Tag Archives: Greg Uhler

A night time story for book, iPad, and iPhone…

Today we get a peek behind the process of turning one original book into an iPad and iPhone app, respectively.

The Berenstain Bears’ Bedtime Battle is the first title produced through an agreement between Oceanhouse Media and HarperCollins Children’s Books to bring more Berenstain Bears titles to the app market. Each omBook™  is created for two formats:  one for iOS (all Apple devices);  and one for Android devices.

Michel Kripalani, founder and president of Oceanhouse Media,  visited the Got Story Countdown last February to guide us  through his apps of classic books, including many best-selling Dr. Seuss titles.

Backstory on the Berenstain Bears:  Stan and Jan Berenstain were already successful magazine cartoonists when they wrote their first children’s book.  Inspired by their own two children, the bear family Berenstain first appeared in The Big Honey Hunt under the Dr. Seuss Beginner Books imprint of Random House in 1962.

Mike Berenstain and Jan Berenstain

Mike Berenstain and Jan Berenstain

Many more titles followed as the tales of Mama, Papa, Brother, Sister and Honey Bear garnered praise from education professionals and the reading public. The long-running series of picture, beginner and chapter books spawned a popular TV show on PBS.  In 2005, the  Berenstain Bears franchise moved to HarperCollins. Son Mike joined the enterprise after Stan passed away in 2005.  More than 300 Berenstain Bears books have been published, and more than 260 million copies have been sold.

I was invited to visit Michel and his team at Oceanhouse Media’s new office facilities in Encinitas, California, and to preview Bedtime Battle. Development Director Greg Uhler  joined the conversation.

Joy Chu:  Oceanhouse Media was already producing omBooks of the Berenstain Bears/Living Lights book series through the religious publishing house, Zondervan. Did you arrive at your current arrangement with HarperCollins as a result of that on-going relationship, since Zondervan is one of their divisions?

Michel Kripalani:  Certainly, the success that we had with the Zondervan titles helped. Previously, we had gotten The Berenstain Bears and the Golden Rule to #1 in the Book category on the App Store. However, we needed to strike a completely new deal for these titles. I had numerous conversations and in-person meetings with the folks at HarperCollins, including Susan Katz, President and Publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books. It took many months of going back and forth before Oceanhouse Media was given a green light to proceed. Bedtime Battles is simply the first of many apps that we hope to deliver together.

From there, HarperCollins Children’s Books selected The Berenstain Bears’ Bedtime Battle as the first app to be developed. It’s a fun story and seemed like an appropriate title to launch the omBook series.

Written in 2005 by Stan and Jan Berenstain with Mike Berenstain, Brother and Sister Bear will do anything to postpone bedtime. Playing with dinosaurs, having a tea party and getting a piggyback ride from Papa Bear all sound better than going to bed. Thus, the great bedtime battle begins!

Screen shot from main menu

Screen shot from main menu, iPad version

Greg Uhler:  The mischievous antics in the story gave our team the opportunity to be especially creative with the voice-over narration and custom background audio.

Karen Kripalani in the voice-over booth

Karen Kripalani in the voice-over booth

Michel Kripalani:  Swipe through the various pages of the app and you soon realize that the hallmark feel of the Berenstains is prevalent throughout.

As we’ve done with the Dr. Seuss apps, Oceanhouse Media maintains the original content of the book version. Every word and illustration that’s in the original 32-page print version of Bedtime Battle is included in the app. However, to display the artwork and text as large as possible on mobile devices, the app contains over 50 pages that pan and zoom to accentuate key parts of the illustrations.

Example of "pan and zoom" effect

Example of “pan and zoom” effect

The page zooms out to show more of the original illustration

Greg Uhler:  We don’t take liberties with the artwork and text. What we do is enhance what is already there. For instance, we add a thoughtful narrative, custom sound effects and music, and an appropriate level of interactivity that doesn’t distract from the original story.

