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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4 responses to “On voice-overs, and testing story apps

  1. Pingback: From games to children’s story apps | got story countdown

  2. Dave: I think it’s a plus that there are ancillary games available, separate from and in addition to, the story apps offered. I think it’s ideal to separate the two activities, which are both fun and fully interactive besides. Interesting to note that the sum total cost for both the app and its corresponding game is only a fraction of what the old CD-Rom Living Books were, using existing electronic equipment you may already have.

  3. Dave – Yes, I remember those old CD-ROM products well. Broderbund did wonderful things with the Living Books series. There are problems with that approach, however, so we chose a different route…

    1) We made a conscious decision that everything in the app had to support learning and literacy. Don’t get me wrong, we still have a ton of interactivity. Many of our pages have as many interactive spots at those older CD-ROM titles. Click on the hat in our app and the child will see the word “hat” float up on the screen. This will be re-inforced with the narrator speaking the word. We call this “picture / word association”. Tap a picture, see the word and hear the word. This will teach a child to read. By contrast, we could have the hat fly up in the air, spin around, do a dance and drop back… but what does the child really learn?

    2) Adding all of the superfluous animations costs quite a bit in terms of time and money. The Living Books CD-ROM were $29.95 (or more). Apps are generally priced $0.99 – $3.99, so even if we did want to include a large amount of animation there is only so much that we could really do and still run a profitable business. Given the production effort that used to go into a single Living Books title, Broderbund used to produce 3-4 titles a year. By contrast, Oceanhouse Media will produce well over 80 children’s titles this year.

    In summary, we made a conscious decision to focus on educational factors first while also managing our expenditure on a per app basis. We believe this is a solid long-term strategy.

    As a kicker, when we have a large library of inexpensive apps children all around the world will be able to experience them. Just wait until an iPod Touch can be purchased for $49 and loads of fantastic apps can be put on the device for just a few dollars. It will be a much better result than waiting for a parent to purchase CD-ROMs for $30 a piece, not to mention the hardware required to run them.

  4. The old OS 9 CD-Roms had interactivity. When the page was finished being read, it allowed you to click certain objects which would play a fun, silly animations with the object you clicked, then go back to position one. It’s a shame these don’t have that. It made the electronic books far more interesting and fun.

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