I recently attended a demonstration of the amazing Augmented Reality (AR) which accompanies Skip Brittenham’s new YA speculative fiction book, Between Worlds (released August 30th). The AR is created when your mobile device’s camera registers one of the book’s thirteen illustrations, enabling three-dimensional images to literally pop out of the pages. Readers can interact with the characters by tapping these images. The AR also includes additional text not found in the book itself.
Brian Haberlin, Co-Founder of Anomaly Productions talks with us today.
BRIAN HABERLIN: Our first use of AR was in our graphic novel Anomaly. But we didn’t start out to use it. Anomaly took a couple of years to complete its massive 370 pages and when we started, AR only really worked with obvious and intrusive (to design anyway) QR codes. About a year into production on the book that changed and the software could be made to recognize almost any image as a target to trigger AR. That’s when we were off to the races. The father of VR/AR is Morton Heilig. He invented and patented apparatus in the sixties; they were huge and clunky and really didn’t have the tech necessary to drive them. It really wasn’t until now with everyone having a device they can use to do it that it’s catching on.
CVZ: Can you give us some information as to how the Anomaly project relates to Between Worlds?
BH: Anomaly and Between Worlds are separate universes. Anomaly Productions creates graphic novels, comic books, and novels—with our secret sauce being our AR approach that allows us to add further depth to a story or even change the words on the page after publication. Imagine this . . . you buy a book and it has AR. So you have a “book plus” so to speak, that, with your device and your book, you now have interactivity, more story, live appendix info on characters and places. But what is really exciting to me as an author is we can add to and change the story after publication. For example, when Anomaly launched it had 20 interactive pages; it has since been updated four times and now has 60 interactive pages! The book buyer is getting all the additional content for free.
CVZ: Tell us a bit about your creative process.
BH: For Between Worlds we started with Jay Anacleto’s pencil drawings. Those were then scanned into the computer where they were digitally colored and rendered on top of. I was one of the pioneers of this technique from back in the early nineties. It is sort of how most comics are produced today but often the base work is penciled and inked for that. For Between Worlds, we let Jay do his fully shaded pencil style, which I think adds depth.
CVZ: I find it fascinating that these books will continue to grow because of their connection to this technology. For those using the AR, their print book will be something that evolves because of your behind-the-scenes work.
BH: The process is pretty much the same for graphic novels, comics, or illustrated novels. We decide which of the images have the best potential for AR. That usually means something with a rich backstory and something that could have some fun interaction. In the case of our comics, all our characters are already 3-D models so those are modified a bit then thrown into Unity (a game engine) and that is where all the interactivity and animation is done. Vuforia is the AR software that works in conjunction with Unity allowing us to track and set the interactivity with real world objects. The only difference with Between Worlds—since most of the illustrations were done traditionally—was that we needed to create 3-D models of them.
The thing about AR is we are really just scratching the surface. It’s like the early days of film when a train (on the screen) came at the audience and all those early film-goers jumped out of their seats. We get the same reaction when we show something coming at the viewer in AR. The challenge is to really find the language for the medium. It’s fun, it’s impactful, it’s educational yet I think it can be so much more—not a gimmick but something that can only be (or only should be) consumed in this way. We’re working on it!
About Christine Van Zandt: Christine is the managing co-editor of SCBWI’s Kite Tale and the owner of Write for Success Editing Services. Twitter: @ChristineVZ, @WFSediting. E-mail: Christine@Write-for-Success.com