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It’s not very often that a video game developer takes home an Oscar. But that’s exactly what happened at the 84th Annual Academy Awards. William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg of the Shreveport, Louisiana-based start-up Moonbot Studios took home the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. The 14-minute long film, which is set during the aftermath of Katrina, tells the story of how books brought happiness to the life of Mr. Morris Lessmore. It was released in conjunction with an augmented reality App for mobile devices and a printed book.
Next up for the studio is an augmented reality experience for Sony’s PlayStation 3 WonderBook. The new peripheral blends a book with on-screen interaction and augmented reality animation, opening up a brand new way to tell stories.
While J.K. Rowling is using the device to conjure up the Harry Potter-themed Book of Spells for Sony, Moonbot Studios is exploring film noir with the detective story Diggs Nightcrawler. Set in Library City, Diggs Nightcrawler is a bookworm private detective out to clear his name after being framed for the murder of his best friend and boss, Humpty Dumpty.
Oldenburg talks about the studio’s Oscar win and what films inspired this new PlayStation 3 adventure in this exclusive interview.
The Hollywood Reporter: What was it like winning an Academy Award?
Brandon Oldenburg: I remember sitting on the couch just three years before, watching the Oscars thinking, what will it take to get there? Some people have asked me recently “Did you ever get picked on as a kid?” And I was. Those people have been like…”That must feel really good, all those bullies seeing you up there, getting an Oscar.” I never really thought of that, but I guess that kinda does feel great.
THR: Can you talk about how you’ve seen augmented reality evolve over the years?
Oldenburg: When we created the IMAG•N•O•TRON augmented reality app as a companion to our printed Morris Lessmore picture book, we wanted the story to become something more and show you a bridge between books and digital media. With Wonderbook, what was number one for us was to figure out why is this a game within a book. Augmented reality and the Wonderbook interface inform who Diggs Nightcrawler is: a bookworm detective who can literally dig, crawl, and jump through pages of a book. It’s important to us that when we look at how all these different devices and mediums work together, they do so in a purposeful and natural way that adds new layers to the story we are trying to tell. The recent evolution in augmented reality and the development of Wonderbook makes that possible.
THR: Where does this experience fit in between games, linear entertainment and books?
Oldenburg: Wonderbook is quite strange because we’re using one of the ancient forms of communication: a book. The mechanic of how you handle a book is familiar to anyone and we’re using it for video gameplay. It’s less like you are holding a book and more like holding a theater in your hands. You can experience each scene on a platform from any angle.
THR: What Hollywood films served as inspiration for Diggs Nightcrawler?
Oldenburg: We watched a lot of films like Chinatown, The Big Sleep, Maltese Falcon, The Third Man and funny ones like Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid to understand film noir visual language and narrative.We also looked at comedic references for inspiration and to help create character style guides. The way the three little pigs interact and move around the scene as a unit was based on The Three Stooges.
THR: Do you have any more short film aspirations? Will Diggs be released as a short as well?
Oldenburg: We do have more short film aspirations. Time will tell. We’d love to see Diggs Nightcrawler exist in many different mediums. There’s about 60 to 80 minutes of high-quality animation in Diggs Nightcrawler, which is the equivalent of a feature length film. To us, in a way, it feels like we’re making a feature length film.
THR: Do you feel like either Diggs or your last project would work as a more traditional Hollywood film or television project?
Oldenburg: We have over a dozen stories we’ve given attention to and every one of them has a great game, book, and film within them. It’s important to us that we’re not just retelling the same story in another medium. The story has to be justified in that medium.
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