Luke Minaker is the author of the award-winning, interactive book series WEIRDWOOD MANOR. A runner-up in the ‘Best of 2015’ list complied by Apple, WEIRDWOOD MANOR is a beautifully illustrated picture book, a stunning animated movie, and a challenging series of games and puzzles for the iPad. We recently sat down with Luke to talk inspiration, influences and interactive books.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself?
A: I’m 35 years old, and have been working in the animation industry for 18 years now. I taught myself how to do animation on a student copy of the original 3DStudio Max, and got my first 3D animation job when I was 17 years old. Since then, I’ve done animation for games, films, commercials and TV shows. I’ve had the opportunity to work in some fantastic studios both in Toronto and Vancouver. I currently live in beautiful, balmy Vancouver B.C. with my wife and almost two daughters (one is due to be born any day now!)
Q: How long have you been writing?
A: The first full-length story I can remember writing was a little “Land Before Time” fan-fiction about a ninja-dino who saved Littlefoot from a T-rex with his sweet ninja moves and his super sci-fi utility belt. I was in Grade 4. I’ve written many stories since then, but “The Incredible Tales of Weirdwood Manor” is the first to be published.
Q: What inspired you to write “The Incredible Tales of Weirdwood Manor”?
A: There are many inspirations and influences that make “The Incredible Tales of Weirdwood Manor” what it is today, but the biggest and most important was the idea that Paul and Sacha — the founders of All Play, No Work — started with. They wanted a story that would celebrate the magic of creativity and imagination, a story that would inspire kids to then go and be creative themselves!
This is a deeply important theme to me, and is something I had written about already. So being hired to write a story like this was just one of those amazing opportunities that you just can’t say no to!
Q: Why an interactive book? Are there advantages to this format?
A: There were a few reasons we chose to tell our story this way, but one of the big ones was that nobody had really done anything like this before. Yes, there are other interactive storybooks out there, but we felt that nobody was really leveraging the full potential that a device like the iPad had to offer — not only graphically and interactively, but story-wise as well.
Another big reason was that mobile devices are now one of the primary platforms that many kids learn from and interact with. We wanted to meet them where they are at, and give them something that was not only entertaining, but sneakily educational as well. I say “sneakily”, because we were very careful about not diluting the story and adventure for the sake of being educational. We made it so that the story and art would be as big and as bold as they could be, and then let the format be the part that addressed the ‘educational’ side. People may be drawn in by the artwork and animation at first, but it is the story that they stick around for. And since this is, at its core, a novel, that means people are drawn to read.
To be honest, we were worried at first that we may have erred too much on the “entertainment” side of “edutainment”, but since we released the first book in the series last fall, we’ve received a ton of emails and reviews from both parents and teachers about how effective WEIRDWOOD MANOR is at teaching and inspiring children to read. In fact, every single teacher I’ve shown this app to has asked me how and when they could get it in their schools. It’s something that we definitely hoped for, but has worked out much better than we ever imagined!
Q: Each book in the WEIRDWOOD MANOR series is like a picture book, animated movie and game rolled into one. How does this shape the storyline? And what impact does it have on the text — or should we call it a script?
A: I could write an entire paper on this question alone. But briefly, ‘yes’, the format really does impact the storyline. Besides incorporating interactive sections into the novel, or curbing the amount of visual description I include (it can feel pretty redundant to read what the character is staring at, when you’re staring at it too), I’ve needed to be very conscious of the time and budgetary constraints around producing the 3D animation. A good example is the size of our cast. I would have loved to have had maids, and butlers and other, stranger folk running around the Manor, but 3D characters are one of the most expensive and time-consuming assets to create. So I’ve written a tiny cast in an isolated location. One problem solved… one thousand more to figure out.
WEIRDWOOD MANOR is available from the App Store for $3.99 US / $5.49 CDN (includes Books 1 and 2). Books 3 to 6 can be purchased separately for $4.99 US / $5.49 CDN or as part of a bundle for $9.99 USD / $13.99 CDN (35% discount off the regular price). Visit the App Store for country pricing and to download.
* Photo credit: Gerry Kahrmann, Vancouver Sun