“It has begun.”
Deep in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon, in a region called Madre de Dios (Mother of God), a National Geographic expedition discovers a mythical tablet, the Wheel of Omagua. Over 5000 years old, the Wheel is the only link to the now extinct rainforest tribe, the Omaguans. This enigmatic tribe was alleged to have a relationship with the natural world like no other.
They held council with the animals, speaking with the creatures of the forest. And the Wheel of Omagua was alleged to document a prophecy relayed to man through the animals — a prophecy that told of the end of humanity.
Author, Michael Hanrahan, tells the story behind “The Last Extinction”
When I was six years old, I was plagued by a recurring nightmare. Each night, I dreamed of a big, black wolf that would show up in the midst of my most benign dreamscapes. The big animal would speak to me, whispering in my ear, but I could only make out bits and pieces of what it had to say. This interaction would serve me later when creating the lead character in my book: Lycan, the wolf.
I studied marine science and motion picture film at the University of Miami. For twenty years, I’ve worked in the natural history film business. I began my career as a safety diver on underwater productions in Miami, eventually working my way to producing my own ocean films. I’ve worked with many talented producers at National Geographic, Discovery Channel, and the BBC.
I’ve watched the planet change. On locations all over the world, I was witness to the beauty of Nature through a lens. Naively, I believed that if audiences could only see the amazing natural world we live in here on Earth — even if only on TV — they would grow to care and adopt a more evolved approach to our co-inhabitants.
Around 2010, I grew disillusioned. The great change I believed film would inspire was not happening; things were actually getting worse. Climate change was accelerating; more species were disappearing; and habitat loss threatened to wipe out thousands more.
Habitat loss is the #1 cause of extinction. We are squeezing our neighbors off the block.
In 2012, a tragedy firmed my resolve to try something new. My good friend and mentor, Mike deGruy, was killed in a helicopter accident while working on assignment in Australia. For so many, Mike was an inspiration. He was one of the very best underwater cinematographers in the world. Deeply loved by his home community of Santa Barbara, California, over 2,000 people came to pay their respects at his memorial service. His is a loss that will echo across a lifetime.
When Mike died, something shifted inside of me. It was one of the greatest periods of self-reflection, doubt, and sadness in my life. I lost the fire in my belly to make documentaries.
And yet, despite my disillusionment and sadness, I still had a story to tell…an important message to get across.
And so I wrote. Fiction.
Two years later, “The Last Extinction” was finished.
Thanks to Mike deGruy, it was no ordinary book.
Enhanced Books: A New Way to Experience Reading
I bought an iPad in 2012 for just one reason: a book.
When I first saw the trailer for Atomic Antelope’s iBook of “Alice in Wonderland”, I recognized the potential for an amazing new storytelling experience. The cliché about a good book was appropriate here: the pages came alive. This clever book acted like none I had ever seen before. It was a blend of clever fictional narrative and stunning movie or video game elements.
And so I began my research. For months, I searched for other enhanced books produced for the iPad. Turns out, there weren’t many. It was a new concept and not yet proven. Readers weren’t buying many of them and publishers weren’t convinced that the expense of producing them would pay off; people seemed satisfied with just text on the pages of their ebooks.
But people said the same thing about radio before TV came along.
I had been tinkering with a novel in my head for years. But once I understood what was possible on the iPad, I couldn’t stop thinking about how cool it would be to be able to bring a scene from each chapter to life. Just a few lines that enhance the reader’s imagination with a colorful, atmospheric view of the protagonist’s world.
Current species extinction is 1000 to 10,000 times what is considered normal in nature.
When I was young, my godmother would send me beautiful hardcover classics for my birthday each year. Books like “Robinson Crusoe,” “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” and “Arabian Knights” arrived on my doorstep each December kept me entertained for weeks at a time. But my favorite part of these books was the fantastic illustrations. Each chapter had a single page dedicated to a stunning color drawing that depicted a scene from the chapter. I would turn each page with anticipation that the next may be the one. I studied every detail in those illustrations, the words from the text still meandering through my imagination.
Those books – those illustrations – are my inspiration for the ‘enhanced’ version of “The Last Extinction.”
Attracting a young audience…instilling environmental ethic
Inspired by the illustrations in literary adventure classics, I set out to build a creative team that would help me to realize my vision for the new frontier of reading. According to Nielsen, the target audience for my book was no longer interested in reading by age 14 and no one was sure how to attract them back to books. Facebook, video games, YouTube, and other more visually engaging content was pulling them farther and farther away. Parents were frustrated. And more importantly, the imagination of young people was diminishing.
Another interesting phenomenon happened around this time: every fifth grader in the nation had access to a tablet.
My instinct was to try to meet the teen audience on familiar ground – to somehow blend the visual action that so appealed to them in video games and introduce that into a strong, written narrative. Each chapter in the ‘enhanced version’ of “The Last Extinction” has an ‘enhanced illustration’ embedded somewhere within the pages.
Our goal is to nurture the imagination, not replace it — preparing young people to care for the planet they are inheriting.