FOR THE COVER of this week’s annual Innovators Issue, New Yorker art director Francoise Mouly wanted a scene of high relevance and tech-friendly visual elegance. Such a scene would be the ideal stepping-off point for the magazine’s first “augmented reality” project — by which readers can turn on an app (called Uncovr) on their mobile device, point the device at the cover — and have images pop up on the screen that continue the cover’s visual narrative.
“We used technology not as an end to itself, but a way of pulling layers of meaning out of an iconic daily moment: Woman stepping into the train with a cup of coffee as the doors are going to close,” Mouly tells The Post’s Comic Riffs of the latest New Yorker cover. The scenes are pictured on the front and back of the print magazine, with the woman passenger rendered from two perspectives.
“It’s a clever, simple summation of what it feels like to live in the city,” Mouly says of the print images. “We all step into the train every day, with our heads filled with the noise of our ambitions clashing with the million other things … competing for our attention.”
A clean, uncluttered image worked best for this project — which is why the cover has a limited palette of taxi yellow, black and white. “Because we chose a spare point of departure,” Mouly tells The Post, “the many derivations of the image [in the augmented reality experience] fell into place beautifully.”
The cover, titled “On the Go,” is by artist Christoph Niemann, whose illustration was built out into augmented reality (AR) through the London-based studio Nexus and backed by Qualcomm.
“The idea of an augmented or virtual reality is inherent in any drawing — it’s almost the definition of a drawing,” Niemann says on The New Yorker site. “If you create a world on paper, you create a window. Usually, you just break the surface with your mind, but you always have the feeling of: What if you could step into that world or if something could come out of it?”
Niemann and Mouly had to make choices about where to push the tech in terms of creative potential. They decided to delve into a dozen or so visual extras: sub-animations in the train windows that prompt viewers to explore the constructed city further.
“Graphically, we made an early decision to skip all the firepower usually deployed in AR,” says Mouly, referring to effects that can heighten realism. “That decision paid off: It gave us the necessary coding and computing power to add multiple animations — and it provided the needed visual bridge between the drawings on the covers and every element of the rendered subway and city,” which is where the AR experience takes you.
Watching the ’90s film “Sliding Doors,” the viewer experiences parallel realities, depending on whether a London woman catches her train. The New Yorker, working with London’s Nexus, has created its own parallel cover experiences of a woman at the train — but the augmented possibilities are many.
“We were able to set this up as a split run,” Mouly says, “so half the million-plus copies to subscribers will show image A on front and B on back, the other half shows B on front and A on back — a very cool trick when you get this rare opportunity to design front and back cover and then add an enhanced augmented-reality component.”