Was Puppet Pals your first project?
Actually no. Our first project was a drawing/golf game called "Invisible Links". Interestingly enough, it has a school theme where students pass notes around to play a game with disappearing ink because they are bored in class. Boredom is not an option when you use Puppet Pals though! We also released a simplified version as well called "Doodle Golf". Those were our first 2 apps to kind of learn the ropes, then we released Puppet Pals.
What inspired the app?
Heber and I grew up and went to school together. We were always fascinated with doing stop motion video projects. We would collaborate on these types of projects whenever we could create one to submit as an oral report. Basically, we would sculpt our actors from play-doh and then film frame by frame while making tiny movements between each. We would then "dub" the audio in later. This was a tedious process back in the days of VHS tapes, so the technology would often limit what we could do. We realized however, that with multi-touch on modern devices, we could create a streamlined animation tool that could empower students to create animations very easily.
We knew from experience that the act of re-creating a story tends to require mastery over the topic of interest. When a student has to become a director, screen writer, actor and producer of a short film, they engage fully in the project. At least we did.
Did you expect Puppet Pals to make such an impact in educational circles?
We are blown away by the amount of schools and educators adopting Puppet Pals into their curriculum. Puppet Pals 1 was a little more pop culture based initially but we quickly added the ability to make any custom puppets which opened up infinite possibilities. I have been impressed by the broad range of uses that educators have found for it. Some topics seem like an obvious good fit, like language learning and story-telling, but I have seen some creative math and science lessons use Puppet Pals very effectively.
What features of Puppet Pals do you think make it particularly useful in the classroom?
Customizability. Educator's have found creative ways to tailor the app to suit the needs of their students depending on subject matter, age, country, etc... You can literally cut out any image and make a character or prop etc.. Use any backdrop from your own images. The built in cut out tool works great but we even support importing transparent .png files.
I also think the ability to export a movie file is great. This allows teachers to share student work using whatever medium they are comfortable with. Uploading to a blog, YouTube, email etc...
How hard was it to develop Puppet Pals 2 into something different from the original?
We had a lot of brainstorming sessions to determine what we wanted to accomplish with Puppet Pals 2. We wanted to add more life and fun to Puppet Pals 2, making it a virtual playground while somehow making it even easier to use. I think there will always be a use for the straightforward simplicity of Puppet Pals 1 but I think we really created something engaging with the sequel.
One breakthrough and differentiator was enabling 1 finger to be able to handle scale and depth within the world. Now if you want to move an object behind another, you simply can drag it there intuitively. I knew we had something when my 20 month old girl could now play with the characters on her own. She quickly discovered (with the help of her 4 yr old big sister) how to put herself in a princess dress and drop herself onto a horse that she could ride.
Seamlessly switching to a physics based world when an actor reaches the background was another breakthrough. Now you can literally run circles around an object and even jump onto somebody's shoulders.
Have you been pleased with the reception for Puppet Pals 2?
We have been really pleased actually. We have gotten consistently positive reviews and praise online. We had hoped to get featured by Apple which is always great for visibility, but that hasn't happened (yet). We know there are still a few shortcomings to the sequel which we intend to address in future updates, most of that relates to customizability.
Lance, thank you for your time. All of us at iPad Educators honestly believe that your apps are some of the most vital in the education field. Keep up the outstanding work!
FACETIME: Lance Harris