From the outset, "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" was imagined as a children's book. The story is essentially about a man's magical life among books, and it makes perfect sense as a picture book. Moonbot Studios—founded in part by "Morris Lessmore" author William Joyce—decided to go a different route by producing the story as an animated short. The short ended up winning an Academy award, and Moonbot went on to create an interactive iPad app, which was so wildly successful that it had librarians everywhere fretting about the end of the book as we know it. Now Moonbot and William Joyce have made a physical picture book with an augmented reality app that finally completes the picture for "Morris Lessmore."
On its own, the book is brilliant. Joe Bluhm provides new illustrations that surely place the book among the top releases of 2012. Imag-N-O-Tron, the downloadable app that brings the book to life, cues voiceover and animated graphics for each spread. "We got a peek at this new technology called augmented reality—which I guess isn't new now—but it's new in the way that you are able to target images," says Moonbot's Brandon Oldenburg. "That's where the magic happens. Augmented reality, up until now, always had to target a QR code. Now we're able to target an illustration."
Oldenburg points out that those uneasy about the story-telling power of the iPad app were delighted by the harmony of augmented reality. "The app isn't replacing the book; it's showing you a way to bridge the gap between the old and the new," explains Oldenburg. Without overcomplicating the experience, Imag-N-O-Tron keeps the timeless integrity of the printed book while bringing in animated and interactive elements. Moreover, the framework of Imag-N-O-Tron can be used to enable future publications from Moonbot as well.
Oldenburg is right: this certainly isn't the first time AR has been applied to a book, but it might be the most seamless integration to date. As the capabilities of the technology continue to expand, AR promises a niche future for the printed storybook—a way to bridge the analog-digital divide.