Tag Archives: iPad

On digital rights

Today we’ll wrap up our exploration of electronic media with the issue of digital rights. Our chat with Michel Kripalani of Oceanhouse Media continues…

7.  How closely involved is Dr. Seuss Enterprises with creating the app?

Michel Kripalani: Dr. Seuss Enterprises owns all digital rights, so we were able to engage in licensing arrangements directly with them. They are very involved at the onset of each app and also at the stage of final review. They approve all voice-over actors and all aspects of each app. That said, the “middle 90%” where we go off and do our production work is generally all managed entirely by the Oceanhouse Media team.

8. In your licensing agreement with Dr. Seuss Enterprises, you absorb the costs of producing the app, from start to finish. You’ve already completed 16 out of 44 titles. How long does it take, on the average, to complete production of one story app?

Michel Kripalani: On average, we’ll spend about 8 weeks developing each omBook™,  now that the foundational technology is in place.  Multiple disciplines are involved during this time, including graphic designers, voice-over artists, sound effects artists and musicians, technical artists, programmers, management, and the licensor.

9. The Cat in the Hat app sells for $3.99, and is usable on any Apple mobile device — that is, iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. You sell a separate version for the Android. How many Dr. Seuss apps have you sold overall so far?

Tia plays on an iPad


 

Michel Kripalani: We’ve sold over 500,000 Dr. Seuss apps (in total) and we recently crossed the one million mark for paid app downloads at the App Store (all Oceanhouse Media apps). This is fairly astounding when you consider that the company is only 2 years old. Amazingly, just two and a half years ago, very few people had ever even heard of apps.

10.  What advice would you give to new and seasoned authors (and, if applicable, their agents) concerning electronic rights when they draw up contracts on their future books?

Michel Kripalani: When an author is in a position to keep physical and digital book rights distinct, we have found that it just makes sense for them to do so.

Oftentimes, an author may want to work directly with an app publisher on the digital versions of their books, regardless of who holds the print rights. There are major differences in competencies between a physical book publisher and a digital app developer / publisher. Authors need to ask themselves if they would be better served crafting deals appropriately.

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On voice-overs, and testing story apps

Our chat with Michel Kripalani, Founder and President of Oceanhouse Media continues.

4.  The voice-over is an important aspect of The Cat in the Hat. Tell us about the planning and production of this aspect. Who takes care of that? Were there many audition tapes before the final version was arrived at?

Michel Kripalani: Greg Uhler starts the process by pulling the script together and determining our character voice needs.

As the director for our voice-over (VO) sessions, Karen Kripalani oversees all of our VO casting. A former actress, and VO artist for over 15 years in Los Angeles, Karen takes the script and character breakdown that Greg provides, and auditions 15-to-30 actors. She shares her top choices with Greg and other members of our team. From there, we get approval from our licensors.

Then it’s time to record in the studio. Great care is taken to get the performance we want. Clarity for the listener, and emotion and pacing intended by the author.

Finally, the files are processed and implemented into the app. It’s quite an in-depth process, but we believe that our attention to detail comes through in the final product.

5.  You just brought out the much-anticipated Fox in Socks. Your press release states “. . . . Jump in and join the fun, but take it slowly because this book is dangerous for your tongue!”  Was this project a unique departure from the previous Dr. Seuss titles you’ve done so far?

Michel Kripalani: Although the core architecture remains the same, each app inevitably gets some customization, whether it is a unique text effect, a visual special effect, or new way for us to play sound.

Because of each story’s uniqueness, we focus more on efficient processes to do the things common to each app, so that we have more cycles to devote to the new and special things each individual app requires.

The secondary answer to this question is that each app itself is unique in the presentation, the actor’s delivery and the audio treatment. Using the same tools “under the hood” simply means that we have a consistent starting point. Each app attains its own magic by the time it is released.

Green Eggs and Ham for the iPad

6. You test your apps with a variety of audiences. Have you discovered any surprise feedback that proved useful? And do you include reading specialists among your testers?

Toddlers playing with an iPad app

Michel Kripalani: Feedback we receive will often trigger the design and development of a new feature.

The first few omBooks ™ shipped with only two ways to read the book:  Read to Me (the narrated version) and Read it Myself (no narration).  We thought we had our entire audience covered, from kids to adults.

