“Characters always come first – they lead design and story” Animator Ryan Woodward discusses his world’s first animated graphic novel, Bottom of the Ninth

As interactive books and comics get more and more sophisticated the boundaries between them are getting even closer. One title which is hoping to blur the lines even more is Bottom of the Ninth by animator Ryan Woodward. Hailing it as the world’s first animated graphic novel (as far as he knows), it combines Ryan’s love of comics, animation and baseball and looks set to be one of the true ground-breaking titles for the iPad in 2012.  I got in touch with Ryan as he finished off the final finesses  ahead of it’s Summer release and did my best to get to the the bottom of Bottom of the Ninth.What inspired you to create Bottom of the Ninth?
RW: I have an extremely athletic daughter and I’ve just always loved watching greatest sports moments.

Did you set out to make an app or a digital comic first?  
RW: I started with the idea that it would go into an app but right off the bat the comic pages themselves were drawn before any app planning or even animation was done.

And why choose baseball for the core of your story?  
RW: It has a nostalgic all American feel.  It is full of rooted classic tradition.

What are your plans for releasing it and how frequently will there be new editions?  
RW: The release date is under marketing analysis.  The “plan” is to have a new edition every two to three months.

Will it be a new app each time or will there be updates within the main app itself?  
RW: More than likely, updates within a main app because the entire story, as is, encompasses minimum ten apps and I don’t want to hog up peoples desktop space.  So it will be like Marvel’s app.

When creating it, did you work on it full-time and if so how did you finance it?  
RW: This is not my day job, I am a full-time University Professor of Animation.   This was done between the hours of 9pm and 4am.  Over the past few years, I have done lots of commercial jobs and every dime went into an account that I knew I was going to spend on my own project some day and today is that day.

Did you use a Kickstarter or Indie GoGo campaign for example, or was it just a labour of love?  
RW: I did not use either of those, however, pending the sales of the app, I may have to use one of these to have the funds to continue the story – we’ll see.

Tell me a bit about your work process, what apps do you use to put the pages together and how do you go about designing how the page will work? Do you code the app as well as draw and animate?  
RW: The whole process is felt like inventing the wheel – because I didn’t know the first thing about apps when I started.  But through a lot of research, study, taking developers out to lunch, I wrapped my head around just enough of the basics to know that I could do it.  As far as the content goes, that’s the easy part.  That’s what I do for a living, I storyboard, I animate, I design characters, I create stories – that’s my strength.  In areas where I needed help, I hired professional, experienced individuals.

The whole thing clearly has a very well defined visual style, but what comes first, the look of the characters or the story you want to tell?
RW: Characters always come first – they always lead design and story.  It just works for me that way.  I spent a couple of weeks in the beginning nailing down each individual character.   However, they evolved and developed as real individuals, in my mind, throughout the entire process.

 Do you find yourself animating panels once they are drawn or do you decide on which panels are going to be animated before you start?  
RW: After the comic panels are drawn then I decide which ones I want to animate – However, the creative process so far, on this project, is not that structured.  It has been incredibly fluid.  If a good idea came up, I went for it.

You say it’s the first animated graphic novel and the only comparable apps I can think of in terms of animated story books are the Moonbot Studios’ titles like The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore, did you look at any of them for inspiration?
RW: This is definitely much more of a straightforward experience than an interactive one – for now at least.  I say that because app coding is very very expensive as soon as you enter interactive land.   I knew that I did not have a [huge] budget like Moonbot Studios’.  My objective is less about interactivity and more about defining a new story telling experience.

What about Marvel’s Infinite Comics? How do you think they compare to your book or are they completely different types of book?
RW: Completely different.   There is a huge difference between animation and motion graphics.  Most of the public do not understand that.   On my website, on the animation page, I talk a little bit about how animation is defined as the illusion of life.  It is not animation just because it moves.

Readers can have a very short attention span when it comes to reading digitally, how do you plan to combat that?
RW: I don’t.  If they have a short attention span, I am not going to use gimmicks to hold their attention.   I steered away from any gimmicky processes.   Any movement on the screen has to support the story or the characters, no matter how cool you can make the page sparkle when you tap it three times and swipe.  Some people are very interested in that. However, I am not advocating that approach at all.

Do you think there is an optimum balance between traditional story-telling and all the bells and whistles of making an animated experience?
 I’m not sure how you define traditional storytelling.  Animation, comics and film tell great stories and I’m 100% confident that app devices can also tell great stories. I would focus a whole lot more energy on the quality of the product then it’s reputation will carry itself.

Finally, where do you see the story going and how long do you plan to run it for? Do you have the stories planned out already and just how far do you think it can develop?
RW: The story of Candy is 100% formally scripted.  However, there are multiple threads of the base story that I really would like to explore down the road.

For more information on Bottom of the Ninth visit Ryan’s website or follow him on Twitter @ryanwoodwardart