“There was nothing to make. I’m just remembering it.”

—duckatthedoor

About Opertoon

Opertoon finds musical ways to make stories playable.

Founded by creative technologist Erik Loyer, Opertoon is built on the idea that mixing the visual language of comics with interactive screens leads to a deeply musical storytelling medium. Through original stories, collaborations, and novel creative tools, Opertoon works to realize the artistic potential of this form.

The studio emerged in 2008 with the touchscreen romance Ruben & Lullaby, an iPhone app that let players shape the emotions of an interracial couple, and found wide success in 2010 with Strange Rain, an interactive narrative built around a curious melody that Fast.Co Design called “a glimpse at novels of the future.”

In 2012, Opertoon broke ground in digital comics with the release of Upgrade Soul, the award winning graphic novel by Ezra Claytan Daniels. Not just a port of a print comic, the Upgrade Soul app features born-digital interactive 3D effects and a powerful musical score by Alexis Gideon which responds as the user moves from panel to panel. Loyer’s design of the audio interactions in Upgrade Soul demonstrated an affinity between comics and music that has become a hallmark of Opertoon’s approach.

Seeking to expand the palette of interactive storytelling, in 2015 Opertoon released Panoply, a digital comics tool for the Unity game engine based on the technology used to produce Upgrade Soul. Panoply, which treats each panel as its own camera, has since been used in award-winning commercial games, art installations, edutainment productions, and more, becoming the leading digital comics solution for Unity.

Opertoon’s focus on creative tools continued with the 2017 release of Stepworks, a web-based application for creating “story instruments,” short interactive narratives with content controlled by the creator and timing controlled by the user. The first version of Stepworks allowed anyone to create and share their own story instrument using Google Sheets, and was used in workshops at universities across the United States.

Stepworks Studio emerged in 2020 with greatly expanded capabilities that even more tightly fused comic panels and musical timing, resulting in an explosion of work that included live streamed performances and presentations, a documentary on the COVID-19 pandemic, a video essay about the use of time in digital comics, pre-show entertainment for RZA's movie streaming service, a companion piece to a novel about Detroit’s legendary Black Bottom neighborhood, and more.

As Opertoon reaches fifteen years of age, the studio’s focus remains on creating innovative original work, collaborations, and creative tools that help to realize the goal of artistically powerful storytelling, animated by musical sensibilities.


Note: The quotes scattered around this site are inspired by Loyer’s early 2000’s sci-fi web serial Chroma and its four lead characters, who task themselves with exploring the potentials and pitfalls of digital communication — just as Opertoon aims to do today.