Adelaide-based design studio Resin's latest app takes an existing (and excellent) children's book and turns it into something truly wonderful.
The field of digital books is one that's over-stuffed with attempts to make reading "interesting" for kids, because this is a task that can be exceptionally hard to get right. There are some great reading apps for tablets, and some mundane ones as well.
Aussie design house Resin sent me a copy of both the Two Left Feet book and app, and, having seen plenty of kid's eBooks -- I have kids and a wife who works in early childhood education -- I'lll quite honestly say that I'm impressed with how well it all works. Augmented Reality apps are nothing new, but finding ones that work quite as seamlessly as this does is rare.
I caught up with Resin's Grant Lovering to get the lowdown on Two Left Feet and the book format that Resin's hoping will catch on.
Giz: Why do we know you? What have you created?
Grant Lovering: You most likely don't know us. Being tucked away in Adelaide we are often the last to meet, but we have been working away at building our profile nationally and internationally in recent years. Of significance our studio Resin has designed produced 3D animated content for Disney in the US, handled the visual effects on the Australian film Red Dog and has produced work for companies including EA, Braun, Mitsubishi Motors and Bridgestone.
This is our first venture into our own IP outside of our service work for advertising agencies, film producers and television networks. We have created Two Left Feet, an app for tablets and smartphones. Two Left Feet is a book written by acclaimed UK children's author and illustrator Adam Stower. The story itself is about Rufus, a monster who loves to dance but has Two Left Feet. The story teaches us how it is often our differences that are the things that make us special and unique.
Resin optioned the story a few years ago and have created a new type of 3D animated interactive book that uses augmented reality to bring the existing book to life. In developing this new product we have also created a new brand that the format that we have created called boooKAPP – The modern day pop-up book™ (pronounced boo cap). boooKAPP has just been added to the list for best new publishing start-ups at the upcoming Frankfurt Book Fair.
Users can purchase the app through the Apple App Store (as of 28th August), the app then provides a couple of options. If they own the book they choose the appropriate mode and then simply point the devices camera at the book (all the pages including the cover) and the app will augment the pages with 3D animation and a narrator will read the story to children making it perfect for children who cannot read yet.
For people without the book the app comes with a canvas that you print out in either colour or black and white. You then point the device camera at the canvas and have the same animated experience of the story. Instead of turning pages you have an interface to progress to the next page. Then as a bonus and a different experience a more traditional animated eBook that features the original illustrated artwork of the physical book is also included. The AR modes encourage all sorts of exploration of the animation as users can move the device in close to see details of the 3D animation or move around the objects with the device or rotate the book or canvas to explore from any angle.
Whenever we have the opportunity to present the app the responses have been amazing. We've seen adults peer around the iPad to double check something extraordinary hasn't just happened and kids love interacting with the AR sneaking hands (and my daughter her feet) around and seeing themselves in the scene. For a lot of people it is their first interaction with AR as it is still a technology that hasn't found a way to have its place and reach the masses. I think this is changing rapidly though with the penetration of camera equipped tablets and smartphones.
For us the opportunity has been a breath of fresh air for our studio. Developing everything from the beginning has been a great experience and being our own client has been a valuable learning experience. The opportunity to take our studio's expertise to this new platform of app development and apply the production values linked with our service work has led to a product we think has significant merit and value.
It finds a place to add value to a traditional medium rather than replace it. The technology will work with any copy of the book so there is no need for fans of Rufus (the lead character) to purchase a new copy. We also believe we have created an experience of value that both children and parents will enjoy either independently or together. It really is a positive use of technology in the way it encourages that interaction and with a story that has some really nice values attached to it such as Two Left Feet.
Giz: What platforms do you develop for?
Grant Lovering: Two Left Feet is our first release, this is currently available for iOS. We are planning an Android release later this year provided the iOS release meets certain targets. We have also invested heavily in augmented reality development.
Giz: What are you working on right now?
Grant Lovering: Right now we have service work projects on the go including an installation for Peroni, we are in discussions of an AR solution for a new franchise property in the US and we have a few advertising projects on that we are unable to discuss.
We are in production on our next project, this is more of an entertainment/game genre app and will also feature an AR experience based on the boooKAPP platform and uses an adaption that we have written to create a variation on the typical AR experience. We are also in discussion with several parties and their interest in developing boooKAPP's which is an immediate focus of ours as we look to find partners who want to create more products using this platform we have created.
Giz: What do you think about the rise and rise of App Stores? How has it influenced your titles?
Grant Lovering: Without the App Store I doubt we would be here talking about Two Left Feet. It has been an opportunity of the time for content creators like Resin to reach consumers in a way that would not have been practical or financially viable.
If someone said to us when we started out that there will be infrastructure that you can use that hooks into devices owned by millions worldwide (might be billions by now?). They'll handle the platform, distribution and the sales the world over and give you a system to manage your products. And you can keep the majority percentage of sales – we'd be fairly interested.
Developing for the Apple platform has it's benefits as you are typically only worrying about a handful of devices that all share the same common operating system. It's ideal as far as development goes, I remember when I was involved in developing multimedia in the late 90s and trying to support infinite combinations of computers and cards that weren't really at a level of sophistication to do the types of things we wanted them to do had its challenges.
The App Store hasn't really influenced this title…this title will inform us though and will no doubt influence future titles. We are already thinking about this for our title in development.
Giz: What’s your favourite app that you didn’t create?
Grant Lovering: I'll be a little bit boring here but I'll give you two options and completely different spaces. From a work perspective I have found the Artemis app to be invaluable when we have been shooting, it allows you to preview different lenses for different cameras on your iPhone saving you valuable time on set when you are making decisions with the director of photography. Then I have to say the AFL app is pretty well used during the season and offers everything you could want.
Giz: What phone do you use? Why?
Grant Lovering: iPhone 5. Apple make great products, they innovate, they support them well and can't recall them letting me down (if they did I must have blocked it out).
Giz: What advice do you have for budding Aussie developers out there?
Grant Lovering: I think the value of design. Particularly those coming from a pure technical background, find partners that can help make your technical wizardry functional, easy to use, engaging, appealing to stand out from the noise and memorable. The beauty of App Stores and their accessibility is also our biggest hurdle as the chances of getting lost and people not finding something that can be quite amazing or perfect for one's needs is a barrier we all face.