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SXSW 2012 - Reinventing the Graphic Novel

Ajax Presentation for SXSW

Daniel Burwen

on 7 June 2012

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Transcript of SXSW 2012 - Reinventing the Graphic Novel

Who I am
My background is in Graphic Design and Video Games

I work at the intersection of art and technology

I wanted to apply my unique background to tell a story of historical significance

SXSW 2012
Reinventing the Graphic Novel for the iPad

Daniel Burwen
Founder - Cognito Comics
How do we honor and maintain the value of our analog tangible past in the age
of digital media?
Start with the cultural framing for the work I’ve done, the artisan in the digital age

Do a detailed case study of the work, CIA : Operation Ajax

Leave you with something to think about
Retains all properties of the hand crafted analog original

All the advantages of digital : instant unlimited distribution, infinitely replicable

Sounds identical

The experience between analog and digital is the same for the audience

How do we honor the legacy of the hand - crafted analog past in the age of digital media?
How we used to listen to music
From Tangible to Digital to Service
Physical object
Digital file

We don’t even want to deal with files anymore!

No longer a dedicated activity

Consumed while you do other things
Media is turning into a service




Services Converge
While our computing is going mobile…

Digital requires no physical commitment

Lack of physical = lack of focus

This lack of focus can cheapen our experiences
Ah, books.
the opposite of noise and distraction
Books go digital,
carefully at first
Amazon understood a reading experience can be sacred

The Kindle gave us the best of both worlds, digital distribution, but light, simple, and a passive screen. Pure.

Kindle is successful because of what it doesn’t do.

This is an intentionally limited experience, different from the phone…
Then, iPad…
and books converge…
The iPad is the ultimate media consumption device!

It’s evolving so fast, there isn’t even language to describe this stuff!

A lesson from the Kindle for
digital photography
The Cinemagraph is the photograph for the digital age

Photos are now viewed on screens, usually alongside text, to help augment a reading experience

How to add that little extra that adds value, but retains all the properties of a photo?

Creating a good cinemagraph is the art of RESTRAINT

Motion simply becomes another tool for the artist, just like composition, exposure, lighting, focal length, etc
We can add value in the
Digital Space...
Ajax Origin Story

Discovered Overthrow and later All the Shah’s Men in 2007

Wanted to harness the power of art and tech to tell these stories, but games not a good fit…
We created 2 products
A 210 page historically
accurate graphic novel.
An interactive iPad experience.
We needed assets that would satisfy both products.
Coming from a games / animation background, I had to learn the rules of a completely different industry
Starting with a traditional print format comic book

Making comics is HARD

Coming from a games and animation background, learning the culture and rules of a completely different industry

Learning the legacy and structure of the printed page

Comics at their heart, are artisanal
Making Games is different
than making Comics
Team based approach with games / animation
Single artist approach with comics

Viz Dev
VFX / Particles / Shaders

Project Management
(better for narrative)
(of which story is a tool)
Comics on Mobile:
Breaking the Page for the screen…

You can break up and reformat text however you want, it still works

This is GREAT for mobile devices!

Not so easy for comics

Unlike text, the art of the comic RELIES on the physical page to function
Layered Ink
Final Page
Colors and Lettering
Our workflow is not that different…
Each Panel
into Pieces
Each Page into Panels
Except for one small difference…
We mitigated this by using the same colorist across every page
Team Based Illustration Approach gave us the best of both worlds
It took 3 years to make a 210 page graphic novel
Reliability / speed in exchange for consistent visual style
2 years for the script alone…

Maya = Epic Fail

Flash = Epic Win

Needed 5 key things: translate, rotate, scale, alpha & tint
How to add motion to comics
without making them suck


No spoken dialogue

Comics allow you to advance the story at your own pace

Dynamic Composition
A reading experience first and foremost

Just enough sound to fill in the gaps

Never go silent unless to make a dramatic point

Roomtone vs music vs sfx
The Value of User Experience
A book is easy to use, an app is not

Without good UX, you are DEAD

Hard lessons learned from the first go around, hidden buttons, how to pace the experience, etc…


USER TEST for the love of god!

At the end of the day, you are making a piece of software. Treat your project this way
How do you present this thing?
Where does the experience start?

The app icon as a book cover… sucks

Foreword gets in the way? Table of contents? Rolling credits?

Branding issues, still not resolved
Enhanced content:
the blackhole of the ebook

At the end of the day, you want your audience to get curious and pick up another source

The power of tangential learning, the carefully tuned drill down…
Keep optional content optional..
Flashy presentation is not your friend. Subtle is good, let optional be optional…

We over presented our extras at the outset, and it was too much, overpowering the story they were supposed to help explain.

Again, the art of restraint.

Just because you can make it flashy, doesn’t mean you should…

Unity under it all, its a game in the end

3D, what can we do with that?

Apps on your TV, no escape!
ReCap : incorporating the lessons of the stradivarius…
If we hadn’t made a traditional comic first, I wouldn’t have known how to make a good digital experience.

How can we retain the value of the handcrafted analog tangible in the digital age?
It gets noisy real fast
The App Store breaks consumer expectation

The ePub format holds us back

We need help from Apple, Amazon, etc to help fix this, we can't do it alone
CIA : Operation Ajax
Brian Dettmer, Altered Book, BrianDettmer.com
The tuned drill down
Basic Rules of Comics
Left to Right

Top to Bottom

6 panels on a page avg.

When to use insets / splash

Pace the story on the PAGE TURN

Tons of reference material

Holy crap! We can put it all in the book!

And then you realize that’s actually not a good idea
Where do we go
from here?
What I am going to talk
about today

Comics at their heart
are artisanal

We wanted to find a solution that added
motion and sound
while respecting the rules of comics
How can we add value to our
media when we go digital?
It really comes down to presentation
Full transcript