Once upon a time, I embarked on a crazy adventure to create a fully GIF animated ebook version of Maren Uthaug’s graphic novel The Bright Side. This is the story of the process and what I learned on my way.
Seeing the Potential
As the e-book production manager at the publishing house Lindhardt og Ringhof, my job is to decide the optimal format for digitization of the books. One day the graphic novel Den lyse side (the Danish title for The Bright Side) by Maren Uthaug landed on my table. I started flipping through it, trying to figure out which digital format would suit this particular publication.
My inner dialog went something like this:
Flip Flip Flip.
“Unusual page size … so it needs to be a fixed layout EPUB”. Flip Flip Flip.
“Hmmm, there is something more to be gained here.” Flip Flip Flip.
“Hahaha, some of the drawings almost come alive when I flip … like a flip book.” Flip Flip Flip.
“Oh, my! We have to animate this book. It would be awesome!”
And thus the idea of an animated version sprung from the book itself, and my mind swiftly started working on elaborating the concept.
Developing the prototype I went through a couple of animation techniques before I found the one that fit the feel of a “flip book”. It had to be simple and fit the Uthaug’s drawing style, and animated GIFs would be ideal for this purpose.
I strung a prototype together from the pages that had inspired me and ran down the yellow brick road of the collaboration to show the concept to the editor, Sune de Souza Schmidt-Madsen. He jumped on board the quest right away and we then pitched it to the author and convinced her of the project as well … and off we went on our journey.
The Level of Animation
Next up we had to figure out, how animated the animations should be.
The cheapest and easiest version would be a very simple form, where only the pages, which already created the flip book effect, were animated. Each animation in this scenario would only be made of the preexisting material without having to add additional frames.
But my rough prototype had already shown us the limitations of the simple approach, and we quickly realized that this form was not ideal. We had to animate the entire book to create a truly animated GIF universe. And the animations had to be more complicated than a few frames to capture the life that was within the characters.
Can We Afford it?
Now that we were set on creating a more complicated version, we had to figure out the financial side of the project. So we contacted a graphic designer to get a price for the animation job.
And that was when the project was almost canceled!
Enhanced e-books are not (yet) a lucrative format, and the production cost would be astronomical compared to the estimated income.
But I was too hooked on the project just to see it disappear. So I offered to make the animated GIFs myself. And thus I commenced on a real fool hearted passion project, where I animated like a madman in the evenings. It was an exciting and challenging work and seeing Uthaug’s characters come to life brought me much joy and lots of laughter.
Looking back at the process it is clear that the estimated cost would have been exceeded many times over. The GIFs were in no way done in the first, second or third attempt due to three significant challenges, which I call:
1) The Goldilocks Situation
2) The “Do I Need to Repeat Myself” Situation
3) The “Don’t Go Bovie on Me” Situation.
Challenge 1: The Goldilocks Situation
From the prototype, we already knew, that a version, which only used the frames provided by the original material, would be too crude. Choosing a few of the most central animations, I started experimenting with the level of detail in the movement that should be added to the characters.
It became a real Goldilocks situation. Too many details and we cried, “This animation is too animated!” – As in that, the characters moved too realistic compared to the spirit of Uthaug’s drawings. Too little and we yelled, “This animation is too crude!” – As in that the animations looked unfinished or became comical in a way that took the focus away from the plot. So I went back and forth until I finally found the level of detail where we all could say, “This animation is just right!”
Challenge 2: Do I Need to Repeat Myself?
The next challenge was how the GIFs should behave. Should they play only once? Repeat three times and stop? Or play forever?
Some of the GIFs had a circular plot where it was optimal to let them repeat indefinitely. But other had limitations. For example in one, a fish dies in the last few frames, and if it repeated without any hint to the recurrence, it would suddenly be alive again. And furthermore, when would the viewer know it was time to turn the page?
The idea of no repeat was quickly discarded since the reader would have to flip back and forth to restart the GIF if they did not catch the gif in the first run. We then tried with a three times loop, to give the GIFs a definitive ending. But some GIFs were too long for this approach. We sought to apply the timing, which fitted each GIF the best, but this made it impossible for the reader to figure out the book’s “system.”
