Earlier this week I had the great pleasure of talking to Keith Arem about his innovative graphic novel for the iPad2 and 3, INFEX. You may know of some of Keith’s handy work in the video game world. He is a sound recordist and director for some of the biggest video games out there- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Black Ops, and Spider-Man Web of Shadows just to name a very few. Mr. Arem has developed a very unique graphic novel hybrid experience for iPad users using some of his famous friends from the acting and voice acting world. Check out our chat with him!
CBT: INFEX is something hard to put in just one box. It seems to be a blend of comic book, movie, and a few other mediums. How did the idea, first, for the story come about and then translating it in the unique way the iPad allows?
Keith Arem: INFEX was a story that I created with colleague of mine, Brandon Humphries. We came out of the game industry. We’re use to working in these large worlds where we can create hours of content and characters and stories that can be developed over a long story arc. When we developed the first graphic novel for INFEX, it was one chapter in the INFEX world that we were creating and what we realized was that there were so many great aspects of the story we wanted to tell including the back-story of the characters and more about the world and universe we were exploring that we started creating online content, web campaigns, viral campaigns, ARGs, comic prequels, and suddenly the INFEX world became this really fantastic playground for us to create. So the INFEX iPad app was a natural extension of that because we were able to embody all these different stories and different various content pieces that we had created, and incorporate them all into one program without it being a console video game or a movie or an animated feature or just a book. This was allowing us to bring together all those great things.
Can you talk a little about the main character Evelyn “Ivy” Kendall? The story isn’t a linear progression of cause and effect. You’ve said in other interviews that it is more about story threads. Can you talk about how you decided to write it that way and make it fresh for the iPad format?
This particular story of INFEX focuses on Evelyn Kendall. In telling her story, we consider these as threads as opposed to just prequels or sequels and the idea of the INFEX world is that all of these stories intersect at one common point in time and that’s what makes the story very unique. Her story is important because it’s our first introduction into the world and as we’re first being introduced to the story, so has she. Evelyn has grown up not knowing the circumstances of her father’s death. She was cured of cancer as a child through her father’s chemotherapy program and had no idea he had created this new technology that not only held the cure for cancer, but was also something that could create these genetically altered creatures. When ivy discovers that she has this mutation insider her, so does her father’s company IngenBio Corporation and she’s captured within this facility. We, as a viewer and the audience, are experiencing much of the story through her eyes and through her experience and we start to find out her past through her incarceration through this IngenBio facility. What we do in the story is tell the story of the INFEX iPad app with different phases. So the book comes with the first 90 pages in phase 0 and 1, then phase 2 has the next 40 pages, and phase 3, which we’re just submitting right now, is called origins. It actually explains her father’s story and how she was infected with this mutation.
The voice cast for INFEX is pretty stellar. You have all kinds of talented people from movies and video games. Can you talk about how you drew them in to this project?
This cast of INFEX is spectacular and they’re all very close friends of mine. I was very fortunate enough to be able to work with them on the various games and projects I’ve been directing over the last several years. So celebrities like Lance Henriksen, who I worked with on Call of Duty, and William Fichtnerr, also from Modern Warfare 3 from last year, and Michael Wincott, who I just worked with on Darksiders II which just came out, all lent their voices to the project. Then we also had fantastic celebrities like Nolan North from Uncharted and Deadpool and Troy Baker from Last of Us and Bioshock and Steve Blum from Wolverine and also in Call of Duty. These were all guys I’ve had the pleasure of working with for years and proud to call them close friends. They were excited in seeing what I was working with and after working on so many projects together, this was an opportunity for us to really play and experiment with new ways of recording and developing characters for an original property.
It is a very impressive cast and makes the project even more unique than it is by itself.
What’s great about it is every single actor, Yuri Lowenthal, William lee, and Kari Wahlgren and Jennifer Hale, every single actor has an amazing background in acting and voice performances and games and animation and film. I think that really heightened the level of performance of the book, and it was something as a graphic novel creator and author I wasn’t able to convey sometimes, the subtlety and the power of those performances simply through text. Hearing those performances, the audience can experience what I intended those scenes to, the emotion of those scenes.
How do you top the innovation in the storytelling medium of INFEX? What’s next for you and that particular world?
What’s great is each phase that’s released has new features and new sort of aspects of both the story and the technology we are creating. As the book has come out, we’ve been able to experience it and refine it and improve the story, the performances, the technology, and the user experience. For example, phase three which is going to be coming out is going to embrace a lot of the new technology that is going to be in apple i0S6. It’s going to be socially integrated with Facebook and allow people to be characters in the story. It’s going to immerse people more into the book and do something graphic novels haven’t been able to do yet. I love the tactile nature of the book and being able to interact with the pages and experience the book at my own pace. What I think is so great about this project is that it still retains that tactile nature of reading a book, but it presents this cinematic presentation of experiencing a film. So I think that as we grow and learn from this project that the future phases that will come out of the book and also other books and other properties that I’ll be generating will learn from this experience and make it even more immersive.
You’re known for you work in games. Is INFEX something you’d like to translate to a game or even movie?
Yeah, I think that INFEX would make a spectacular game as well as a series or feature. We designed the story and the characters to be a true transmedia franchise, meaning that some of the back-story would come through the graphic novel, some of the interactive parts would come through the game, some of the other parts of the story could be told in a different medium like a television series or for a feature. The idea is that it doesn’t simply repeat or reuse the same content. You’re actually using the different mediums to tell different aspects of the story and the characters in new and creative ways that doesn’t feel stale or repetitive.
What’s next for you? Anything we should be on the lookout for?
Our next projects in the game world is…I recently did all the talent and voice direction for Call of Duty Black Ops 2 which comes out in November. At the same time phase 3 and 4 of INFEX will be releasing in time for Christmas and we’ll have a complete version of the book with all 220 pages out before Christmas. Then this next year I’m going to be directing five or six of the really large game franchises, so those are hopefully going to be launching as well as a few new film properties I’m going to be directing that will be in production in 2013.
I just wanted to say thank you for talking with us. This is really exciting stuff. INFEX is unique in the graphic novels medium.
Our big challenge, I think, is sort of honoring the medium while still growing and showing people how this is evolving through the experience of graphic novels and comic books.
INFEX is a truly unique experience, and it will be exciting to see how it develops and even influences future projects. Keith Arem was great to talk to, and his positive attitude and enthusiasm really struck me. With such a great story and all the things he has brought to the table to make graphic novels really unique for the iPad I really encourage you to check it out. You can find out more about INFEX at the website http://www.infex.tv/. What do you think? Have you tried out INFEX?