Reading between the lines
Figuring out where the kids eBook industry is headed has become a trickier feat with new developers springing up daily. Yet Shreveport, Louisiana-based Moonbot Studios is looking to blur existing lines between text, animation and user engagement and has managed it successfully in its first book app, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.
The short film-meets-eBook is the brainchild of author and illustrator William Joyce, who’s designed characters for animation studios like Pixar, DreamWorks and Disney. He has also put his experience in digital animation to use as a partner at the creative storytelling studio, which was formed two years ago in the wake of a post-hurricane Katrina film-development renaissance in the region. “Shreveport is a big hot spot for film production because of the tax incentives. It’s one of busiest places for film development outside of L.A.,” says Brandon Oldenburg, a creative partner at the company, which currently employs a staff of 30. “What we ideally want to do here is create apps with interactive components that are also movies. And the best thing about the iPad is that you can be innovative about storytelling. There’s not one name for it—a book, an app, a film.”
Out of the gate
As the company’s first project, Oldenburg says Morris Lessmore provided the only opportunity to make a good first impression. “We weren’t thinking about what was going to make us money or what the
demographic needs were. We saw the iPad as an amazing device and wanted to let people know that this is the level of quality to expect from a storytelling standpoint.” Perhaps the largest contributing factor to the app’s early success (since its May launch, it has appeared on Apple’s official national and international press tour and hit number-one at the App Store) is its subtlety. The book features interactive activities on each of its pages as part of the illustration, but none of the components are accompanied by explicit prompts. “We actually threw out 80% of the wacky ideas we had,” he says. “We wanted to keep it simple, not spell out too much and leave it to the user to discover.” So a child may miss one page’s flying tornado scene during his or her first read, but will likely catch it on successive read-throughs, which Oldenburg says only increases the product’s shelf life.
In preserving Moonbot’s own shelf life in an increasingly competitive industry, Oldenburg says the company is continuing to develop apps and IPs alongside its film projects. Through the creation of this first eBook, the company was able to grow its interactive division by four. This expanding division has its eye primarily on the music video apps space, as well as on developing for additional media beyond iOS platforms.