Saturday, 30 July, 2016
The MirrorWorld App
An interview with Cornelia and Mirada's Andy Merkin
In April 2013, Cornelia published her very first app. Especially for MirrorWorld she wrote 16 new stories from the world behind the mirror, which reveal quite a few things that Reckless and Fearless kept quiet about.
Cornelia, do you like the iPad and apps? Which ones?
I admit: I love my iPad. I stopped travelling with my computer thanks to it.
Instead I take a Din A4 Moleskine notebook for my writing and the iPad for everything else - email, photos, music, „Dr. Who“- episodes, notes, calendar ... and a few apps.
My favourite app is currently one that contains all of Shakespeare's sonnets, read by the most brilliant British actors. It includes comments and the old folio version.
Normally you write books and you used to illustrate them. Now you have written stories for an app. Different process? Different feeling? Different way of working?
Yes, everything was different. I had written short story before but so far just for young children, never for the rather grown up audience of MirrorWorld. It was the first time that I explored a world from my novels with the means of short stories - it is the most exciting tool. Like a flashlight that I pointed at corners of my universe which I hadn't explored so far. It made me learn so much more about it and triggered a completeley new process of research.
Moreover, it was the first time that I wrote in English (except one short story I wrote two years ago for three musicians). It is very interesting to suddenly find and hear my own voice in English. It is different from my German voice, more grown up - probably because I learned English much later than German. There is the theory that emotional memory is attached to the language we speak at that time.
And last but not least my stories were inspired by a team of brilliant collaborators, who created images and words that inspired me to travel further and further behind the Mirror. Yes, everything was different and it was a very addictive process.
When you write a book like Reckless it takes you about two years.
How long have you been working on your app?
And: How come such a thing popped up in your mind?
We worked on the app for about 9 months, but that did of course not mean that I was involved every day. It was amazing how well Mirada worked on MirrorWorld without me. I suspect they all had been living behind the Mirror for years, when we met! As for how the project popped up in my mind - it didn't. My German publishers had suggested app-projects to me, but the concepts were the traditional app, a few games, a classic illustrated design... It did not really tempt me. But then I met Mathew Cullen at a party of my friend Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Matt is one of the founders of Mirada and when he showed me the studio and all the miraculous things they create I knew I want to work with them - on whatever they would suggest. So Matt said: let's do an app, but a kind of app nobody has ever experienced. They for sure kept that promise. The result is even more magical than what I had hoped for.
You wrote several stories especially for your MirrorWorld app. Can you tell us something about what we may expect? Is it "Reckless revisited" or "Reckless reloaded", or is it writing and reading revolutionized?
I see MirrorWorld as a digital travel guide to the realm behind the Mirror.
I love the thought that readers of the book press their hand on the iPad from time to time to just be at Chanute's Inn, read about the different species of Ogres, find out about a poisonous plant or a dirty fencing trick from the book we hid there or watch a man falling in love with a Fairy - or turning into a Goyl.
We created the experience in a way that you can enjoy it without knowing the books, but if you do, it hopefully answers many questions you have and makes you see the world as vividly in your head as I see it.
Do you think that your app has something in common with the book as it used to be in earlier times – the middle ages, renaissance and also the 19th century? Illustration was commonly used alongside texts then.
Yes! That was a very surprising result! I hadn't expected that the quality of the illustrations Mirada created would be so breathtaking that they do remind of the great illustrators of the 19th century. And yes, there are elements of book illustration that echo even from the middle ages. It is very hard for publishers nowadays to print coloured illustration, and it would have been impossible for me to convince even my most passionate publishers to print the images Mirada created for „The Yearning“ or for „One for Other“... or for the Botanical Guide to MirrorWorld. Of course we all hope, as everything is handmade, that all this art will one day also be on paper!
What do you like most - regarding the cooperation with Mirada? Regarding the illustrations?
The music? The stories?
Their level of brilliance. It is never a compromise as it is so often in a collaboration.
It is always about pushing each other to a level we couldn't achieve without each others' inspiration and skills.
At Mirada they always aim for the stars, which I love. We can do better. That's the motto. And yes, we can.
You read some of the stories aloud. Was that very difficult for you? Or a thrill? Does it make you feel your stories even more?