In the end, we realized that they all had to repeat forever. To ensure that the reader knew where the ending was, we added a “the-GIF-is-about-to-loop” icon. Finding the right icon was another laborious process, but in the end, we found a simple animated arrow to be the best solution. The arrow gives a clear message, and at the same time, it is not too distracting from the GIFs themselves. For the shortest GIFs, we let the GIFs repeat multiple times before the arrow appear, based on the approximate time it takes a reader to get a full understanding of the animation.
Challenge 3: Don’t Go Bovie on Me
The biggest challenge with the project was to find the right balance to ensure that the e-book still felt as literature. In the first version, I only combined a few pages into GIFs at the time. This approach gave the book a fragmented feel to it. We, therefore, decided to merge multiple GIFs into longer GIFs so an entire “story” could be told in a single GIF. This approach, however, made it feel more like a “Bovie” – my nickname for a movie placed in a book.
Finding the correct balance for each GIF was puzzling. It was a long process based on looking for the right timing for the plot (especially with regards to the jokes) and on various explorations splitting GIFs up and merging them again in different ways.
The Curveball – Let’s Go Global
When the e-book was almost finished, and the publication date was set in stone, we got another crazy idea. Why not publish it in English and make it available in all iBooks Stores as well? And why not publish it simultaneously with the Danish release?
With only a few months to get it all together, we rushed to create the English version. Thanks to the translator Misha Hoekstra’s quick reaction time and to some more late nights on my part we succeeded. In October 2015, we could proudly present both the Danish and English version of the e-book at the same time.
After almost a year and about 50 hours of animation work, the quest was over, and we had finally managed to get our passion project GIF book out on the market. I honestly think it is a brilliant product … well, of course, I do, since I made it. But hear me out. It is an enhanced e-book based on a great graphic novel with an excellent plot. The animated GIFs have given life to the characters in a way that supports the content without distorting it. And personally I think that the format has given the story an extra dimension, and I hope others will think so too and say, “This animated ebook is just right!” The entire adventure was exciting and a great learning experience. And sometimes in the evening, I miss seeing characters come to life frame by frame.
And now there is only left to show you a few examples of the animated GIFs:
A week or so ago I went to Blick to buy art supplies, and there I stumbled upon some amazing watercolor pencils (they can be used as regular color pencils, but you can add water afterward to turn them into watercolor). I feel head in love with them and thought they were perfect to give new life to my travel journal, which colors I had lately found to be too dull. The keen observer might have noticed that the last pages that I posted looked different, well that is because of those colors. I ended up repainting all the pages in the travel journal. The archive of the travel journal, which can be seen here, has been updated with the repainted version. Below you can see a comparison between the pages before and after I repainted them. Personally, I love the new vibrant colors. The new versions are the ones to the right.
I made this drawing while practicing getting the proportions right in drawings. It’s based on a statue of the torso of Diomedes (see photo Torso of Diomedes) and is drawn with graphite pencils and colored in Photoshop.
An A folded into a book that had roughly cut pages. It was a bit of an experiment since I had no idea what the effect would be when the edge of the pages were not even. It did get a more jacket and rough look, which was what I hoped for, but it was hard to make the letter stand out clearly. I still like the feel that it gives to the book origami, but maybe I will choose a simpler shape next time I go for a book with roughly cut pages.
There is a short story behind this abstract drawing. I work at a large publishing house, and we are now closing down a book archive. Most of the books will be digitalized and made as e-books while others will find new homes in private collections or elsewhere. Amongst the books in this archive, I found quite a gem. A beautiful bound book, which claims to be Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead (Kun den stærke er fri in Danish), but which in reality contained all blank pages:
I’m not a fan of Ayn Rand, but this is the most magnificent sketch book I have ever had. I used a lot of time contemplating on what I should draw in it, and this morning I finally decided. I want this to be the book in which I start to draw freely, without thinking too much about it and without having a specific subject or motive. So the above drawing is the first one in the book. An image born while enjoying the sunshine and thinking of nothing.
