Tell us a little about yourself and your role at Moonbot Studios.
My technical title is software engineer; however, at Moonbot that means everything from programing to designing to making textures, sounds and all manners of things. Day to day, that means I write a lot of code. Also, I like bears.
The Morris Lessmore film received such huge acclaim, including an Academy award, did this make the development of the app more daunting?
Well, we made the app before the movie was released to the public. In fact, we were almost done with the app before the film premiered unfinished in our hometown, Shreveport. As someone barely out of college, I wanted badly to work on something really great and groundbreaking, so most of the pressure was just getting my other projects finished they'd let me.
How long was the development process for the app?
At the time I was with a company called Twin Engine Labs that collaborated with Moonbot. It took us about 8 months or so, but the story had been clearly defined when we begin production. There were a lot of technical challenges that we had to work out at the beginning. The story and app design were solid but we needed to find a way to implement in a smart way that worked for iPad. We were dealing with a team of super creative people who hadn't really created something fully interactive yet. It was challenging and a lot of fun.
The response to the app has been fantastic, what is it that you think appeals so much to kids about the story?
The app has something for everyone. For people who love to read, it's a great piece of literature. For those who love animation, there's beautiful imagery. I think it appeals to kids because it's exploratory and doesn't have a lot of hand-holding. You play around and see what happens as you experience the story. That's something that not a lot of apps do well and we hope we are achieving.
Is there one particular interactive part of the app that you're most fond of?
Hands down, the piano. That was the first thing I got to work on with my pal Jacob Jennings. Funny story about the piano, when we got the music for it, it was written in a key that wasn't possible to play on the piano we had designed. It only had one octave on it and if you started playing it, you couldn't finish playing the highest note. Luckily, I'm also a musician so I transposed the music to work with the keyboard we designed. Joe our art director had already painted all the keys and this was easier than re-creating all the artwork.
Tell us how The Numberlys came about.
We knew we wanted to do another interactive storybook app, because we enjoyed working on Morris so much. William Joyce had it in his head that he wanted to make the coolest ABC book ever and started writing the Numberly's story. Our interactive team had just formed and immediately started storyboarding and working through a million ideas. The development cycle was originally only 2 months and we had to come up with ideas that worked in that timeframe. It was tough but we were really happy with the results, which ultimately took more like 4 months.
Like Morris Lessmore, the style of The Numberlys harks back to the silent cinema era. Lang's Metropolis is often referenced. Was there ever a concern that this might alienate a modern audience?
It was something that William Joyce was fervent about. He doesn't like to treat kids like simple people. So, we don't use small words so that kids are challenged and seek out what those words mean. We typically don't keep the art style simplistic and overly cutesy. Cute is cute no matter what color it is.
What can children learn from The Numberlys?
Big words! To not accept things are they are. The characters are really unhappy with the world they live in and they set out to do something different, to make a change. It's really important lesson for kids to learn at an early age. Just because you're small doesn't mean you can't make big changes.
Educators have embraced your apps, especially when it comes to engaging reluctant readers. Do you think that interactive ebooks will eventually become integral to a curriculum?
Yes, but they won't replace anything. Just like with movies in the classroom, people study them and they still study books. Just because a new medium is introduced doesn't mean it replaces the old one. People study both.
In general, how important do you feel the use of mobile technology is to education?
I think importance is the wrong word for it, I think that however you can engage your students, you need to do that. If they're perfectly content learning from books, use books! If they love apps, use them. If they love movies, show them movies. There's no one answer to learning things, you just need to try new things and see what sticks.
What's next for Moonbot?
We just released a non-educational app, that's an insane, arcade-style game called Lollipop 3: Eggs of Doom. Last year, we released a game for the PlayStation Wonderbook called Diggs Nightcrawler that uses an actual book as the controller for the game. Some people may have seen the film and game we created for Chipotle Mexican Grill called "The Scarecrow" that's about ethical food production.
The Numberlys will get their own hard copy picture book later this year and we're working on an augmented reality app that goes with it. We have an animated short based on their story and it's making the festival circuit now. We always have about 10 or 12 projects going on simultaneously.
Nolan it's been a pleasure speaking with you. Thanks for taking time out to speak with us.
To find out more about Moonbot Studios click here.
Watch more video clips on their official Youtube channel here.