This beautifully illustrated storybook is also an app

Illustrator Renan Porto's upcoming app gives the children's story a modern twist.

Renan Porto designed and wrote The Wide World, an upcoming story for the digital age that still celebrates the tradition and beauty of a simple children’s story with its hand-drawn feel and old-world design. 

Readers can interact through sound, touch and animation - and also follow what Renan calls a ‘double narrative’. Holding the device in portrait tells the familiar story of a mother and son facing trouble, but tilting it sideways gives the narrative a twist, revealing the incredible, silent creatures living among them. 

Renan tells me the tale behind such a clever, simple idea and its equally elegant design – and how what started as a project for the Brazilian illustrator’s graphic design course evolved into a marketable app brimming with tantalisingly soft and colourful illustrations.

Mimi Launder: How did you get the idea for The Wide World?

Renan Porto: “I’ve always been a great fan of storytelling and wanted to work with that, so that was my starting point: I was going to tell a story. I’ve chosen one of the many script ideas I’d been collecting along the years and went to the next step, which was thinking of a way to make the story interesting from a design point of view.”

ML: Why did you decide to create the book as an app?

RP: “I think the main benefit of mobile is that it allows interaction, and that was what attracted me the most. By interaction, I don’t mean only buttons, animations and sounds. I think the tablet can actually recreate the way a story is told as a whole. 

“The ‘double narrative’ means the reader can absorb two perspectives on the same story, and have a broader interpretation of what has been read. That’s the kind of thing only an interactive platform would allow, even though it’s such a simple interaction.”

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ML: What challenges did you face creating the app?

RP: “I had literally no experience in creating apps before starting this project, so everything seemed like a challenge at first. My professors definitely helped a lot with that, as they introduced me to specific software and websites that would help me along the process. Anyway I spent a lot of time reading, doing a lot of research, and little by little I realised creating an app was not as complicated as I once imagined.”

ML: How did you develop the illustration style?

RP: “That took some time, as I find it really hard to stick to a single style. I started by collecting references from my favourite artists in an attempt to come up with a style that would gather what I find most appealing about each of them and that, at the same time, would be something of my own. I spent a few months making studies, then came up with the preliminary appearance of each character and started making final illustrations to get previews of how things would look in the end.

“When I got confident enough about the style I had developed, the next step was to create a style guide containing the final appearance of each character, their expressions, the different environments they would be placed in, as well as the basic guidelines for colour palettes, rendering, composition, etc. I think that was very important to make the story visually consistent, and to keep me from changing things along the way.”

ML: How did you develop the characters’ appearances?

RP: “I came with accurate proportions and complex shapes, but soon I started to feel they were too little iconic, and that perhaps a more cartoonish style would be the best option. That was a hard decision, as I’m really not used to draw cartoon. So I made more studies, got a bit frustrated a couple of times, but learned a lot in the process.

“The first character I came up with was Daniel, an energetic, playful seven-year-old boy that one day falls into a deep and mysterious sleep.”

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RP: “Then came Angela, Daniel’s mother. She’s a young and independent woman, who’s also very kind and joyful. I made a lot of research on vintage clothing, as the story happens somewhere in the past, and Angela is very connected to fashion."

RP: "Finally, came Plato, the family’s watchdog. This was the greatest challenge of all, as dogs are really out of my comfort zone, so I had to make a lot of sketches once again to figure out how he would look. He ended up as a bloodhound with a lazy face.

“Once I had the main characters, I designed the main villain and the other support characters. That part was more fun, as those were fantastic characters that could look like nearly anything.”

ML: What message did you want to get across with the story and its illustrations? 

RP: “If you keep your device in Portrait mode, you’ll get the mother’s point of view, which I call 'Narrow'. This is a more realistic perspective, where everything is exactly what it seems. If you keep your device on Landscape mode, you’ll get the son’s point of view, called 'Wide'. This is a metaphysical view on the world, where ethereal creatures live among humans and secretly affect their lives.

“The concept of parallel dimensions and different ways to see reality is something that has always fascinated me, so I really wanted to portray that in this project. At the same time, I like to represent all kinds of feelings in my illustrations, and I find the love between mother and child to be one the most powerful things.

"So I connected all that in a single story about a love so strong it could break through dimensions, and that’s basically what The Wide World is about, in a subtle way.”

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For more details of how Renan created The Wide World, see his blog and Behance.