A new year calls for a new hobby! This time I have chosen to start doing book origami, which is a technique where shapes are created on the book’s fore edge by folding the pages. Below are my first two projects:
For the M-book, I used an old French version of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Huis clos, which I had struggled to read while I studied Comparative Literature. At the present time, I doubt that I will ever read a book in French again (Italian is my favorite language right now). I would, however, love to keep the book in my library because it contains my notes and is a reminder of my youth. But there is always a danger that such a relic will end up in the bin in a careless cleaning moment. So maybe it deserves a second life as book art. For this reason, I decided that book origami would be the perfect way to preserve it, and … Voilà, my first origami book.
The Heart Book
I made the second book as a gift to a colleague who just launched a love book imprint at the publishing house, where I work. The imprint is called LOVEBOOKS and to keep the romantic vibe I created a heart shape in a Danielle Steel novel. A fun little detail about this book: the folding also creates a heart shape on the top edge, as seen below. It is in fact a double heart … can it be more romantic?
This is an animated gif illustrating the phrase “bootstrapping”, that is “to pull yourself up by your bootstraps”. The phrase is used to describe an impressive task performed without any help from the outside. I mean, just try to imagine what it would take for you to pull yourself off the ground just by pulling your bootstraps!
And yes, I know the girl in the gif doesn’t use the shoelaces to pull herself off the ground. But, you see, it is in a way a self-portrait, and since my beloved shoes do not have bootstraps, it had to be the shoelaces instead. But the point is still the same. I would be so awesome if you could actually do that in real life, right?
Well, hope you like it. And here is the comic behind the gif:
After our visit to the Capitoline Museum, it was late afternoon. We had booked tickets for a tour of the Colosseum at night, so we now just had to wait around in the area and find some food. We first went into the Monti area and took a rest at the café 2 Periodico Caffè, a very nice place where we had some chilled white wine and chips. We then went for a Guinness at the Irish pub Finnegans (it is our tradition to always have a Guinness on all our trips).
We then went to Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli, primarily to see Michelangelo’s horned version of Moses. The Moses statue, which was created in 1505, shows an untraditional Moses with two small horns sticking out of his head. Showing Moses with horns stems from a mistranslation of a passage in the Bible, where Moses has light coming out from his head. In the wrong translation, the light became horns instead. It is widely believed that Michelangelo was well aware of the error but that he chose to depict him with horns anyway. But why? Well, I did not figure it out, but I did make a quick sketch, as can be seen on the right.
We had dinner at Hostaria da Nerone, where I had a lovely Saltimbocca. Under the meal, we could hear distant music, which later turned out to be from the Roman Pride Parade.
After dinner we went down to the Colosseum for our late night tour, beautifully named “La luna sul Colosseo.” It was an exceptional experience to be in the Colosseum after all the other tourists have gone. We were a small group of about 10 people and the only other people were a few other groups of the same size. The tour itself was very informative and gave one a great feel of the place’s former glory. For instance, the information that the building of the Colosseum was funded by the loot from the siege of Jerusalem, linking this building to Arco di Tito, which we had seen earlier that day, which depicts the victory over Jerusalem and the loot being carried off. During the entire tour, we could hear the music from the Pride Parade in the distance, with an intense bass rumbling through the building. The ruin was, by the way, also beautifully lighted.
After the tour we went over to the Ludus Magnus on the other side of the street, which is the ruins of the gladiator school. Right next to we finally saw the Pride Parade that we had heard all evening. So for a short while we danced to the beat and joined the joy, but then we had to stop because our tired feet were shouting and we were feeling tired. We went on our way back home only stopping on the way for a final drink at Barnum.
It was Sunday and we were going home. We had our last colazione at the B&B, brought to us by the sweet Amy, who also made a great dish for us with scrambled eggs with cheese. We had asked our landlady to order a driver for us, so as soon as we stepped out of the front door the driver was ready. So finishing with the same luxury as we started with, we were driven to the airport. In the airport, we had our last Roman snack of lovely mozzarella di Buffalo, and then we were on our way back to Copenhagen. … Already missing the lovely Rome.
