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Daniel Burwen, Author, at SXSW 2013
“Comics at their core are a reading experience... they allow you to advance the story at your own pace.... We wanted to find a solution that would allow us to add motion and sound to a comic presentation while respecting the rules of comics.”
Tablet app CIA: Operation Ajax adapts a 210-page graphic novel of the same name, detailing the Central Intelligence Agency’s role in a 1953 coup that overthrew Iran’s democratically elected government. In the Ajax app, Burwen and his team aimed to create an interactive reading experience that still respected the rules and aesthetics of paper comics. The team broke each page of the Ajax book into panels, and every panel into sections, creating a total of 6,000-7,000 animated slides in the interactive project.
A former game designer, Burwen repurposed the Unity game engine to power Ajax. Unity allowed the team to create three-dimensional imagery in real time, subtly enhancing and expanding Ajax’s visual world beyond comics’ traditional 2D hand-drawn aesthetic. In an effort to create a cinematic feel while preserving the traditional comic reading experience, the Ajax team incorporated environmental and ambient sound into the app while keeping dialogue largely in text. The team also included supplemental primary source material, such as declassified CIA documents and period newsreels, giving audiences the opportunity to take a deep dive into the history that inspired Ajax.