Who loves optical toys? Pop-up books, 3D imagery, dioramas, flip-books, optical illusions – all that kinda stuff that takes traditional illustrations and presents them in a novelty way? Hands up! Then let me tell you about this art project I’ve been working on.

Once, David Blumenstein told me about whispers from the east, of a nameless one who was creating some kind of pop-up book simulator. A mysterious piece of software for the iphone, where you basically slide a horizontal slider on-screen and moving the slider causes an image to move from one part of the screen to the other. He needed artists to create content for it too. I was enticed and soon got in touch with Stewart Haines, creator of this so-called Picklet application and went to meet him a cafe so I could ask him why the hell he was programming something so weird and could I please, please, please have a look and see if maybe I could draw something for it.

Stewart was there already, with his laptop open, ready to show me his app. He has made an editor, exporter and a demo and he talked me through it. His script creates a template Photoshop file, containing the correct dimensions for an iphone screen. You then place your own graphics in there, arranging the layers a certain way which you then export as you work on it. The files are all shared and uploaded via dropbox, which the online editor can access. The editor is where you tell all the graphics how to move when the slider is slid!

He explained that it was to be kept very basic. There wasn’t to be any sound, animation or interactivity – just slide the slider across with your finger and your images move and rotate (if you like) from one point in the screen to the other. You can then progress to the next screen, or page, where sliding the slider will move an image on the next page and so on. The image can be anything you like, moving text, characters – anything you can draw. Alpha channels (transparency) are supported, so a face can pop up behind a window for example, or you can have semi-transparent layers like cellophane. He apologised for the then-slightly buggy editor, which is what programmers do coz programming is tricky and things always crash as soon as you show someone else -seriously.

My design for Buffallo Slobber, the ATM robber when I thought I’d draw the whole book, before I realised I only had two arms.

Pop-up books were so fun as a kid. I was never a fan of the ones that simply unfold as you open them – rather, I loved the ones that had little tabs that made things move, and wheels that turned and doors that opened. This is much more like what Picklet does.

So we said seeya, both our brains alive with cool stuff we had to do for the next couple of months. On the tram home the possibilities began to flood in. What if you could draw a bunch of space invaders in ball-point pen and watch them zip across the screen and have a moving, hand-drawn computer game-style story? What about scanning real art painted on cardboard so it was even more authentic? Maybe I could do something with my comic dioramas! Would I use a cartoon style? Photos of sculpted models? Black & White or colour? Copics? Paint pens?

What if you can split up an image into components and create intricate parralax scrolling scenes? Too many possibilities is stressful. I am glad he decided to make it such a simple app. Before I got home I had decided a few things. My picklet book would:

  • be about cowboys, allowing me to draw lots of wooden things,
  • be comprised of horizontally scrolling panoramas with an awesome parralax effect,
  • be written in rhyme,
  • have one scene where a man would fly across a saloon and land head first in a spittoon,
  • have a cowboy who robbed ATM machines.

So I decided to write and draw a five chapter story, each chapter about a crazy bandit. Then I decided to make it a three chapter story. Then I decided to only draw one chapter, and beg local pals and sick artists Arran McKenna and Jase Harper to draw the other two. Seriously, I’ll do whatever you don’t want to! Honest, you don’t have to work that hard! Really! That’s what I said. They agreed and I set a deadline and went into manager mode and bugged them every day and didn’t even feel guilty about it.

Look! I submitted rough drafts of the whole chapters to Jase and Arran, which they drew, inked and coloured! This is one page from Buffallo Slobber the ATM Robber, drawn by Jase.

The spittoon, with the gob that will eventually be flying into it. One of the few shots that have movement instead of just still scrolling.

Gorgeous, eh? Ho ho! And it is a gorge. As you can see, the shot is a wide, panoramic view. The iphone has a portrait sized screen, so you will only be able to see a portion of the panorama at first, but it will scroll to the left as you slide the slider. We start at the left, with the character mullin’ over an idea, then we pan across the valley, finally coming to rest on a shot of some grazing buffalo. See those three layers of rocks on the left half of the screen? Them and all the objects in the scene are seperate, so that they can scroll at different rates, creating a nice, 3D parralax effect – more like panning across a diorama than a flat drawing.

That’s all for now on this project. It’s pretty big I guess, and is getting close to finishing. Next time, I’ll hopefully show you some of Arran’s work-in-progress which looks incredible, and maybe some more cool shots.

Don’t forget to friend me on Twitter or Facebook so I can keep you updated on any workshops or presentations or launch parties or new posts regarding this epic cowboy tale!

Here’s a puritan trying to relax with a train driver.