We reached Forum Romanum early Saturday morning, but it was already steaming hot in the sun. Forum Romanum and Palatino was amazing, but it is so hard to say anything clever about the visit, because it is rather hard to fathom. Ruin after ruin, with an amazing feel of history … and the feeling of getting quite lost in it. Casa delle Vestali stands out in Forum Romanum with its haunting beauty with its broken statues between rose bushes. Arco di Tito is also amazing, especially the images depicting Titus’ victory over Jerusalem in 70AD, where the soldiers carry out the loot including a Jewish menorah. Walking down Via Sacra also gives one a peculiar feeling watching all the impressive remnants of the former impressive buildings now only fathomable through the fragmented ruins.
When we reached the Stadio on Palatino as the last monument on our tour, we were exhausted beyond expression. We, therefore, rested for a while in the shadow of some trees while we watched a very lovely pigeon sleeping.
But we had to pull ourselves together for there was still much to see that day. Next up was the Capitoline Museum. Another amazing place. But although the museum’s treasures awaited us, we started out by visiting the museums café for some lunch and a well deserved cold beer. You can use the café without buying a ticket. It is located on the right side of the Palazzo dei Conservatori.
The Musei Capitolini, as the museum is called in English, is placed in two of the three palazzo on Piazza di Campidoglio. The piazza is beautiful in its own right with an equestrian statue of Marus Aurelius in the middle flanked by the three beautiful palazzo and the Cordonata staircase on the front leading down to Piazza d’Ara Coeli. The museum entrance is in Palazzo dei Conservatori on the right side when seen from the top of the staircase. A tunnel under the piazza then leads the museum visitors under the Piazza and over in Palazzo dei Nuovo on the left side of the piazza. Straight ahead is Palazzo Senatorio, which houses the Rome’s city council. On the day of our visit there was a demonstration in front of this Palazzo and the café was filled with tired protesters taking a rest and eagerly debating the issue, whatever it was.
The first thing you meet when you go into the museum is the remnants of the once 12m-high statue of Constantine scattered around the inner courtyard. A left hand here, a right foot there, then a knee and a head. You get a feeling of Constantine being an imperial version of Humpty Dumpty, who just needs to be put back together again.
Inside the museum is many great pieces of art, which are placed in some amazing surroundings. They had a special Michelangelo exhibition, which was fine, but it was the permanent exhibition that really amazed. The main event was of course Lupa Capitolina, the bronze statue of the Capitoline wolf with Romulus and Remus from the 5th century. The wolf is astonishing. Especially the way the hair is made. A piece of the statue on the back has broken off, which reveals how thin and crisp the bronze is, making the work even more enticing. The figures of Romulus and Remus, which were also first added in 1471, are less impressive in comparison. Another notable work was Spinario, another amazing bronze statue of a boy removing a thorn from his foot (also note the room it is in, beautiful). I was looking forward to seeing Bernini’s Medusa, but that was, unfortunately, not on display at the time.
In a rather beautiful modern wing with lots of light and air stands Esedra di Marco Aurelio, the original version of the equestrian statue from Piazza di Capidoglio. In this room we took a little break, and I made a quick sketch of the statue, as seen to the right.
After all had been viewed in Palazzo dei Conservatori, we went down into the tunnel that leads to the other building. Ancient tombs are on display in the tunnel, and it also gives you access to the Tabularium, where you have some of the best view over Forum Romanum.
In Palazzo Nuovo were more amazing items, with the main attraction being Galata Morente, the amazing bronze statue of a dying Gaul, and Venere Capitolina.
You can read more about day 7 and the rest of the trip in my next post …
After a day of relaxation and a long rest at the B&B, we went out into the streets of Rome in the evening. Our landlady had recommended that we go see the sunset over Rome from the Pincio Hill, so that was where we were heading. But when we came to Piazza del Popolo we were surprised to find out that the entire square had been transformed into a concert venue. At one end was a large platform and on the rest of the square there had been placed seats for the audience. So it had been the preparations for this show that had blocked our view over the famous piazza a few days before. Now it was filled to the brim with people and there was a spectacular light show, which among other used the surrounding buildings to make magnificent color tableaus – just imagine the twin churches colored all in blue and then changing to red. It was beautiful and very dramatic. The concert itself was in celebration of Bicentenario dell’Arma dei Carabinieri, that is the 200-year anniversary of the Italian national military police. The concert included a variety of performances of classical pieces and a few modern like Sinatra’s My Way mixed in between speeches.