When Mathew Cullen told me, that he wants me to read most of the stories, as I am the storyteller, I was at first nervous about my German accent and my lack of experience when it comes to recording, especially in English. But both Mathew and David Fowler, who edited the stories for the visual experiences and wrote the brilliant Fencing Manual proved to be brilliant audio directors and gave me the confidence to try this. I admit that yes, I did like my reads when I heard them, and yes, the experience made me feel my stories even more than by just writing them.
One of the stories – "The Yearning" – is about very special and at the same time very common emotions of a witch: Are you a witch yourself? Or why is that the story you like most?
I think it is my best writing so far.
My German editor made a similar comment. I could be more poetic than in the prose of the books and I loved the short form. The motive of the story is a brilliant example for how the collaboration with Mirada works - Mathew Cullen gave me the idea that it is dangerous for a witch to eat too old a child and from there it was only one step further to wondering what happens when they are too young. The story for me is also a story about the overwhelming love a woman feels for her child and how much this experience changes us all forever.
An additional motive is of course the pain of a woman who can't give birth although she longs for it.
Who are the children reading the "Child Eating Witch Recipes"?
Both I and the Miradas asked all our friends, whether they would be comfortable with their offspring reading such gruelling recipes. Most of them loved the idea and the children were brilliant behind the microphone.
Which recipes have you tried out yourself?
As I am the worst cook on this wild and wonderful planet I left that task to the Miradas.
Which ogre do you fear most?
Or are you fearless after all?
I think I am most frightened of the Chanting Ogre. But yes, I am quite fearless. Except when it comes to riding a bycicle or jumping into deep water!
Andy, do you have a favourite character in the book Reckless or in one of the stories?
There is a saying that story is the most important element. You go to an experience for the story. BUT you go BACK to see what happened to the characters. I have many favorite characters from the stories. They are the ones that I want to return to and find out more about. A couple of them:
The Tailor (Reckless), Robert Louis Denbar (Fearless), Djinn (Dragon Rider), Sorrel (Dragon Rider)
You are developing transmedia narrative with Mirada. What does that mean?
I oversee cross-platform and nontraditional storytelling projects.
I specialized in developing narrative for film, interactive and digital where each platform and experience makes a unique contribution to the greater story rather than simply adapting it.
Transmedia is a process where integral elements of a fiction are systematically dispersed across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified coordinated entertainment experience, ideally, each medium makes its own unique contribution to the unfolding story.
Can you describe how you are working and which steps you take in order to bring a story to life, to make it move, sound?
We begin with the concept and focus on what we want the audience to take away in the end. How much do we want to show them or which senses do we want to use and how much will be left to the imagination? We then move to concept design and flesh out the look and feel of the experience. We then role through design and production for all of the details, textures, etc. In post production we make those pieces work exactly as we want them.
The final development (if needed) is used to program the elements.
Mirada is sometimes referred to as an imaginarium? How does it look like where you are working – a huge office, all clean, or rather creative chaos, countless computers, ...?
We are in a wide open and very collaborative environment. Each of our workstations is designed so that any type of artist can have their system moved to work with other artists. In this way, a project may have a sculptor, an illustrator, a 3D character animator, an architect, and a programmer all sitting next to each other. Our space fits about 300 artists with other areas for overflow and temporary workspace. The best way to explain the imaginarium is that we are a perpetual think tank. Creative ideas flow through production as seamlessly as possible. At one end of the building is a constant supply of coffee and caffeine.
You bring together old crafts and modern technology. But isn't the most important ingredient a good story?
We have a saying that there is nothing that will bring down a bad product like good marketing. We think of it the same way with story. There is nothing that will bring down a project faster than having a weak story. Story is, without a doubt, the most important ingredient and often the hardest to perfect, if there is such a thing. It is all about building tension and release. Technology will only become a spectacle if there is no tension.
Who is Sir Willard Wallace III? And: Choose a weapon!
Sir Willard Wallace III is a man of great accomplishment through technique and through processes rather than athletic ability. Many study the style, few perfect it because they think they need to rely on their physical attributes. If you find yourself in a fight in flamboyant gentleman's garb, its better to be prepared with a few simple steps than to dirty one's knees. My weapon? It's easier to just take yours.
Which ogre do you fear most? Or are you fearless after all?
Ogres are like the ocean. They must be respected not feared lest you freeze when you hear the whispers of the whispering ogre behind your ear.
Thank you, Cornelia and Andy, and keep having fun bringing stories to life together.
Interview and photos: Michael Orth