We continue our exploration of developing books for electronic media with a visit to Oceanhouse Media. Located in Encinitas, California, they are the creators of many best-selling apps, including classic Dr. Seuss books, Berenstain Bears titles, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Mercer Meyer’s Little Critter series.
1. You founded Oceanhouse Media (OM) in early 2009, after working as Director of Business Development at Autodesk, and before that, as CEO/founder of Presto Studios, developers of the graphic video games, “The Journeyman Project” and “Myst III: Exile.” Several members of your current team of developers also came from the video game arena. Was it a natural segue to go from gaming to the world of children’s picture books? Or was it an entirely new world for you?
The Dr. Seuss camera, an iPhone app
Michel Kripalani: Switching from the gaming world to children’s picture books was a straightforward process for us. My history in producing interactive material goes back to 1990 when I was a lead programmer for Verbum Magazine, the world’s first interactive multimedia magazine. We were riding the launch of CD-ROM. I’ve been involved in interactive mediums ever since.
Certain aspects of gaming engines are particularly well suited and have similar “under the hood” features and product demands as digital books. Our team’s extensive experience building cross-platform engines for different displays and devices made the transition to digital books relatively easy for us.
Earlier apps developed by Oceanhouse Media include interactive
card decks, for clients like Hay House and Chronicle Books
Our gaming software experience became especially important when we developed the architecture for the initial iPhone apps. Its design and programming set the groundwork for our iPad apps, and now the framework for Android apps as well.
“Lorax Garden,” an iPhone Game
Our omBooks™ (Oceanhouse Media digital books) are based on proprietary technology that we’ve designed from the ground up. Characteristic features found in our Read to Me, Read it Myself, and Auto Play (first introduced in the Fall of 2009), have been adopted by other children’s digital book app publishers. As frontrunners in this new world of digital books, I feel we have the ability to set the stage for how digital books should look and feel.
2. Would you take us through OM’s approach by walking us through your creative process with The Cat in the Hat?
Michel Kripalani: We were faced with two major design challenges in adapting The Cat in the Hat. The first question was what set of features should the app include? As it turned out, the real question wasn’t what the app should have, but rather why.
Through research, it became clear to us that Theodore Geisel’s (Dr. Seuss) intent was to provide highly engaging and imaginative works that early readers would actually enjoy reading. We asked ourselves — and professional educators — if Geisel had been creating digital books, what would he have done differently?
We came up with a few key features:
• Multiple ways for children and adults to read the book: Read to Me, Read it Myself, and Auto Play
• Professional narration and sound, to keep young children highly engaged
• Word highlighting as the text is being read. To provide a direct connection between the written word and its pronunciation.
• Picture/word association. To encourage children to discover words pictured in the illustrations. These features have formed the backbone of every omBook that Oceanhouse Media has produced.
The second challenge with The Cat in the Hat concerned bending the laws of physics . . . well, almost! That is, how would we take a physical book, and display everything on the 3.5” inch screen of an iPhone (remember, in early 2010, there was no iPad yet).
I proposed breaking the text down into smaller chunks and displaying each segment as its own page. This got our development director Greg Uhler, thinking that the same thing could be done with the artwork. We’d zoom in and pan the artwork, selecting specific parts of the scene and text to focus upon.
As we prototyped this approach, we discovered that we could enhance the experience further through transitions of the artwork. Dramatic moments could be conveyed to the reader by a slow pan. Surprising moments are enhanced through quick zooms or reveals.
3. Your approach is not to animate any aspect of the illustrations, but rather, to place emphasis on the words themselves. Why?
Michel Kripalani: In the case of The Cat in the Hat, we tried to imagine what it would be like to have design meetings with Ted Geisel (Dr Seuss) sitting in on the brainstorming sessions with us.
Dr. Seuss’s books were designed to teach kids how to read. We use this as a gating factor for most all design decisions (i.e. will a child become more literate with this?). If yes, the feature often goes in. If no, it gets cut.
This allows us to focus on what is really important. By omitting superfluous animation and games, we keep production costs down. This, in turn, allows for reasonable app prices — our children’s book apps are priced from $1.99 to $3.99 — and accessibility.
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