Lecturer takes interactive media to new levels with holographic comics

How Jake Adams creates holocomics that explore the space between frames

RIT lecturer Jake Adams created the first digital holographic comic.

Jake Adams, a lecturer in RIT’s School of Interactive Games and Media, wants to make the intangible a little more tangible. That’s why he created the first ever digital holographic comic.

Adams mixes his backgrounds in fine arts and interactive media to create his holocomics. Using a specialized Lightfield holographic display from the company Looking Glass, the comic books become 3D holograms with sound, animation, and interactivity.

“The unique part is that these holocomics put the characters and dialogue into our spatial temporal existence—in our space and time,” said Adams. “With the exponential growth of screen space in society, I think the world is calling for more tangibility.”

He got the idea to create the first holocomic in 2018, while working on his master’s degree in Scotland. Adams wanted to expand on digital and VR comics to create something unique. He also sought to explore what happens to comic book characters in between each panel and page—often referred to as diegetic space.

“Normally, readers are filling in the gaps between frames when they look at a comic book. For example, good comic illustrators will never show a punch being made, just what happens after,” said Adams. “Holocomics have allowed me to reframe that diegetic due to the spatial locality of the content. As a result, it can now be considered ‘extra-diegetic space.’”

Adams created his own studio—Valholo Studios—and has published two holocomics, Maldacena and Aphid Through the Looking Glass. They can be downloaded on Itch.io. Aphid and Maldacena are also available on YouTube, for those without a holographic display.

The holocomics take about 20 minutes to read. They include sounds and interactive elements, such as hidden items to reveal and walls that disintegrate. In Aphid, the protagonist goes on a relentless search for the meaning of home with her trusty friend, Biggy the cat. Maldacena features two characters who are trying to navigate a 2D world, not knowing that they are falling into a 3D world.

To create his holocomics, Adams starts creating 2D art and storyboards in the real world by hand—often sketching and painting. The art then enters graphics and animation applications on the computer and ultimately the Unity game engine. He has discovered techniques to give more depth to the 3D images from all angles, including techniques used in 550-year-old paintings. He also invented a way to improve the clarity of text when developing for Looking Glass displays, thereby solving a widespread issue among the Lightfield/holographic community.

As an interactive games and media lecturer at RIT, Adams will often bring holocomics to class and discuss the techniques he uses in creating them.

“The assets we’re making as game designers have to be optimized for the physics engine to prevent FPS drops and bad performance,” said Adams. “A lot of the optimization techniques I teach when developing a normal PC game went into the development of the first holocomics, but ultimately I was forced to invent new ones during the most recent holocomic. I look forward to passing on that knowledge to my students.”

Adams’ most recent holocomic, Aphid, was featured in an interview with 80 Level and at the 2023 Greenpoint Film Festival in Brooklyn. To learn more, go to the Valholo Studios website.

Comics in motion

The cover page of Aphid Through the Looking Glass features a girl standing under a tree looking out over a body of water. As the user moves the cursor to the left or right of the image, it makes the image pivot.

A page from Aphid Through the Looking Glass features a girl falling, along with a cat, chair, and box, with the girl's back facing the user. As the user moves the cursor to the left or right of the image, it makes the image pivot.

Interview with Jake Adams

A frame from the embedded video, with a play button over the image.

Looking Glass talks to Jake Adams about creating holographic comics.


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