We went up to Pincio Hill as planned and watched the sun go down, with this amazing concert as the backdrop. Quite a magical moment. And then we went down to observe the concert more closely.
But after a while our stomachs growled to loudly of hunger, so we had to leave the concert. We hoped to have the opportunity to revisit Al Gran Sasso, and we were in luck: they were open and had just one free table left. So we dived down in their delicious dishes one again. We started with some great calamari. Then Ole had apasta, and I went for both funghi and patata fritta. Uhmmmmmmm. Oh, how I wish I could eat there every night.
Afterwards, we could hardly stand; we were that full. Blissfully we tumbled back home and watched Spise med Price (a Danish cooking show) on the iPad until we fell into a deep sleep.
It was our last full day in Rome, and the plan was to hit the big 3 of ancient Rome: Forum Romanum/Palatino, the Capitoline Museum and the Colosseum. So we packed gallons of water, put on hat and sun lotion and went out for the last sightseeing conquest.
We headed for Forum Romanum first browsing shortly in Fori Imperiali on the way. You can read more about my visit to the Forum Romanum and the rest of day 7 in my next post …
It was late afternoon on our 5th day in Rome, and we were heading back into the center of Rome, after a busy day visiting both the catacombs, Via Appia Antica and Terme di Caracalla. Just a short walk from the ruins of the Roman baths the Palatine Hill came into view towering over Circo Massimo. In ancient time the hill had been the locations for wealthy Romans’s and emperors’ residences, with some having the view over the chariot racing stadium known as Circus Maximus (meaning the largest circus). In Italian, it is known as Circo Massimo. There is not much left of the old stadium, but its form is preserved, so you still get a clear feel of the size – truly maximus.
We jumped into Cristalli di Zucchero in Via di San Teodoro 88for a quick refreshment. They serve the most adorable, beautiful and tasteful mini pastries (just look at these mouthwatering pictures). It is a must if you are in the area.
Then it was back to our room at Maison D’art for a shower and dressing up for the night, for we had booked tickets for a classical piano concert. We started the evening with some relaxation time with a cool Peroni at a café in the Jewish Ghetto, followed by some kosher dishes at Nonna Betta. Then it was off to the concert. It was originally supposed to be held in the Teatro di Marcello, but the organizers had some issue with getting the licensing in order, so the concert was moved next door to Chiesa di San Nicola in Carcere. Before the concert, there was a small historical introduction about the theater, given on the church porch so we had a view over the ruin. Then the concert began with the pianist and composer Marco Lo Muscio playing Emerson, Satie, Debussy, Jarrett, Barber, Hackett as well as his own compositions. It was a beautiful concert. Although it was not in the theater as expected, the setting in the church was still perfect for creating a special atmosphere. I couldn’t stop myself from doodling a little bit during the concert to capture the moment as you can see below. And, as you can also see on the picture, I also got his autograph after the concert. While we talked to him, we also found out that he was actually playing an organ concert in a church right next to where we live in Copenhagen on July 30th. So maybe we will see him again soon.
After the concert, we went for more food in the Jewish Ghetto, visiting the lovely and very busy Sora Margherita. This place is great, so I’ll recommend going there for a taste of this areas special cooking. For a compare their version of the area’s famous dish carciofi alla guidia (fried artichoke) was a million times better than at Nonna Betta (But to be honest, when it comes to artichokes my favorite dish will always be alla Romana as served at Alfredo e Ada (you can read about that here)).
