Moonbot Studios Reinvents the Book and Gives It Wings

Around 1440, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. The printed word was a rare and valuable commodity in his world, and few people could read the few books there were. Books were painstakingly copied by hand, and represented years of work in making each volume. Now, in a day, Gutenberg could print more than you could write by hand in a year.

Fast forward 440 years. The motion picture was just becoming a reality, before most people had even had their own photograph taken. Before long, the world’s favorite pastime took us away from books, keeping us instead glued to our screens. First movies, then broadcast TV, and now iTunes rentals on your iPad, all bringing the magic of videos into more of our lives.

Last year, Steve Jobs announced the iPad as the eBook reader that would stand on the shoulders of the Kindle, and push eBooks to the next level. While both iBooks and the Kindle apps have made reading a great experience on the iPad, most eBooks to date are either plain text without even the formatting we’d expect from a paper book, or huge image or PDF files that don’t scale well. Neither make the book substantially better than it has been for centuries.

Then Moonbot Studios came, and showed the world how the future of books and movies had changed.

The Book, Reinvented

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

~Arthur C. Clarke

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is the inaugural animated short and accompanying eBook app from Moonbot Studios, an new animation studio based in Shreveport, LA. The story is a homage to the power of stories and books, a fitting message for a team focused on telling stories through the newest types of videos, books, and apps. After wining numerous awards for their short film this spring, they recently released the full story as an iPad eBook app.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore app is the first eBook as an app that feels like it was designed from concept to completion with the iPad in mind. The story is rich enough for adults to appriciate, while including the cute interactive elements that draw in children. And more than most book apps, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore actually feels like a real book experience. You don’t have to tap anything special to get started; just launch the app, and it dives straight into the the book.

Dive straight in to the future of eBooks.

Much like many other children’s picture eBooks on the iPad, you’ll have text on the bottom of the page with an image at the top. Only this time, you’ve got far more than just a static image. Moonbot has built the animated film into the app, with full video clips that play along with the narrated reading of the book. With the accompanying background music and sound effects, it feels much more like a new experience built around a video than a traditional book.

Each action packed page comes to life in an organic way.

Each page has a new interactive element, which you’ll be directed to by slight indicators on the page, or a faint glow on the items that are animated. You can still turn the page without finishing everything in the video, but the story will make more sense if you take time to play with it.

Elements glow to indicate they're active.

Making the iPad Shine

And you can indeed play with this book. Most of the pages include extra parts of the original video animation that are activated when you touch the page, while others include more advanced features. You can play a song on a virtual piano, put the pieces of a worn book back together, or guide the protagonist through the virtual world of a story, using your iPad’s accelerometer to steer him left and right.

Far from being static pictures or video clips embeded in a story, the book takes on a whole new life as you play around with it. You can’t change the plot, but you can make the story come alive for your child.

Now, you can play a book.

Read the Way You Want

Watching and playing with a book isn’t for everyone, so if you’d like to change how the app works, just tap the Moonbots logo in the bottom left corner. Here, you can return to the main home screen, select an individual page from the graphical table of contents, or turn off the book narration, audio, or music. Alternately, you can take the text away, leaving just the interactive video to tell the story on its own.

Either way you want, it’s an impressive demonstration of the future of audio, video, and print media combined, fused with a story that will warm your heart and remind you of what’s best about books.

Want to read the book yourself, or simply watch it without reading?

The Short

Whether you have an iPad or not, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore short video is something you should definitely not miss. It’s already won an array of awards, and has planted Moonbot Studios in my personal list of favorite studios. The video doesn’t have much that’s not included in the book, and interestingly enough has no spoken words. Instead, the computer animation, miniatures, and 2D cartoons combine to create a compelling story that tugs the hearts of young and old, no matter what language they prefer to read in. And if you don’t have an iPad, it’s your chance to experience the story on your iPod, Mac, or PC.

The impressive short is a must-see

Conclusion

Moonbot Studios has reinvented the story while teaching us again the meaning of stories. The app alone is incredible enough to make Apple’s Now commercial seem like an understatement. I personally had previously decided to only purchase eBooks from Amazon’s Kindle store, so I could read them on almost any device, including the iPad. Suddenly, books as apps, at least for certain types of books like this one, make sense.

If you have an iPad, this is one eBook that’s definately worth trying. It’s that good. If The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is an example of the future of eBooks, we can’t wait to see what’s coming next!


Summary

Inspired, in equal measures, by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is a poignant, humorous allegory about the curative powers of story. It's also the best example yet of a book fused with interactive animation that makes a whole new experience on the iPad.

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