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Interview Paul Bierhaus & Gwen Stok

A few months ago we had the opportunity to meet the illustrator Gwen Stok & Paul Bierhaus from studio YipYip. We discussed their adaptation of Toon Tellegen book "A Distant Journey".

You came to the From Paper To Screen Conference to talk about « A Distant Journey », an interactive app freely adapted from a story by the dutch author Toon Tellegen. Could you tell us a little bit more about the genesis of the project ?

At the end of 2013 we (YipYip) launched our first interactive story app « The Land of Mislaid ». This app was a straight interpretation of a picture book and we felt that our next step needed to be an interactive story that was designed specifically for touch devices. As we were thinking about new ideas we found out that Gwen was working on a personal project where she was adapting a written story of Toon Tellegen to a picture book. We loved the story and we loved her illustrations so we asked if she would be interested to turn the story into an app instead. Thankfully she agreed! From there we started a long period of experimenting with various interaction ideas. We really wanted to turn the act of reading into a "mechanic". Just like you need to run and jump in a Mario game, you need to read to go forward in our app. Gwen on her part did a lot of experimentation with the style of her illustrations, something that works on paper doesn’t necessarily works when animated on a screen. In the end her work for « A Distant Journey » looks a lot different from how she started out.

How did you manage to translate the artistic atmosphere of Toon Tellegen’s book into an app ? Moreover, one that is adapted to all ages ?

We specified what, to us, made a Tellegen story different from any other writer in the world and came to certain key characterisations that we used to judge our own work on. His work to us is philosophically playful, always hopeful and it has a certain peacefulness, particularly with this story. So every decision we made, every drawing created, every action animated and every song written was viewed through these lenses. This also helped us make this story accessible to younger audiences than the original story was intended for. The peacefulness, for example, made us remove every kind of distraction. So there are no distracting interactive elements in the environment the child can trigger, helping young children to keep their focus on the story.

We know that it’s difficult to work on this kind of projects. The technical investment is important, technologies are always evolving and it’s hard to keep up to date. Did you receive technical and financial helps on this project ?

The development team at YipYip is incredibly talented and curious, so they are always aware of the latest technological innovations and keen to adapt. But it is true that these projects cost a lot of investment. Most of this investment was done by Gwen, Half Way Station and YipYip, but we also had financial help from The Dutch Foundation of Literature.

What are the next steps for « A Distant Journey » ? For now long the app is available in Netherlands and UK, will it travel to other countries in 2018 ?

We are currently looking for international publishing partners. As a relatively small studio who mainly does commissioned work, it’s hard for us to also manage a successful publishing campaign outside the Netherlands alongside our usual business.

We ‘ve seen a lot of transformations in the children’s publishing sector lately, how do you see the future of creative storytelling ?

Storytelling is almost as important to human beings as food, water and sleep. Even with the current mediums available we probably have not yet discovered all the possibilities. Technological innovations like virtual and augmented reality are incredibly young and developing very fast, even a touch screen is relatively young in comparison to books! But all these new mediums give us new and exciting opportunities to entertain and educate ourselves by telling stories. So we think the future for creative storytelling is endless, as long as there are humans around!