in some manner, as simply attractive illustrations.



The color scheme of the book cover is white, light grey (in the form of an Alan Lee sketch), and gold. That same light look is carried over into the interior with the liberal use of white space.

I think this approach was a surprise to some fans who had gotten used to the more textural approach of the Complete Recordings liner notes and Annotated Scores. In fact, all the premium releases of DVDs and CDs have used a mixture of parchment and leather to create a sense of luxury.

But my reaction was:

"I think many people are afraid of white and of white space and it's a shame because it can be a very effective design element. Bravo for you to have the guts to embrace it." [3]

To follow up on a comment I made regarding movie stills used in the book, I think the over all 'quiet' white, grey, and gold color scheme that got set by the dust jacket was supported by movie stills that had fully saturated color but within a subdued color palette. As I said earlier, that may just be a reflection of the color palette for the movies but I think there is just enough color in the book's movie stills without there being too much.

This is a book of 'coffee table' quality without being a 'coffee table' book. What I mean is, this book is constructed with care. It was not stingy with white space. It is rich with illustrations. (White space and illustrations are things that a frugal book publisher might not care to indulge in.) But it is not a coffee table book in one respect. It is not meant merely for idle browsing and amusement. This book has serious content and the content was allowed to take precedence in the design. The design supports the resource nature of the books rather than competing with it. 

Gary had written:

"As for the artwork I have always felt that the better it is the more the designer should give it room to breath. It does not benefit from graphic designer's little footprints all over it! And artwork does not come much better than these guys." Gary Day-Ellison [2]

and I replied:

"I agree with you philosophy of white space. I do like highly textured stuff as well. But white space is so calming and soothing. I think not only does it showcase the illustrations, but it might actually keep from overwhelming the brain at a time when we're asking it to take in lots of information."

Although the quiet, clean color scheme is aesthetically pleasing, it serves an even higher function for me at least: I can read the text. The text in the Complete Recordings liner notes was so small and on such a dark background that I would have to get a strong light and a magnifying glass to fully read some of what was in there. I finally had enough and typed all three of the liner notes booklets so I could have a readable copy. I love the white pages of The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films. It's a joy to open them.



I mentioned that I had typed out the liner notes for the Complete Recordings (so that I could more easily read them). I quickly realized how complicated the structure of the content was. The subtle art of putting letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters onto a page and into a book determines how well the reader can find and take in information. I know this book had to be a challenge for Gary and Doug to lay out.

Mostly I wanted to point out that all the theme names are formatted with ALL CAPS which make them easier to find when scanning the book for information. And to perhaps get the layperson to think a moment about something that can seem invisible... when done correctly and effectively.



I wished I were more knowledgeable in binding to sound all experty. But this book is constructed well. It can lay open and stay open for referencing. It is not the sort of binding that will crack with age. I find the page size to be large enough to contain a good bit of information (before one has to turn the page) and allow for white space, without being so large the book become unwieldy for reading or frequent referencing.