Author D. B. Johnson's animated picture book, POTS, REBBOR!

For a great many people, and creators in particular, the printed picture book is an almost sacred object of childhood, revered for its quiet yet powerful influence on young minds. So when I first had the idea to animate a digital picture book, a lot of eyebrows were raised in consternation. No doubt it brought to mind images of Saturday morning television cartoons run amok. But that was not what I was imagining. For me, animating a picture book was more akin to "transformation" then to frenetic Road Runner clips. I was thinking "small changes to small things."

Of course digital versions of print picture books have been around a while now, but I’ve never been impressed by them. Nor is the picture book buyer, it seems. I read about publishers all the time who complain about their lagging e-book sales. They'd been lead to believe they could turn their existing print titles into digital versions for next to nothing and technology would take care of the rest. After all, don't millions of people own Kindles and Nooks and iPads?

And what did their digital versions have to offer? Perhaps they offered portability or convenience or price, but making a page-turn, word-highlighted, perhaps even narrated rendition of a book on an electronic device seemed more like sitting in a car being pulled along by a team of horses. The most interesting capabilities of a digitally rendered book are animation and sound. It’s what a print book can’t do. It’s what separates the two.

I loved print. But I’m a creator, I wanted something more if it’s possible. I believed interest in picture e-books would improve when their quality improved—when they took full advantage of the platform they're on. And that wouldn't happen until "creators" realized they could make their own original digital content. As it is now, they'd need to hire a developer to build an app costing five figures or more, an app that would compete with thousands of other apps including games bought and downloaded for pennies. The high cost with low return meant that only the most commercial picture books (not necessarily the best) would be animated this way.

In 2012 I had finished my eleventh print picture book, Magritte's Marvelous Hat, and was looking for a new challenge. In the process of building my website using Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), I discovered that an e-book was just a website masquerading as a book. Like a website, every page of a fixed layout picture e-book was a separate HTML document (okay, an XHTML document) styled with CSS markup. What's more, the styling now included properties like "transformations" (translate, rotate, scale, skew) and "animations" that moved and changed images on the page. Unlike add-on videos or GIFs, styling the images with HTML and CSS built the animation into a book as an integral part of the code—its DNA. And CSS animation is “open source” with no third party players to download, and no player controls intruding on the pictures. The “player” for CSS animation is the browser itself, already installed on every device. And that browser gets its animating instructions from the HTML and CSS.

Creating animations with CSS markup also reduces file size. Instead of downloading a 30-second video with possibly 720 individual motion frames, a small number of images are downloaded and instructed to move, rotate, scale, skew and much more with CSS transforms. Smaller file sizes mean quicker, smoother playback. And the very best part is—it’s not rocket science! Anyone can quickly learn enough HTML and CSS to animate their own picture book. And that is the mission of Moving Book Press: to show the world what's possible when you bring original content to the animated book.