We also use a “pan and zoom” effect where we take a page with multiple illustrations and enlarge individual images to create single pages within the app.

A key feature in The Berenstain Bears’ Bedtime Battle is the ability to touch individual words of the text and hear them spoken aloud.

For example, if a child is struggling to read a specific word on a page, they simply tap the word and immediately they will hear it pronounced for them.  We feel this feature provides an immediate and simple way for children to learn, whether reading with a parent or on their own.

Of course, Oceanhouse Media’s trademark reading modes — Read To Me, Read It Myself and Auto Play — are also included in the app, with word highlighting as the story is read and words zooming up when pictures are touched.

A word is highlighted when tapped

A word is highlighted and spoken aloud when the picture is tapped

Michel Kripalani:  HarperCollins Children’s Books, publisher of this Berenstain Bears book, reviewed various stages of the app’s development, commenting on such things as text placement and hot spots, areas on each page that allow a reader to tap on an image and see and hear the word.

In addition, Jan and Mike Berenstain reviewed the app and gave their input during the final phase of development.

One change they did request was to have the poem that’s on the first page of the book be the opening page of the app. They also asked that the treehouse image that’s on the title page of the book be its own page in the app.

Treehouse image from the second page of the omBook

Treehouse image from the second page of the omBook

They felt the addition of these two pages to the app would make it more akin to the physical book and would properly set the stage for the story. So, for the first time in an Oceanhouse Media digital book app, there’s a two-page introduction leading into the beginning of the story.

Greg Uhler:  As a developer, to have direct input from the author is a tremendous opportunity. We feel honored to have the Berenstains’ stamp of approval on the app and their valuable feedback along the way to make the app feel as close to their printed book as possible.

The poem that Jan and Mike Berenstain requested be the first page of the omBook

The poem that Jan and Mike Berenstain requested be the first page of the omBook

Michel Kripalani:  One challenge that Oceanhouse Media has mastered is adapting the images from the physical books to the 3.5 inch size of the iPhone screen as well as on iPad and Android tablets.

IPad and iPhone, side-by-side

IPad and iPhone, side-by-side

This is where our team’s years of software experience comes to play. A unique development process ensures that images are of the highest quality possible across all of the mobile devices we support.

iPad version






Above, top-to-bottom:  iPad, iPhone4, and  iPhone3.  Their screen sizes represent their relative screen resolutions. There are the same number of pages in the iPhone version as in the iPad version.

Greg Uhler:  Creating apps is a software business. But you need more than just the ability to write and program code to create a kid-friendly app. A strong artistic component, attention to detail, and sensitivity to the needs of children go hand-in-hand with the technology. It’s less about what we can do on a mobile device, and more about what we should do.

Tech artists working at Oceanhouse Media

Tech artists working at Oceanhouse Media

Most everyone at Oceanhouse Media has kids of our own, so we’re sensitive to the needs of young readers. We create all of our children’s book apps with a user-friendly interface that allows kids as young as two years old to enjoy them.

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Joy Chu:   Thank you, Michel Kripalani and Greg Uhler, for sharing your hard-won wisdom and details behind the  collaborative creativity of your team. And a special shout-out to Cathy Veloskey for coordinating all the details with us 🙂

Other news:  Michel Kripalani will be among the presenters at the upcoming 40th Annual SCBWI Conference in L.A.

Check out his workshop presentation, in person or via SCBWI’s live blog this Saturday. The Conference itself happens August 5-8.

Wait, wait. . . there more!  August 2, 2011 is the official pub date for The Berenstain Bears’ Bedtime Battle omBook.

Icon for Bearstain Bears Bedtime BattleTo celebrate, we are giving away a free download of The Berenstain Bears’ Bedtime Battle omBook (for iOS devices only). Enter a comment below. You will be asked for your email address — which will not appear on this page. Three winners will be selected at random from comments posted by August 9th. Good luck!

Late-breaking NEWS:
Click here for the names of the winners!


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


Tomorrow: On digital rights

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