Interview: Night & Day's Writer Chris Wrenn

This week, our writer Chris Wrenn shares some insight into his creative process.

What is your role at Night & Day Studios?

I am a writer, in the broadest sense. I’m one of the newer people around here, and in the short time I’ve worked with Night & Day Studios I’ve written scripts, curriculums, promotional information, and I manage the daily blog posts. I like that nature of the job, that there are a number of different skills in action, different voices to use, and a variety of projects to think about.

What do you like about writing for Night & Day Studios?

I’ve been teaching college writing for a long time now, so I think what I like most is that it’s a radical, yet comfortable change. I’m accustomed to educational writing, but the audience is different here. I never imagined that I would be writing for toddlers or grade-school children, and this job provides a fun challenge that invites me to daydream more and think like a child on occasion. Plus, we have a lot of toys in the office.

Where there any writers that particularly led you into writing?

I don’t think there was any one, though there are certainly a number of people who influence my writing. Two I often reread, just to appreciate their styles, are Toni Morrison and Shirley Jackson, because I love the sentences they write. They both get incredible mileage out of their words, and convert insignificant moments into something grand.

The other major realm of influence would be the more imaginative thinkers, people like Kenneth Patchen, and to an extent, Anne Sexton for her crazy similes. They both make language associations that pull my thoughts out from under me.

 Kenneth Patchen's painted poem "Funny Felling"

Kenneth Patchen's painted poem "Funny Felling"

How do you approach a project at Night & Day Studios?

The same way I approach any piece of writing – I take as long as I can to think about it. Some writers talk about letting a story or essay unfold as it goes and allowing a sense of surprise in where the writing might go. I’m not that way at all. I like to have a very clear sense of what I am doing and how I will get there. I spend some time getting the voice straight in my mind and connecting that to objectives. Once I get that down, the writing is easy, a puzzle to put together.

Peekaboo World Tour: Presents

Our next exploration in the Peekaboo world tour brings a little bit of winter to cool your summer months: our writer Chris Wrenn on Peekaboo Presents.

The offices of Night & Day Studios look something like a toy store—each room is filled with games and books, stuffed animals and figurines, model cars and the tracks they race on. In my office alone, I have a train set, a toy ukulele, a camping adventure collection, a Lumpy Space Princess figure, a gyroscope, toy boats floating on a fake lake, wooden birds, and a collection of literature written for kids in board-book form. As such, Peekaboo Presents was a natural app for Night & Day Studios to make, because we never stopped loving toys.

When I play Peekaboo Presents, I’m reminded of the sense of wonder, discovery, and surprise that accompany children through life. It’s easy to forget those feelings sometimes as grown-ups, but the iconic toys, whimsical designs, and pop-up interactions provide a window into those years. When I see the rocking horse, I think of the old wooden horse that was passed down from sibling to sibling in my family (it also, perhaps morbidly, makes me think of Lawrence’s “The Rocking Horse Winner”). The teddy bear recalls the teddy bear quilt my great-grandmother sewed with fur made from felt, and the doll reminds me of my sister’s odd mix of ceramic antiques and corn-cob dolls, mixed in with her newer plastic models.

Of course kids love the surprise of opening a present in the game, guessing which toy might appear by its unique sound, and seeing favorite toys come to life. It’s a fun way for kids to learn cause and effect, letter recognition, and basic reading skills with lively additions like dancing pajamas. In storybook mode, the game finishes with Santa and the presents sleeping, making it a perfect addition to a child’s nighttime ritual.

Children have the gift of discovery, while adults have the gift of memory. If we’re lucky, or determined enough we get to choose the filter through which we approach the past. Peekaboo Presents’ playful nature invites us all—whatever our age—to share in the joy of opening the gifts that wait for us.

 


#Throwback: Shake & Make!

Nat Sims, founder of Night & Day Studios, shares his thoughts on one of our favorite apps: Ed Emberley's Shake & Make.

Ed Emberley has been my idol since I was seven years old and first got a copy of his Drawing Book of Animals. Ed created a visual system that I could follow as a boy and instilled in me a way of thinking that has carried into all of my creative pursuits:

See the essential elements of a form (or an idea, or a complex structure), and then break it down into smaller pieces without sacrificing that essence. Simplify with elegance.

So in 2010 and 2011, when we were figuring out how to license the works of great illustrators to turn into apps (building on our opportunities with Eric Carle and Richard Scarry early on), Mr. Emberley and Charley Harper were at the top of my list.

We had a fun idea to break down these very graphic, stylized illustrations (just as Ed himself had, in creating his drawing system) into pieces you could manipulate. Ed contributed the title: Shake & Make!

This is my favorite all-ages game we've made so far. Shake your device and see various faces and figures fall apart into simple geometric pieces. Pick them up and put them back together before time runs out! Paired with a great 70s soundtrack literally (and legally) taken from a radio station's vinyl records, it has a great, unified look and feel. I've never known when this funny little app will get its chance to shine, but I think today's the day.

