© 2011 drewfrist. All rights reserved. Sketch of Mowgli with the Bandar-log at the Lost City

Born Digital: Behind the Scenes of The Jungle Book

When we began production on The Jungle Book: The Story of Mowgli & Shere Khan in fall 2010, we were faced with a daunting challenge. How could we build an iPad app, based on a classic tale, that appeals to kids’ natural and limitless sense of curiosity and imagination? Our journey with The Jungle Book began by creating an immersive reading experience—one with a unique cast of characters and visuals.

The Jungle Book: The Story of Mowgli & Shere Khan "Cover" Page.

Our first task was determining how to adapt a novel-length book of stories, turning it into a cohesive digital book. Our audience would be children four to ten years old—and, just as importantly, their parents.

We started with the original 51,000-word public domain text.

The Jungle Book, as it appears on the iBookstore.

The Kipling text, while delightful, is in many places arcane and stylistically difficult for contemporary adults to read, let alone children. At Electric Type, we wanted to create a version of The Jungle Book that would be uniquely ours as well as respectful to the original text. We abridged the story to 6100 words, focusing on the primary conflict between Mowgli the man-cub and Shere Khan the tiger.

In order to create a narrative that was appropriate for young readers and would work as a set of bedtime tales, we divided the text into seven chapters, ranging from four to twelve pages each. We tried to make the text accessible while retaining the charm and idiosyncrasies of Kipling’s style.

We started storyboarding the first half of the book while searching for an illustrator. We were looking for a style that was both painterly and planar, as a traditional children’s book would be. Our influences included the exoticism and bright colors of Indian art; the lushness and mystery of primitivist painters such as Henri Rousseau; the charming images in past editions of the text; and the mid-century pop illustrations of Charley Harper.

The Jungle Book's visuals give a nod to Mughal paintings, Charley Harper, and Henri Rousseau.

Despite these influences, we also wanted the visuals to work in a contemporary context. After a long search, we were thrilled to enlist Australian illustrator Nigel Buchanan, who helped us to develop a cast of characters and start building the world of the jungle.

Initial character sketches: Shere Khan, Father Wolf, Mowgli, Baloo, and Bagheera.

These initial sketches of Shere Kahn, Father Wolf, Baloo the Bear, and Bagheera the Panther grew into a cast of animal characters, as well as Mowgli as a baby, and at ages ten and seventeen.

Mowgli, at ages 17 and 10.

Once we had agreed on each character, Nigel would send us proposed sketches of scenes, based on our storyboards. Each page was illustrated as fully as possible, taking advantage of the entire dimensions of the screen. Our goal was for Mowgli’s jungle world to exist without any framing devices or metaphors that suggested the recreation of a printed book.

The Jungle Book Main Menu, draft.

The title page and main menu, which zooms into the first scene of Mowgli’s entrance to the wolf cave:

The Jungle Book Main Menu, final.

We worked with our software developers, Dino Interactive Studios, to craft action and animation using the iPad’s accelerometer and a physics engine. In the following scene from Chapter Two, the Monkey People throw sticks at Bagheera and Baloo while kidnapping Mowgli away to their lair.

Mowgli and Monkeys, draft.

The completed scene:

Readers can pull back the far right monkey's arm to launch sticks at Baloo and Bagheera below. Wobble the iPad to and fro, and the monkeys swing Mowgli from the branches.

In creating a story that takes place over the course of seventeen years, we needed to represent the passage of time. As Mowgli grows, so too does his view of the world. In this scene from Chapter Four, where the seventeen year-old Mowgli encounters the land of men, the other humans are perceived as primitive stick figures. The reader is kept in Mowgli’s world, seeing men from his abstracted, distanced perspective.

Shift in perspective as book progresses.

With 6100 words spread across 59 pages and a limited budget for illustration, our mission was to create attractive and readable text pages, interspersed with 20 interactive illustrations. Nigel created unique spot illustrations and thematic backgrounds for our text pages.

An example of a text page.

In devising navigation for the book, we first explored mockups using generic icons (a question mark, a pause symbol, a light bulb) before we realized that we didn’t need icons. Our best guides through the story were the characters themselves.

The Book Bar, the book's mission control.

For our “Read to Me” function, we hired voice actor Rich Orlow to perform the text, which we recorded at a Manhattan studio that specialized in audio books. Rich’s narration is supplemented by sound effects to enhance the reader’s experience.

With The Jungle Book, our mission is to bring to our young readers and their parents an experience that doesn’t replace print books, but rather adds to the conversation, expectations, and definition of what a story can be. We hope it will provide hours of enjoyment as readers of all ages are transported to Mowgli’s world.

The Jungle Book: The Story of Mowgli & Shere Khan is available for the iPad on the App Store.



  1. Posted 12 Aug ’11 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Great case study. Really wonderful to see the process laid out like this.

  2. Posted 25 Nov ’11 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Posts of this kind will help us to understand the means and ways of constructions of digital children’s books. Many thanks!

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