A few weeks after shipping our first omBooks, we starting getting feedback at iTunes and through emails, saying the apps weren’t well-suited for toddlers.  We thought, that’s what Read to Me is for, isn’t it?  The book will read to the kid, right? Wrong.

We discovered that toddlers were interacting with the apps in an entirely different way than we’d imagined! Toddlers would “sloppy tap” with multiple fingers — or palms (or hands!).

They loved things that looked like buttons, so they kept tapping the on-screen Return button and going to the main menu! And since we normally use swipes to turn pages, “sloppy taps” were causing the pages to turn, frustrating the little ones!

Toddler interacts with iPad

We then realized we needed a third way for users to experience the apps. Auto Play allows parents to start the book, hand their device to the toddler, and know that the entire book will be read to them from beginning to end.

Words still highlight. Artwork still pans and zooms. Pictures can still be tapped on. Music and sound still play. But page turning and returning to the main menu were disabled. Our apps were now toddler approved!

"All by Myself" by Mercer Mayer, for the iPad

"All by Myself" by Mercer Mayer, for the iPad

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Tomorrow: On digital rights

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More on creating apps from picture books

Our next Countdown Interview will feature Oceanhouse Media, creators of the best-selling Dr. Seuss, Berenstain Bears, and Mercer Meyer/Little Critter apps for the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and Android.

Fox in Socks for the iPad

Check here for interview dates. You will be able to post your own questions live. You can subscribe to this blog for notification, or visit our public Facebook page, Got Story?

On art media, sound, and teamwork

Our discussion about the making of the iPad story app “A Present for Milo” continues. . . .

Mike Austin, 1968

Mike Austin, 1968

7. What art media did you use? And what computer apps did you use yourself?

Mike Austin: I use a lot of scanned textures in my illustration, so before I began I gathered up a folder of all the things I wanted to use (different kinds of paper, cloth, banana leaves, etc.), I worked in Illustrator and Photoshop on the Mac.

8. What was the approval process or protocol between you, Rubin, Sequel Digital, and The Ruckus Media Group? Time frame?

Rubin Pfeffer: It was an iterative process — we approved it as we went along.  I touched base with Ruckus at key points along the way.

Ruckus had the same objective:  Great storytelling. They were actually more resolved to avoid gratuitous clickables that might suggest anything gimmicky.

The intent all along was to deliver a delightful reading experience that very young children would enjoy, and in turn, would be endorsed by parents and educators.

Mike Austin: It was a great collaboration between everyone.  It went very smoothly.  Sharon, Ken and I would communicate just about every day, with cc to Rubin.

We focused on one screen at a time. I would send the layered Photoshop files of the finished screens to Sharon for review. Ken would program the screen, and then send a prototype app that Rubin and I could upload to the iPad for proofing.

It was so funny, because I would get the app loaded, and then start jumping up and down, screaming “THIS IS SO COOL!!!!” The farther along we got the funnier our video Skypes became.

Joy Chu: Could you address the topic of voice-over? That is, did reading the text aloud have an effect upon who was selected to do the vocals? Who was responsible for that end of it?

Rubin Pfeffer: Mike’s reading was the most natural.  He recorded a preliminary track that we planned to use only for visual pacing.

We’d always intended to bring in a professional reader. When it was time to do the actual voice-over, we did a test with a professional.  It was very good, but it lacked the authenticity that we’d come to enjoy from Mike’s voice.

 

So we sent Mike back to the studio to re-read the manuscript. This time he was the voice celebrity. It just wouldn’t have been the same with someone else.

Most of the sound decisions were invented and decided between Mike and the Sequel Creative team, Sharon and Ken Streger. They had great fun “illustrating” with sound!

I got to see what a silly kid-at-heart Mike is, by listening to the many sounds that he himself is able to make up, right there on the phone.

Mike Austin today

Mike Austin today

Storyboards and collaboration

We examine the process of story-telling via the iPad and picture book paradigm, with author/illustrator Mike Austin and his agent, Rubin Pfeffer.
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4. Take us through the steps in transitioning from bookmaking to iPad parlance. Did you “play” with many other apps, while creating additional sketches and ideas?

