Making Alice for the iPad

Chris Stevens, co-founder, Atomic Antelope

To make Alice for the iPad, we found an incredibly old copy of Alice in Wonderland and scanned the illustrations. We took these illustrations into Photoshop and cleaned them up extensively, bringing out the colour and detail of Tenniel’s original work for Lewis Carroll. We then painstakingly redrew scenes and characters, and added new illustrated objects that can move around the screen. The resulting layered Photoshop graphics were then imported into Apple’s Xcode software, where we added virtual gravity and physics to the characters and objects. The book uses data from the iPad’s accelerometer (a special circuit that senses velocity and orientation of the iPad) to figure out how objects topple around the screen. It’s the first time this technology has been applied in this way, and we’re overwhelmed by the reaction we’ve had. We’re the top-grossing children’s book on the iPad app store.

Tenniel’s illustrations and Carroll’s text for Alice in Wonderland entered the public domain decades ago, but largely lay dormant. We decided to use these amazing pictures, in some cases 145 years old, and place them in the most modern context imaginable. Although we weren’t conscious of it at the time, we’ve been hailed as the future of the format. We see Alice as a kind of super-modern take on the pop-up book format. We made designed the book to be enjoyed by a child, and abridged it so that it can be to read in a single bedtime reading. We thought that since Tim Burton has had his shot at modernising Alice, we should let Tenniel have a go too, only posthumously!

Both Ben (Roberts) and I are avid readers of traditional, paper, books. Where it seems like a good idea to add physics interactivity to an existing book, it can be wonderful, — as long as narrative and aesthetic is preserved. There needs to be sensitivity to the story and the original illustrator. The temptation will naturally be to throw this technology at every book, but the craftsmanship behind implementing this technology is as important as the technology itself. It’s not a short-cut to “enhancing” a book for the digital age, and the power to create these books must be wielded as deftly and wisely as an illustrator’s pen.

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