In the YipYip Lab the most beautiful things arise. With experiment, artistic freedom and special collaborations new ideas are created. Soon a shining jewel will be added to our portfolio: the interactive story app A Distant Journey. This is the first app to accompany a story by Dutch author Toon Tellegen. I spoke to illustrator Gwen Stok and art director Paul Bierhaus about their motivation to initiate this project.
“The stories of Toon Tellegen feel kind of comforting,” Paul says. “The animals experience things we know from our own lives. When Gwen chose to illustrate this story, I immediately felt it should be turned into an app. Her drawings have the same comforting atmosphere als the philosophical animal stories by Tellegen. Melancholic, uplifting, loving, caring — we really want to communicatie those feelings in this app.”
Melancholic, uplifting, loving, caring — we really want to communicatie those feelings in this app.
“The elephant sticks to his goal,” Gwen adds. “He might be scared, but continues with the plans he made. I think we can all take an example from him. The squirrel is very caring. She supports the elephant in the preparation of his trip. Toon Tellegen defines the animal characters with human traits, I reversed that: I choose human figures with animal masks. The animals in the stories make you think about life. Or they comfort you, as Paul puts it. By using warm and soft colours the safe and pleasant feeling of the story is represented in the app.”
Bringing the story to life
How do you translate this content and artistic principles into an app? And preferably one that appeals to all ages, like the stories of Toon Tellegen do too? Paul: “We wanted to discover a new genre, something between a film and a book. Because of our previous projects linked to existing books — Land of Mislaid, Fabians Party, Jip and Janneke — we learned a lot about what the digital value is in relation to the paper version. With this new project it’s undeniable: now the famous animals by Toon Tellegen are given a face, they can move through a fanciful decor, immersive sounds are added and as a player you can interact with the characters. The different forms of interaction are very important to this story: it makes it exciting and vibrant.”
The different forms of interaction are very important to this story: it makes it exciting and vibrant.
Gwen adopted that interactive vision: “As we worked simultaneously on the project I could arrange my artwork around the concept of the app. With a pre-finished book there are lots of limitations. Now the words on paper could be transformed in my mind, and made visible by Paul immediately. We created a new way to tell the story. With one very important remark: every word remains exactly as Toon Tellegen wrote it. We wont change a bit.”
The team is very thankful to be supported by the Dutch literary fund Letterenfonds. And the opportunity to be the first one to translate a literary work by Toon Tellegen into a digital product feels special. “I’m very proud,” Gwen says. “It’s a great honour to translate his work into a new visual art form.” The technical investment YipYip needed to do to accomplish this project is huge too: in the two years of preparation the technical innovations went forward, and many versions of the app passed. Paul explains: “We searched for the right tone for a long time, with exactly the right amount of clearness and convincing looks for the characters. Besides that, they had to be able to animate nicely. Technically we tried several things, and eventually we started working with game engine Unity. Now we can put the focus of the production on the visual and auditory side. The illustrative uniqueness and immersive sound scape will be the main things that make the app stand out from the crowd.”
The illustrative uniqueness and immersive sound scape will make the app stand out.
The story app should feel very ‘real’, Paul says: “A paper book is obviously more intimate than the glass of an iPad. We want to be as close as possible to the warm and friendly paper feel.”
The unique soundtrack supports this sentiment. The Rotterdam based musicians Rikke Korswagen and Elma Plaisier have a very organic way of making music that suits the atmosphere of A Distant Journey perfectly. Paul is very pleased with the cooperation: “The music had to be authentic, produced with real instruments. In addition, we experimented with self-recorded soundscapes and less conventional sources, such as branches found in the forest. All to create a soundtrack that reflects the story’s energy perfectly.”
We experimented with self-recorded soundscapes and less conventional sources, such as branches found in the forest.
Finally, the story is read by Toon Tellegen himself. The audio recordings with him mark a special moment in the development of the app, because of the personal contact with the author and his first reaction to the project. Did he have something to say? Gwen: “In my drawings the squirrel had a ladder to reach the tree house, which — he claimed — was unnecessary. So we removed it. But: the elephant climbs the tree, no problem. This example shows how remarkable the mind of Toon Tellegen operates. The stories are set in their own universe. I surely hope the fans of his work will be excited to see what we made of it.”
A Distant Journey will be published in Dutch in June 2016 as an iOS and Android app. Later on this year the English translation will be available.