Mike Austin: It took a lot of noodling to get the pages working in a way that made sense for the iPad.

Various character studies of Milo the cat

Various character studies of Milo the cat

I had to condense most of the spreads into single pages, split some spreads into separate pages, and then think about how Milo, the mouse, and all the other little pieces were going to interact once animated.

I looked at bunch of other apps to see how they handled page structure, pacing and animation which helped a little. This is all new to me, so I had to figure it out as I went along.

It was a very complicated puzzle, and incredibly time consuming, but I think the next one will be much easier.

Rubin Pfeffer: My first app also. I always think of picture books as experiential reading. This is a story app.

Creators using the new technologies now offer readers many other ways to experience the story.

I’m not saying that digital apps replace picture books. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Digital story apps are a different medium, with different outcomes. Not better. Different.

We often said (to ourselves) “just because we can do it, doesn’t mean we should do it.” We tried to stay true to the goal.

Any “taps” and surprises should happen to further the story line, and not just to “wow” ourselves or the readers.

Assorted sketches, notes, storyboards for "Milo"

Assorted sketches, notes, storyboards for "Milo"

5.  You then worked with Sequel Digital, a digital design and development group. Would you take us through what it was like working with them? Were there many revisions along the way? How many people were in your Sequel Digital team?

Mike Austin: Rubin put me in touch with Ken and Sharon Streger at Sequel Digital. It was just the four of us:  Rubin, me, Ken and Sharon.

We had most of our meetings via Skype video.  It was really a fun way to work together. I live in Hawaii, and they’re in Connecticut. So we would set up a video chat around 8 am my time,  2 pm Eastern.

Sharon would email me pdfs of the storyboard with a list of agreed upon actions, sound effects and narration typed out for each screen.

Storyboard with lists and notes

Storyboard with lists and notes

I would print it out and use that as my guide, scribbling notes to myself as I went through each piece of the puzzle.

Rubin Pfeffer: Yes, Sharon kept the chaos in order.  She was command central, knowing what kind of additional materials, illustrations — “assets” —  would be required of Mike in order to make anything move or appear.

She is an excellent designer as well, and had an immediate affinity to Mike’s graphic style.

Sharon’s notations were the “to do lists” for Mike and for Ken Streger. Sharon mapped it out on paper. Ken built the systems that make the app perform.

Storyboard refinements for the cover image

Storyboard refinements for the cover image

Mike Austin: We’d nail down the lead-in animations (the animation that occurs when a new page loads).  Once the lead-in animation ends, then the reader can begin exploring the page.

We figured out how many “clickables” we could have on each screen, and whether or not they enhanced or supported the story.

Detail from script for title image

Detail from script for title image

I had a lot of crazy ideas like the walls flying apart, stuff spinning around, etc., all happening at the same time.  Ken had to keep reminding me that if you have too many big complex things happening at once the program will crash.

I had to think smaller, less complex sequences — although there is one screen that fills with scribbles. Ken and Sharon made it work brilliantly.

Once we decided what could be “clickable,” we had to figure out the different animations that could occur for each clickable.

For example, the sailing picture on the wall in the first screen has several possible animations. Tap and the mouse jumps up from the boat.  Tap, and the octopus pops up and shakes the boat.  Tap, and a whale pops up, and lifts the boat with his spray.

More script notes for actions and corresponding sound effects

Script notes for actions and corresponding sound effects

6. What was the time frame between presenting your book storyboard to Sequel Digital, and completing all the final pieces for Milo?

Mike Austin: We had our initial meeting around the middle of August, and were ready for final testing around the end of November.

For a few weeks I would get up at 4:30 a.m. and start drawing, and usually finished around 10 p.m.  Regardless of how busy I was, I always made time for a short surf session in the middle of the day.

More handwritten notes, post Skype conference

More handwritten notes, post Skype conference call

Joy Chu: You completed all art and animation within two months (of 2010)?

Rubin Pfeffer: Because Mike’s storyboard was so sound, and we intended to keep this beautiful and effective by its simplicity, we had a pretty clear idea of what the app would be when we began.

That, and Mike’s focus, plus Sequel Creative’s clear directives, enabled this to get to the market as quickly as it did.

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