We spend the rest of the evening strolling through the lovely streets in Centro Storico, just breathing in the atmosphere. And when the legs started to fail after all these days marching all over Rome we dug into the soothing oasis called Barnum Cafe. It is one of those lovely places that feels hip and homey at the same time, and it instantly became our favorite café in Rome. We ordered some cocktails, and they were amazing. The waiter got my order wrong, but it did not matter a bit because he had chosen something that sounded more amazing than what I ordered. So what I got was a Corpse reviver. I have never tried that and don’t remember what was in it besides absinthe, but it was amazing. It also lived up to its name, for I was feeling rather worn and dead after all the sightseeing, and it made me live up again … at least for a few hours before I fell into deep sleep back at the B&B.
The only plan for Friday was to relax. The rest of our stay we were to live at the B&B’s other location on Via Giubbonari near Campo de’ Fiori, so in the morning we moved our luggage. The sweet lady from Maison d’Art helped walked with us to the new place. It was rather fun following a real Roman through the inner city traffic, seeing how she did not even blink when stepping out in front of a car and walking craze fully while Vespas were flying by from every direction. The new room was even nicer than the last one, so that was just great.
We then went for a walk along the Tiber River. There are quite a lot of not so sweet-smelling parts down by the river, but overall it was a very nice walk with some great views of the bridges and great street art.
For lunch we went Cul de Sac a long and narrow wine bar with a great wine list and some beautiful cold cuts and amazing cheese. Definitely worth a visit. It is right next to Piazza Navona, so it is a great place to go for an alternative instead of the Piazzas extremely pricey restaurants.
Afterwards, we spend a while on Piazza Navona, where I drew in my journal while Ole took photos. Then we went for a little snack at Chiostro del Bramante Caffè, which our landlady had recommended if we needed a break away from the busy Roman streets. The place is indeed perfect for a break being very dark and quiet. We had the most lovely torta al fragoline de bosco (cake with small wild strawberries) with our coffee. Ole also was brave enough to try out his coffee as caffè corretto, which is “a corrected coffee” in the sense that it is an espresso with liquor. It tasted awful to be honest, but maybe it was just because of their choice of liquor, which we could not identify. I have been told it can be better.
We then went back to the B&B for some more relaxation including a soak in the bathtub (with Pony Pop pop-corn and Peroni). We stayed there for a while building up new energy, and first went out again in the evening, but more of that in the next post …
We had lunch at Alfredo e Ada, the most adorable trattoria I think you can find in Centro Storico. There was no menu, the elderly waiter (Alfredo perhaps) instead sat down at out table and wrote down the day’s dishes on the tablecloth. I chose a carciofo alla romana, which was the most amazing version of an artichoke I have ever tried. Next time I’m in Rome I’m definitely going to drop by for another taste of that dish. I then had a chicken in lemon sauce, which again was outstanding. Great food and a great location if you want to feel an old-fashion stuck-in-time atmosphere.
We continued walking around in the streets and ended up at the Spada Palazzo where we saw their were nice museum and marveled over Francesco Borromini’s famous optical illusion of a passage that seems to be 25m long when it is, in fact, only 10m.
Then we revisited Trastevere and had a nice break at the Piazza Santa Maria. I sat on the base of the fountain drawing the below sketch while Ole took photographs of the fountains and the seagulls.
For dinner, we went to Pizzeria Da Remo in Testaccio, where we had the trips best pizza. You must go there for the food! But it is also worth noting that it is very interesting to visit Testaccio, which is a residential area, where you can get a feeling of how the modern Romans live.
On the evening stroll back to the hotel we passed by both Tempio di Ercole Vincitore, Tempio di Portunus and Teatro de Marcello. So just another stroll in Rome where you can’t walk ten feet without stumbling over some ancient treasure :)
It was Thursday, and we again had an early start (but thankfully not as early as Tuesday). We went to Piazza Venezia, where we took a bus out to the catacombs around Via Appia Antica. We visited Catacombe di Santa Domitilla, which was an amazing experience. We then had a stroll through the lovely gardens around Catacombe di San Callisto before we went out to explore Via Appia Antica.
We took the bus from Via Appia to go to Terme di Caracalla, the ruins of the Roman baths. This is an amazing place with an almost ridicules scale. The ruins are huge and give one the impression of a building that must have been as impressive to walk through as St. Pe