“At every stage I am trying to think of the end-reader experience” Madefire’s Ben Wolstenholme talks motion books, Mono and more!
Is it easier to come up with the ideas when you are both writer and artist? Do you ever impose limits on yourself to give the title a certain look and feel or is it anything goes?!
BW: Timing is huge in leading the reader through the story and being able to surprise and delight – It’s great to not have to start from top left and lead the eye across a page – at the same time I personally believe that there is a ton of rigor from having to do this in print – that needs to remain on screen. I’d liken it to a design process; designing for print (stationery, packaging) versus designing for screen (title sequences, adverts, online, apps) – Great design has strong systems – in grids, in use of typography, in use of imagery and placement – most of the practices have been honed in print since it is such an absolute outcome – you print it and it works or it doesn’t. On-screen there is more room for theatre – but there is often a lot less discipline and rigor around layout and typography and overall hierarchy – to summarize this point i have found it very useful to create Mono in pages so that it can be printed later down the line – and I think this rigor has brought more discipline and restraint to how it reads on screen.
At the inking stage there’s more focus on how the art will break into layers to provide movement or depth. To me the inks are about creating tension and pace in the blacks – thinking through negative space and dialogue boxes. These can imply movement in themselves. Once the inks are done i send them onto FIn Cramb in Scotland for colouring; Fin has been adding a tone of mood and atmosphere in the color and texture – he’s doing a stunning job.
At every stage I am trying to think of the end-reader experience – what will that ‘feel’ like.
Do you draw everything out by hand or is it all digital?
BW: I started the first few pages of Mono using traditional pencil and a dip pen with indian ink – it was pretty messy – but had a nice ‘real-hand’ to it. I later moved to a digital process after Mono Episode 1. My digital process is all done in Painter 12 on a Wacom 21UX tablet – these are amazing tools. I tend to pencil quite quickly – blocking the scene out in black and white – positive and negative – penciling on screen allows you to mold the pencils in a way that’s more forgiving than using a real pencil and eraser – and faster. Then I ‘ink’ over the top of the pencils to get the ink working as I want it – for this I use a digital brush that I have customised to replicate the strokes of a dip pen – it took me a long time to get a decent match – I really wanted the resulting pages to feel like real dip pen strokes. For colouring, Fin Cramb uses a mixture of physical painting and Photoshop. Having said all that i’ve just gone back to pen and ink for a while – i was missing the mess!
I love your use of typography with the big special effects, is that your graphic design sensibilities coming to the fore?
BW: Thanks, yes I guess so – I wanted to have some fun with Type – there’s so much more to explore – and as a designer i am not happy with the way i’ve been treating it yet – but for now i have tried to keep structure and a really bold aspect to the type when it is a visual sound effect (SFX) – for example the PHTOOMs or the THUDs…you can’t beat a good THUD! The SFX aspect is really interesting – when building Madefire and Motion Books we set our goal of staying within a READING experience (not a watching experience). This means we wanted the user or reader to control pace and be able to follow the story by reading – so visual SFX are still vital and a lot of fun to work with. We do have some sound on the stories which can really help at more emotion and punctuation but they can’t be vital if people are reading without sound or headphones on. We’re learning all the time on this front.
Speaking of sound do you think it adds or detracts from the readers experience?
BW: Well – i don’t know how close we get to having sound right – I think we have a lot to learn – but we have set ourselves some rules for sound. Everything needs to be a reading experience – so the sound is generally there to create atmosphere and mood that adds to the read rather than replaces it. We will not employ voice over as it means the reader is no longer in control. The broad point regarding reading – and therefore sound – is that by giving the reader an active role – he or she is still creating whole chunks of the movement, character and scene themselves. This is part of the magic of books – they are not fully told – they are left to the imagination and that’s a wonderful thing. Each hint of movement – or dialogue box – or sound is only part of the full scene that the reader conjures in their mind. To me this is the key to making Motion Books – they are Books – not animation. Once you start puppeteering everything and doing voiceover then the reader become passive and the imagination is disengaged -what a shame. Then you need to be into full animation and deliver a fully realised experience like Pixar and that’s a different type of storytelling – and a lot more expensive to make!!
There’s so much room to move ‘Books’ forward – and to keep engaging the readers imagination in co-creating the story.
To be continued….
Ben had so much more to say on the subject of digital comics we spilt our interview in two, so check back in a couple of days for the rest of our epic chat to find out more about Mono, motion books, Moving Brands and what’s next for Madefire!