And a hint: if you're having trouble sorting out all the pieces that fall to the bottom, that's because of gravity! Set the iPad or iPhone on its back so you can easily sort out all the pieces. My daughter even found a way to swirl all the pieces back into place, but that might be cheating.

 P.S. Lynda.com came to Portland when Ed visited us. They shot a great short video in our old, super bohemian offices. It was truly an honor to share some screen-time with my idol. Check it out if you can!

Interview: Night & Day's Graphic Designer Alan Wasem

Graphic Designer Alan Wasem took a moment to share what he does at Night & Day Studios, how he became a designer, and some of his major influences.

What is your role at Night & Day Studios?

I do a lot of things here, but mostly production design and graphic design. I often work with other animators and artists getting files ready for development. Sometimes I help the team concept and prepare proposals for client work, but I also work on Night & Day's original projects.

What project have you most enjoyed working on at Night & Day Studios?

I would have to say the project I am working on right now: Peekaboo Farm Day [coming soon from Night & Day Studios]. It is challenging because we are pushing limits on animation and functionality. It is an Night & Day Studios original project so everyone is involved in the discussion about improving the game and testing new ideas; it is always fun to work on projects where everyone at the table is excited and invested in making quality products.

 How did you get into graphic design?

I was always the kid in class whose responsibility it was to make the posters and artsy stuff for projects, so I guess that’s where it all started. Also, my grandmother got my family a computer with a page layout program that she got from a screen-printer friend—this was in like 1992! But really, I had an awesome photo teacher (Nicki Stager) in high school who opened my eyes to the fact that I could make a living making stuff; until then I didn’t realize it could be a career. She gave me a David Carson book and I realized that he was the art director at Transworld Skateboarding and at the time, I was really into that. After high school I went to Temple University in Philadelphia and studied chemistry, working toward a pharmaceutical degree, but I realized I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in a Rite-Aid pushing meds. Now I just push pixels. I dropped out of school and moved here with some friends to snowboard, and I kept making graphics, so here we are.

There's a funny story about it though: I had a professor at Portland State University who had us put together a project brief; I said I was going to go for a style like Carson’s (his aesthetic is kind of unique and definitely not hip anymore). She pulled me aside and told me to “Drop the whole Carson thing…”

A few months ago I saw Carson speak at Weiden & Kennedy, and who is in the first row—and an organizer of the event—but that same professor. I mentioned to the professor that I'd seen Carson at a meeting with a recruiter; I told her it seemed he was looking to move to Portland. She called me a week later saying Carson asked her if she knew anyone to help his dad with an iPad, so for a few weeks I went over on Sundays and hung out with Carson's father. I showed him how to wirelessly print from an iPad and fixed a computer, but mostly just visited and traded stories. Now Carson’s in town and I just got an email inviting me to come over this weekend.

That's a great story—I love it. Who else has influenced your aesthetic?

A big influence is surely Shepard Fairey. I worked at this skate shop for a bunch of years. My friend’s dad has been running this shop since before skating was cool, so the reps always hooked us up with the best gear. I remember the first time I saw the “Obey” stuff coming out of the boxes – I was pretty stoked. I didn't really know what it was at the time, but I had seen the stickers. How could you miss them? For a while there, it seemed like every other stop sign in town had Andre's face on it. Anyway, I was totally hooked when I saw the Chomsky shirt.

   
  
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      Have you been working on anything outside of digital products lately?     I’ve been working on a few things. Here are some of the projects I’ve made recently:

Have you been working on anything outside of digital products lately?

I’ve been working on a few things. Here are some projects I’ve made recently:


Peekaboo World Tour: Sesame Street

In celebration of our first book's publication, the board book version of "Peekaboo Barn", we're taking a tour through Night & Day's other Peekaboo apps. Second in the series: a guest post by Karen Halpenny of Sesame Workshop, with a recipe for cooking up a fun and furry children's app, "Peekaboo Sesame Street". Take it away, Karen!

 

David Kleeman, President of the American Center for Children and Media and PlayVangelist at PlayCollective, challenged content creators to make an “ingredients” list for their educational media. Challenge accepted! 

App Name: Peekaboo Sesame Street

Goals:     

  1. Design an app for the youngest segment of our audience to engage them with our characters in an age-appropriate interactive way. 
  2. Introduce toddlers to the basics of how to use a tablet since we know they’re using these devices in increasing numbers. 
  3. Integrate some fun into learning focused on science curriculum (prediction and cause & effect). 

