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'The Numberlys' app for the iPad: Storytelling of the future

January 14, 2012 |  8:00 am

IPad owners, get psyched: The creative people over at Moonbot Studios have just released "The Numberlys," a new iPad and iPhone app that is not quite a movie, not quite a book and not quite a game -- although it includes elements of all three.

One might describe it as one of the few storytelling apps that takes into account the iPad's unique functionality.

"The Numberlys " is set in a black-and-white world inspired in part by Fritz Lang's "Metropolis," where only numbers exist until five little guys decide to create the alphabet by transforming numbers into letters. To do this they jump on them, spin them, smash them and pull them apart using various tools.

And you -- the reader? the player? -- have to help them.

Savvy iPad owners may know Moonbot Studios as the creators of "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore," a magical story app that appeared on many top 10 app lists of 2011.

The creative studio, which was co-founded by artist, director and former Pixar employee William Joyce, has been open just a year and a half, but has already established a reputation for excellence. The studio's first project, the short-film version of "Morris Lessmore," just made it on the short list for the Oscars.

I spoke this week with Lampton Enochs and Brandon Oldenburg, two of the three partners in Moonbot Studios, about the company's process and the future of storytelling on the iPad.

Question: So, you guys make movies, paper books, iPad apps. How do you describe what it is that you do?

Enochs: We think of ourselves as a storytelling outfit. We try to generate our own internal projects half the time and the other half of the time we want to work on collaborative projects with outside parties.

Oldenburg: Part of our mission here is to bring the future that never was back to the forefront. There is a sort of retro nostalgic vibe to our company that is rooted in science fiction. We've all grown up reading about all this wonderful fantastic stuff, and then it doesn't come to fruition. We want to bring it to fruition.

Q: The iPad is so new. What is it like working in such uncharted territory?

Oldenburg: It harkens back to the early days of film. It's still very Wild West and experimental right now and it is really exciting.

Enochs: The first movies were a locomotive and a guy running and that was it, and everyone was thrilled. We are still a little bit in that stage, I'm sure.

Q: I imagine there must be tensions between what the creative types think is best for the story and what the programmers say can actually be done. How do you work that out?

Oldenburg: Definitely when you work with scientists, and I'm calling our programmers scientists, everyone has to be open-minded. When you are in a creative brainstorming session you want to go, "yes -- and." A lot of times our programmers can seem grumpy, but keeping them engaged in the conversation from the get-go allows you to see what the actual possibilities are.

Q: You've translated "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" into a film, an iPad app  and a physical book (not yet released). What do you think about when you tell a story in a different medium?

Oldenburg: It is very important that every time we take one of our stories from an iPad to a book that it is not the same experience regurgitated now on a printed page. We look at things from a kid's logic standpoint. I remember being a kid and seeing a movie and then buying the game for the movie and it was always a letdown. It never lived up to the movie. Kids can smell merch. We don't ever want to create merch. 

Q: Have there been any apps that inspire you guys?

Oldenburg: I heard about an album that you can only listen to when you are in Central Park, and it knows if you are there because of GPS, and it would play differently depending on where you walked so nobody would ever hear the exact same album as anyone else. I thought -- how beautiful is that.

ALSO:

Apple iPad 3 rumors: From feasible to far-fetched

CES 2012: Play arcade games on your iPad -- with a joystick

Ion Guitar Apprentice turns aspiring guitar heroes into students

 -- Deborah Netburn

Video: The Numberlys App Teaser from Moonbot Studios on Vimeo.

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