William Joyce surprised us all when he joined the conversation, yet the staff assured me that it’s something he does as often as he can. I used Joyce’s appearance as an opportunity to learn what Moonbot has in store for fans in the near future.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore debuts as a picture book in June 2012, with story by Joyce and illustrations by Joyce and Bluhm. “With this foray into technology, apps and these new devices, and also being in love with books, and old cinema — and classic things that we think are going to do fine — we’re trying to marry the two in this new way where you can’t just do one or the other,” said Bluhm.
Moonbot plans to release a companion iOS app for the printed version of Morris Lessmore. After downloading the app to your iPad or iPhone, Bluhm explained, “You’ll point it at the printed book and you’ll have this new, three-dimensional experience that you can’t get with just the book or just the app. You’re going to need both. There is going to be new content — CG things flying around and little portals into the world to see things you won’t be able to see anywhere else. We’re kind of blown away. It’s not even half-finished right now. We’re amazed no one has really done it like this before.”
“We wanted each thing to stand on its own and be different and interpret the story in a way that’s particular to the medium. We wanted to bridge between a book and an app and augmented reality,” added Joyce, then continued, “We’ve done animation when the book comes alive on your screen and beckons you to open it and read it. Animations will pop out of the actual book.”
Joyce sees print and digital as interconnected, rather than as in competition. “None of it’s replacing a book,” posited Joyce. “It’s making the book experience a little richer. We wanted to see, with apps, if you could get emotionally involved in them. To our surprise, people find it an emotionally satisfying experience, and in some ways a more intensely emotional experience. It’s not just a silly bit of technology. It’s actually changing storytelling.”
Moonbot takes a broad view of authorship that allows the story to be told in the best way possible using apps, short films, and traditional printed storybooks. O’Neal Jr. added, “We apply the story to the media that we have, so it can be delivered in the best way possible.”
Rather than worrying that digital media is going to subsume its predecessors, causing the extinction of print publishing and film in the process, the Moonbots see the way that print, movies, and digital media coexist as “the real conversation.”
Joyce continued, “I think it’s so sad for people to be worrying is this going to kill movies or kill a book. No! But it is going to be a fundamental way that we get stories, in the way that radio was a fundamental way that we got stories and news when it was first invented. There’s always a new technology that changes a way that we get stories. Movies didn’t go away. Radio didn’t go away. They maybe became smaller, but they just became part of one of the many ways you get a story. Books just work too well to go away.”
Joyce added, tantalizingly, “I feel like we are just scratching the surface of what the iPad is going to be capable of.” He intuitively grasps the inherent the promise of the iPad – that it is so much more than just a way to play Angry Birds or check email.
Joyce reminded us, “When TV first started they showed juggling and farm shows. It took awhile, but I think TV is really getting good now. The way we are going to be able to tell stories on the iPad is going to be crazy cool.”
He continued, “We’re working on a ghost story now for grown-ups, and the things that we’re going to be able to do in telling a ghost story with the iPad. It’s going to be so intriguing and so alluring, and it’s going to scare the bejeezus out of you. (laughter erupts in room). It’s just so palpably, deliciously fun to just go wheeeeee.”
(Moonbot fans, prepare to be spooked by this eerie tale in early 2013!)
After Joyce excused himself, the conversation turned to Numberlys, Moonbot’s most recent iOS app. A singular App store title, Numberlys has many charms, including that it gives adults a way to introduce classic black and white films to kids who didn’t grow up watching early Hitchcock, and have likely never even heard of Metropolis.
The studio always had a clear sense of who Numberlys was for, but it was a point that needed to be repeated. Some users just didn’t get it. They thought that kids needed color; kids didn’t know German Expressionistic film or care about Art Deco. “But that’s why we show it to them,” explained Christina.
Bluhm underscored that Moonbot’s creations are not intended for use as a digital distraction or virtual baby sitter. Rather “it’s something to give the child so they can learn and connect and ask questions.” For Moonbot, “interaction is not just between a piece of glass and a three-year-old hand, it’s between the child and the parent as well.”
Discussing Moonbot Studio’s creative process makes one thing clear: app users need to set their expectations high. We are at a point of inflection in media, which is driven by innovators such as Moonbot Studios, and we will be fortunate to witness what they will dream up next.
(Read part one of this interview.)