Hand illustration meets VR in children's book Tara's Locket

Hand illustration meets VR in children's book Tara's Locket

Design studio Big Motive has "had a great amount of interest" from publishers interested in applying their interactive VR experience to existing books.

The pitch

Tara’s Locket is a virtual reality storybook adventure for 5-7 year olds set in a hand-illustrated world. Inspired by the land and legends of Ireland’s North Atlantic coast, the experience allows kids to step into the story and help guide Tara through the magical landscape of Urah to reunite with her parents.

"We set about creating an experience in VR that was entertaining, inspiring and educational in equal parts," says Carol McHugh of Big Motive, the London-based design studio behind the project.

The team

Big Motive is a digital product innovation studio based out of Belfast. It was founded in 2012 by UX director Stephen Shaw and managing director Damian Cranney, whose mission is "to uncover powerful ideas that make things better — simpler, more beautiful and authentic — for the businesses with whom we collaborate and the people who use the things we make."

Last year the company launched Bookstore AR, a project aiming to "recapture the magic which was once associated with bookstores" by enhancing them with augmented reality characters and content.

Damian Cranney and Stephen Shaw

What's the gap in the market? 

While mobile apps and games based on well-loved children’s stories are plentiful, very few have been adapted for VR. 

"Tara’s Locket began as a conversation about how virtual reality might enhance how stories are told and enjoyed by early learners - enabling children to be transported into the world of the story," McHugh explains. "We set out on this journey wondering about the opportunities to adapt existing IP for a virtual reality experience, and picture books felt like a super place to explore. Our goal with Tara’s Locket was to create an experience for children that lets them feel like they have stepped into the story, so for us, VR is the perfect platform."

Cranney is also evangelical about the educational element. “We’re really excited about our venture in VR," he adds. "There is so much junk out there using every modern technique to hook and bait kids into gorging on rubbish content, we wanted to create something that inspires little learners.”

Success so far?

The story launched mid-January for iOS and Android, and McHugh says that feedback from users so far is positive. "The consensus is that it’s like nothing they’ve seen before," she insists. "We’ve also had a great amount of interest from publishers who are interested in applying our approach to their existing IP."

Tara's Locket has just been shortlisted for the BolognaRagazzi Digital Award 2017.

Biggest challenges?

Like any adaptation, the Big Motive team had to balance the demands and opportunities of their medium with the integrity of the original work. "From our earliest discussions with publishers and authors of children's books we realised that the biggest challenge would be the transition from page to virtual world," McHugh admits. "Authors and illustrators were resolute in stating that the adaptation should in no way compromise the original story and illustrations. 

"For this reason we adopted an approach that could accommodate this variation. We built a world that could bring elements bound by two-dimensions into an immersive three-dimensional environment. This is the reason Tara’s Locket features a hand-illustrated world – a magical counterpoint to the standard 3D models used in most existing VR titles".

Ultimate ambition?

The team hopes to apply their technology and design to a whole raft of different books - as long as they can secure the right authors and partnerships. "Ultimately we’d like to explore the potential that this new technology holds for storytellers," McHugh says.

Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?

"Test the product with the end user as early and as often as possible. We tested Tara’s Locket continuously, even very primitive character sketches were shown to our test panel of (ruthless) kids.  Without testing we would have missed out on so many insights, which have been crucial in making a success of the finished product."