Ink Robin was born in 2011 when a group of three friends—Tim Penner, Joanna Rivard and Matt Rivard—decided it would be fun to make an app for the royal wedding (Will & Kate). Their debut created enough positive buzz, and the trio enjoyed the process so much, they decided to get a bit more serious about app making. A little more than a year later, there are two more books on Ink Robin’s virtual “bookshelf”—Leonard and Piccadilly’s Circus—both of which received Kirkus stars (see all of the children’s apps that made our Best Apps of 2012 list). And the fledgling company is showing no signs of slowing down. Two more storybook apps are slated to release before year’s end, with more in production for spring 2013. Joanna recently spoke with Kirkus about the company’s creative process and the unique challenges that they’ve faced along the way.

Were all of you in other jobs and one day just said, “Hey… this is kind of cool, let’s try this?”

Essentially, yes. We go back a long way, and I think that helped because we knew each others’ strengths and that we’d be a good fit for each other. Tim is the only person who is full-time for Ink Robin; he left a job in animation to start this. My background is in writing, and Matt’s background is in business, so we had a sense that the three of us together just had the right skill set.

 

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What does your typical workflow look like?

We’ll write together, and then Tim will collate all of the artwork, do the page layouts, the fonts, everything visual. And then we pull the narration and sound effects together before sending it off to the developer.

So it goes to the developer with very specific instructions on how things are to fit together?Piccadilly's Circus

Yes. This sound effect is attached to this character, and this piece of narration fits on this page. It’s very painstaking and involves lots of versions of characters so that we can bring them to life.

Piccadilly’s Circus functions much like a traditional pop-up book. Was that intentional?

That’s the feel that we were going for. When we started out, we said, “Let’s make books on the iPad that feel like you’re reading a book.” We wanted it to feel like a pop-up book that had little tabs and things on it that you could maneuver within the book, that it was somehow a tactile experience. But we didn’t want it to feel like an animated short film. That’s the neutral ground that we’re always looking for.

How did you get the idea for this story?

In this case we knew we wanted it to be a circus story, and the funniest thing we could come up with was a group argument. And then we thought it would be really fun if there were a tiny bit of moral to the story, inasmuch as [the characters] realize that it’s probably best if they stick to what they’re good at. We decide what happens page by page; we don’t actually finalize our text until the very end. So we don’t send a completed manuscript to an illustrator; it’s quite an organic process, which has evolved with us as we’ve gone along. That isn’t how we did Will and Kate, but it’s how we now do our books, and it works well for us.

You’re a young company, but you’ve been quite successful so far. Is there a certain philosophy that’s driven your efforts?

We really were excited by the iPad and tablets in general, and the potential that they give for bringing a story to life. But what we really care about is a good story—at the end of the day we think that’s what matters the most. And we think that a story should be able to stand up on its own. Although the interactive features are fun and essential to what we do, they really should be there to enhance the story; they shouldn’t detract from it.

Many developers are adapting popular traditional books rather than creating original stories. Is adaptation something Ink Robin is interested in?

We love writing original stories. I actually think it’s harder to adapt an existing book for the iPad and do it really well than it is to write something from scratch.

Why is that?

I think it has everything to do with the interactivity. You sometimes find that you’re forcing an interactive moment onto an existing illustration, just for the sake of it. Not every book will work in that way. So [adaptation] absolutely can be done, and there are some lovely examples out there, but I think it’s actually a greater challenge. We would never say no if someone came to us with a book we loved and asked us to adapt it. But I think what we do best is creating things from scratch.