Pixar Ex-Designer Creates Stunning Interactive Book for iPad. Blurs Lines Between Books, Film, Games

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What do you do after conquering Pixar, Disney, and Dreamworks? You revolutionize tablet reading, of course. Designer William Joyce created a name for himself at the top animation studios with his one of a kind creative story telling, and he’s now taking that skill and making the next generation of interactive experiences on the iPad. He and his colleagues at Moonbot Studios created the short film “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore“, an amazing story inspired by Hurricane Katrina, The Wizard of Oz, and Buster Keaton movies. Unsatisfied with a simple film, however, Joyce and Moonbot transformed “…Morris Lessmore” into a critically acclaimed iPad book that embodies all the marvelous advantages afforded in e-reading. Watch the trailer for the interactive app below. With embedded voice-overs, music, games, lessons, and playful widgets to explore, “…Morris Lessmore” blurs the lines between film, video games, and traditional reading, creating a shared story-telling experience that may represent where ebooks are headed.

As you can see in the trailer for the iPad app version of “…Morris Lessmore” every page of the ebook is full of opportunities for the reader(s) to participate in the story. Yet no interaction has to be used. Parents and children can choose which options (voice-overs, games, etc) to turn on and off, allowing each to customize the experience as they see fit.

*Update 7.15.11 – Life has its little ironies – Vimeo videos, the ones originally included in this post, are unable to be seen on iPads. Here is the video above in YouTube format, sorry that the others aren’t similarly available.

Just to give you an idea of how the iPad app is actually an enhanced (and in my opinion better) version of the short film, here’s the trailer for the movie:

I think it’s very telling that the ebook version of “…Morris Lessmore” sells for $5, while the movie is just $2. The short film, while excellent, is the old kind of story-telling. It speaks, you watch. With the app, children (and their parents) are afforded a new power. They can participate in the creation of the story, shaping the experience to match their own interests. Maybe your child wants to spin the house in the tornado scene, maybe she just wants to tinker with Humpty-Dumpty’s piano for a while. Maybe she prefers your voice for Mr. Morris Lessmore. However your family wants to enjoy the tale, they can. That level of interaction is one of the key advantages that ebooks and apps have over traditional printed books and even movies. It’s worth the extra three bucks.

Pixar iPad book3

We pause this story to allow your child to play a song on a virtual piano. Can your paperback book do that?

As ebooks continue to evolve and increase their share of the reading market it seems likely that designers like William Joyce will be drawn to the new medium. More than just a new market for literature, ereaders are an entirely new genre for creativity. It took decades for video to supplant audio, but once it did, the world changed with it. Now, interactive may be supplanting passive entertainment and that change could be amazing as well. We’re seeing this first with video games that are as much about shared story-telling as they are about immersive visual experiences. But increasingly this trend has reached into reading as well. More schools are looking into digital textbooks for older and younger students. However, just as the “…Morris Lessmore” app is more than simply a book, digital education will evolve beyond simply showing text on a screen. In every instance, engaging the user to become part of the creative team is a central tenet of the medium. “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” shows us just how better that experience can be. Interaction is coming, get ready.

For those interested in learning more about “…Morris Lessmore”, Moonbot Studios offers a great behind the scene look through a series of videos on their site. Also, their next project, an interactive music video based on the band The Polyphonic Spree from Dallas is coming soon. I’ll leave you with the trailer. Enjoy!

[image and video credits: William Joyce/Moonbot Studios]
[sources: Moonbot Studios, Morrislessmore.com ]

Discussion — 9 Responses

  • MelOl July 15, 2011 on 3:07 am

    Another Book+App that has similar features (but not game-like):
    Our Choice by Al Gore
    http://pushpoppress.com/ourchoice/

  • Joe Nickence July 15, 2011 on 3:45 am

    The ultimate hallucinatory device. Who needs drugs? Just an iPad and your favorite app.

  • destabrook July 15, 2011 on 5:00 am

    Let’s be honest, we can call it “blurring the line,” but it is really nothing new. This is nothing more than an interactive multimedia experience. A beautifully drawn one, but in no way a “eBook”. This is no more an eBook than the immersive storytelling of the game MYST back in the 90’s. Let’s focus on designing a better READING experience for eBooks and call immersive interactive experiences what they are (not “eBooks”).

    • why06 destabrook July 15, 2011 on 9:28 am

      call immersive interactive experiences what they are… video games. =/

    • Frank Whittemore destabrook July 15, 2011 on 10:33 am

      Perhaps this calls for some historical perspective. I just found a box in my basement titled Disney’s animated storybook “The Lion King”. It contains an old CD-ROM ranked #1 selling children’s educational program according to “PC Data 1994 and 1995″. I can remember my grandchildren be entertained by it many times. The main difference between it and what’s talked about in this 2011 blog post would be that the CD-ROM required a PC not an e-Reader.

      Again back in the mid-1990s it was called an animated storybook! The top of box boldly states – “Discover a new dimension in storytelling”.

      So now, what is the evolving definition of a book? I’m sure my local library would like to know.

  • Frank Whittemore July 15, 2011 on 5:05 am

    My local community library is holding its annual book sale starting today. It’s an annual fund raiser. Wonder what it will look like in another 5 to 10 years?

  • bobm3 July 15, 2011 on 12:08 pm

    Great article about the new book on the iPad.

    Too bad I can’t read the article on my iPad or watch the videos. So much for the magic iPad.

    • Aaron Saenz bobm3 July 15, 2011 on 6:19 pm

      Ha! Wow. Yeah. That’s pretty awful. I found a pirated version of the first video on YouTube and included it in the post. I can’t find the others, however, and I’ll have to take that one down if Moonbot so requests.
      Still, in the meantime you can enjoy the trailer on your indefatigable space-age device, the iPad!

  • emassengill July 21, 2011 on 11:16 am

    This isn’t really new. They’ve had “interactive novels” in Japan for a long time, with interaction, dialogue choices, and branching storylines. We always think we invented everything in the US. The only difference that the iPad will make is in making it easier to distribute such things widely, which will encourage higher quality work.