Members of Moonbot Studios‘ creative team sat down with me to discuss the upcoming print debut of The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore, the enduring nature of printed books, and the magic of everything from augmented reality to truffle oil.
Moonbot Studios specializes in original story telling through iOS apps, films, and books. Studio co-founders William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg won the 2011 Oscar for Best Animated Short for “The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore.” The studio has released three iOS apps to date: the original digital picture book, The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore (iPad only); the game-driven story app Numberlys (universal) for children of all ages; and Bullseye (universal), an interactive music video and game for experimental rock ensemble the Polyphonic Spree.
I spoke with art leads Joe Bluhm and Christina Ellis, editorial lead Calvin O’Neal, Jr., and very special guest, co-founder, and real-life Guardian of Childhood William Joyce.
While there is nothing typical about the work that Moonbot Studios creates, or the environment in which the Moonbots work, a few central themes emerged during our conversation.
When asked how a Moonbot Studios app evolved from idea to end product, Joe Bluhm explained that regardless of format, “the start of everything is story. That’s always the first jumping off point.”
Yet it is not as if the Moonbots strap on their iOS app-making helmets and get to work on a compartmentalized creation.
Instead, the studio focuses on the big picture, as Christina Ellis put it, “we don’t think, ‘this is an app, this is how apps are made at Moonbot.’ We have so much fun coming up with all these crazy things, and then figuring out how that translates to an app a little later.”
Moonbot strives to add interactivity that keeps the reader right where she belongs: inside the narrative. Bluhm described the trap that other storybook apps fall into, “It’s like telling someone a dramatic tale by the campfire and then right as the girl turns around to the door, and the door breaks open – oh … here’s a puzzle. What happens? Why can’t the game be part of the story? We knew that every decision we made when we do our own interactive app or story has to involve moving the story forward or putting you in the character’s shoes.” He quickly added, “If that’s not working we add a little truffle oil, because that makes everything taste better.”
Bluhm’s quip shows the absurdity-tinged humor that fills the air in the studio.
The video clip offers the studio’s take on what a typical day includes. Check it out, but remember, don’t get stuck in an idea bubble and never, ever try to watch the art department at work:
Moonbot Studios is one-of-a-kind space, where, “all the creativity from the top down is all in one room,” according to Bluhm, who added that this setting “creates a culture and an attitude that makes you not afraid to just dive in.” Calvin O’Neal, Jr. posited that the creative freedom he and his co-workers have “inspires them to make the best product possible.”
If this workplace sounds unabashedly utopian, that’s probably because it is. Yet creative folks everywhere should feel emboldened by Moonbot’s example, regardless of their own circumstances. Let Moonbot be an inspiration to you, and take Ellis’ advice: “Everyone should do this because they can. You don’t need a studio to feel this good.”
Come back tomorrow for part two of my interview with Moonbot Studios, including special appearance by William Joyce.