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Over the last couple of years a lot of great innovations for digital publishing have arisen. Giants of the comic book industry like Marvel and DC now have many of their top selling comics as digital-first titles. However a promising young company called Madefire is slowly changing how things can be done digitally with motion books.  Somewhere in between comic books and animation, is a motion book. Madefire has created the technology to not only let users build a motion book but also distribute it. Welcome to the future of digital storytelling.

Madefire is an amazingly simple, yet robust tool for creating stories. I personally have a hard time figuring out the correct nomenclature for the product. I did not want to call them Motion Books or Motion Comics, I  simply want to focus on storytelling. Storytelling is the root of what Madefire was designed and developed to do. When I was first introduced to Madefire through Ron Martino at deviantART, I was blown away by the people behind the company, as well as the tool itself.

In 2013, Ron approached me with the opportunity to try Madefire out and see what I could do inside of the tool they designed. Ron was speaking highly of it and I trust his opinion greatly so I decided to try it out. I was somewhere in between a beta tester and a Q/A guy trying to break the tech. Having a digital design and art background I was not afraid to learn new tech but I was honestly not that enthused about it at first. I had played around with other motion book tools and I had always felt like they were a crappy waste of time. Most of them had limitations that were inhibiting to your story as well as the worst User Interface you could possibly imagine.

I was expecting another dud, but Madefire won me over in the first go’ round. It felt like I was just given the keys to a brand new kingdom of digital magic and the only thing that could hold me back was my imagination.

The first thing that I noticed when I took a test drive in Madefire was that it had a really great User Interface. It’s very easy to use. I didn’t have an instruction book or any manual, I just went in blindly and I began playing around. Luckily the Production team at Madefire was extremely helpful and gave me some tips and answered my questions whenever I had any. Everything was very intuitive and I began to play around and see the possibilities of what could be done. I tested it out on and off for about a week and then I dove into my sketchbook to explore my ideas.

What I really like best about the Madefire platform is that you can animate with it. To me this is paramount in innovation. I was not interested in creating just panels or word bubbles that pop in with a click. Yes, you can do that with Madefire, but I was not looking to make traditional comics and add motion to them.  I wanted to push it. With Madefire I could animate the subtle things that make a difference, like moving an arm, a hand or a mouth. You can do so much with the Madefire tool if you understand Photoshop, and how animation works; you can really do some easy and fun things with it.

It does have some limitations though, but I have constantly been asked my opinion and feedback so that they can add more tools and improve it.  That’s what is fantastic about working with Madefire, they are going to push the limits too and are dedicated to crafting an amazing tool for you to create with.  I just took a survey a couple of weeks ago that was focused on “what tool do you want that we don’t have, currently?” To me that sums up the hunger they have to be the best in their business. That’s who I want to work with.


I have always had an issue with digital comic interfaces. I cannot tell you why, other than I feel like printed comics just don’t translate well digitally. I will sit here and tell you this, even though I have made digital comics. In making my first digital comic, I allowed myself to be handcuffed by traditional comic formats as I created Gates with the intention of printing it. Though the comic itself was very successful, I feel that the format for me is the problem. If I had to do it over again, I would have created it to fit the screen better in a more cinematic style. When I began thinking about what I was going to do with Madefire, this was in the back of my mind.

When I first began sketching out ideas, I made a pact with myself that I was not going to make a traditionally influenced comic book and that I was not going to use word bubbles. So I began exploring ways to create something fresh and fun. I started playing around with some character designs on top of photos.

pool hall wizard

This was a fun example but still didn't feel right. However, I felt like I was onto something artistically.

I started wondering what I could do if I flipped the template in landscape format and how I could incorporate other creative media in addition to art such as photography and music. After some testing of these things I realized that I could actually pull off this wacky idea that I had.  Up until this time I had been digitally painting my comics, but the Madefire tool encouraged me to get creative and try new things.

What I came up with was a creative breath of fresh air for me and it was one of the most fun projects I have ever created.  With Madefire I was able to pull from the monstrous storyworld I had created with Gates, and I was able to communicate this story in such a way that I was even able to incorporate a full spectrum narrative to support it. Rather than call them books, I would like to think that I created an episode.

After two months of art, editing photos and sound design, I was able to animate my very first episode in Madefire. I was inspired by film noir, animators like Ralph Bakshi, directors like Alexander Jodorowsky, and the art of Moebius. I broke out of my typical digital painting style and began to play with a more loose, animated art style. I wanted to give people an experience that didn’t spell out the story for them, but made them think and left them with more questions than answers, but a lot of clues that tied it back to Gates, the comic I did with Heavy Metal Magazine, back in 2011-12.

Once I finished this episode I knew I had to make more and having just finished a grueling run on producing Heavy Metal Magazine’s first digital comic series, Gates, I was ready for a change, but wasn’t expecting it to be a Motion Book - rather an episode, I should say. From here I began, writing and plotting more stories, and now I am in the process of producing an original series for Madefire that is exclusive to their platform.  My goal is to make cinematic experiences, and I have finally found a tool to do so.



Below are some art samples of the style and format I have used to create The Serpent Seed.

As you may notice, the lack of word bubbles, the lack of panels and the lack of comic book rules. If I want to read a comic book, I’ll read a comic. My goal was to push it further and use the tool for something other than comics.






Notice the format of the pages, in landscape, give it a more cinematic touch.

Finding other ways to incorporate text was something I really wanted to do and found ways to do it that complimented the story and did not seem forced.

2 text messages INSAP

Purposely avoiding panels gave the book a whole new vibe and I think was the difference in making it feel much more cinematic.

What I am really excited about is that you can add urls and live links in the book. This was really beneficial in crafting a “Full Spectrum Narrative” for the story. While right now it only works for the iPhone app, it will be amazing when it works on web based Madefire books, too.

With a cinematic approach the story easily opened itself up for me to craft stories that expand onto other platforms such as Twitter, websites, and more. Since the flagship narrative in this series started as a comic, and continues on Madefire, it was really fun and easy to build from this platform.

Episode 2 is currently in production and I plan to continue the full spectrum narrative buildout by exploring new ways to expand from the Madefire platform.



So I’ve done a lot of talking about it, but please check it out for yourself, so you can see what I’m yapping about.  This episode is a “slow burn” that will leave you with questions, intentionally.  So please seek out the additional links. There are tons of “rabbit holes” to go down. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I did making it.

Add a Comment:
makepictures Featured By Owner Aug 1, 2014
One of the smart choices you made was using black and white photography.  The look fits with the line drawing and conceptually with the story and gestalt of the piece.  But its also much more forgiving for adding and manipulating content in layers.
HalHefnerART Featured By Owner Aug 1, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
Thank you! I tested it out in color too and it works as well... The past is in B&W and color for the future. ;)
SenorDanimal Featured By Owner Aug 1, 2014  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks for this Hal! Your work is great and I look forward to seeing how you push the Motion Book Tool further.
HalHefnerART Featured By Owner Aug 1, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
Thank you so much for the kind words. Really appreciate it!
BunnysteeleStephanie Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I hate madefire I'm having trouble with creating comics.
HalHefnerART Featured By Owner Jul 31, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
it just takes patience and you have to be good with photoshop and layering.
BunnysteeleStephanie Featured By Owner Oct 5, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Any contest coming up?
HalHefnerART Featured By Owner Oct 23, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
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Submitted on
July 31, 2014


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