Very young users

getting to literacy faster

It can be demoralizing for a child, when their classmates learn faster than they do, and it's difficult for even the most dedicated teacher to fully understand every individual child's needs. I designed (and illustrated, and animated) an online reading program for an educational materials company, to provide teachers and parents with detailed data on a child's progress, broken down into five areas of reading, which we collected through a series of reading games. 

The program

The program consisted of two  hard-backed readers, which I designed and illustrated, and animated versions of each story in the readers. After reading a story in class, the child could watch the animation at home, then play games based on the story. The games tested the child in five areas of reading. Their game scores were tracked across stories on a reporting dashboard, so a teacher could quickly identify the student's problem area.

The production budget was well below what we needed to pull off a project as ambitious as this one, but I found a way:

In addition to creating all the visual assets, I was the sole animator. I was fortunate enough to find both an exceptional composer and developer, who were willing to work below rate. The asset list was daunting: a total of 16 stories, each of which needed to be illustrated for print, then the same characters and layouts recreated in Flash, animated, edited to recordings by actors, which I also directed,  sound design , which I did, and over 70 game screens to accompany the stories. 

pieces of puppets

l drew inspiration from Thai shadow puppets: If I could design the characters as flat puppets with moveable limbs, I could re-use the limbs for each character in multiple stories, and I could create a sort of floating motion for the characters that I hoped would contribute to the dreaminess of the abstract layouts I designed and provide manageable consistency of movement across the episodes. 

For each story, as the animation played, the child could watch the narration, as well as listen to it. I used the classic cartoon "follow the bouncing ball" technique, and highlighted each word as it was spoken. The hours required to manually key each frame to follow the spoken words over all 16 webisodes was enormous, so we found high-school students who wanted to learn about animation. I taught them the basics of Flash, and they took on the narration key-framing.

We finished the project in nine months. Our composer, the amazing Boone Johnson of Aural Produce, delivered ethereal, funny, wildly imaginative scores. Our sole developer, Owen Maher, built not only the web app and games, but also the database and tracking app for teachers and parents to use, as well as the website. 

I found an excellent off-shore printer for the books, which needed to be produced with soy-based inks for safety.

It was an all-consuming project for me - art, production, project management and an intern program - and a wonderful experience!

The story portal

Game screens

The learning tracker

Promotional photos

I created the program's entire asset library, down to the program and company logos.