Approximate time required: 6 months

Yield: 1 app

 

Ingredients: 

2 companies dedicated to creating quality digital experiences for kids

Night & Day Studios’ Peekaboo series of bestselling apps strikes a chord with the littlest learner—they’re simple and satisfying with just the right dose of interactivity. Sesame Workshop continues its mission to educate children through a mix of furry friends and technology. We think that makes for a match made in kid apps heaven!

2 researchers + 4 degrees:

From concept to wire frame to builds to release, the same minds that provide the show’s backbone of curriculum advise on all our apps, too. Based on hundreds of hands-on research studies, many with real kids and families, the Education & Research Group also makes recommendations about an array of “digital best practices,” including learning goals, user interface, and parent tips. 

2 performers + 1 recording engineer:

With over 30 years of combined experience making and recording Muppet voices, spending time in the studio with these professionals is hardly a tough job. Even without the physical puppets, these experienced performers make you believe Elmo, Grover, and Bert are right there. 

  Ryan Dillon performing Elmo

Ryan Dillon performing Elmo

 Eric Jacobson performing Bert and Super Grover

Eric Jacobson performing Bert and Super Grover

6 character voices + 1 audio archivist:

Digging through our audio archive of thousands of character clips led to one of the more enjoyable exercises: listening to longtime puppeteer Carroll Spinney joke around in the same recording session as both of his “alter egos”: Oscar and Big Bird.

1 Art Director:

How tall is the brownstone? Exactly what shape are Elmo’s fingers? The creative team helped us keep all the art on model while providing flexibility to make necessary adaptions to fit device screens.

2 legal minds:

When the producer (me) opines that this app would be so much better if it includes the iconic Sesame Street theme song, these kind folks work hard to make it happen.

2 analytics experts:

Measuring the whats, hows, and whens of audience usage is a new emphasis for allSesame Street apps because being able to track how users interact with apps means we can improve and update accordingly.

3 QA wizards:

Without wands or potions or spells, teams of testers at both companies tested and tested on every single device we could think of, trying to break the app before a consumer does. And then they did it all over again…and again.

1 million phone calls and emails between Sesame Workshop in Manhattan and Night & Day Studios in Portland, Oregon. OK, perhaps I’m slightly exaggerating…

 

Directions

Mix everything together and start collaborating. Add in a heaping cup of careful thought about each character and what objects define him or her – perhaps a pedestrian object that brings unexpected amounts of pleasure, like a paper clip chain. Sprinkle with “expressive sounds,” which seem like funny or sweet touches but which are actually very deliberate clues to help children with prediction skills. Sift art and sound and text together. Bake. Make sure not to take out of the development oven too soon. Watch the minutes go by, waiting for others to taste and share. Hope there’s a clamor for seconds!

So far so good! Peekaboo Sesame Street rose to #1 in the Apple App Store in less than 24 hours!

oscar.jpeg

Thanks, Karen! We had a fantastic time collaborating on this app, and we're honored to be a Sesame Workshop partner.

#Throwback: My A-Z

We're joining #Throwback Thursdays with a look at favorite Night & Day apps: as Sara's dad would say, "oldies but goodies." Nat Sims offers a view into one of his favorites.

My A-Z

My A-Z is a very simple concept: kids can make their own alphabets with photos and sound. In just a few minutes, you can have a completely personalized alphabet "book" with Aunt Amy, Brown Bear, Cookies, Dad, Elbow, Fairies, and Grandma. (You can even have two or three Grandmas—it's flexible.) It's free, and it's our third-most-popular app.

As a child I loved a Dr Seuss book that encouraged me to collect autographs from my dentist, teacher, best friend, and so forth. It was a personal collection from my own life. In 2010, when we looked at the hundreds of alphabet apps out there, we realized it would be a lot of fun to be able to quickly make our own alphabet collections. At first we thought we would do branded alphabets, like with Charley Harper's birds or Busytown cars, but then we realized we could give this power to create personal alphabets to you and your families. Kids could make their own.

Because of its simplicity, we had some doubters in our Portland studio, even when I showed them my personal A-Z of indie rock (who doesn't love "P is for Pixies"?). Upon release, the app got some critical attention but didn't take off right away. Eventually we realized something else: people don't pay for social media. And My A-Z is a form of social media for kids: a way to collect people and pictures they loved, and to share them, face-to-face, with their families and friends. So, we made the app free.

We'd love to find a way to share complete My A-Z alphabets on the Internet, but since we never collect personal information from children, they would have to be anonymous, and that kind of misses the whole point. Sitting down and looking at a tablet together is much more personable, and that's the idea. If you like it, tell a friend, and see what they do with it. 

Here is a nice review from iMore.com.

Interview: Night & Day's Sr Programmer Justin Hawkwood

Interview with Justin Hawkwood, our Senior Programmer.

You’re Night & Day’s Senior Programmer. How do you think of programming: as a creative endeavor, a technical exercise, a puzzle, or is it some entirely different way of thinking?

With some projects, I'm building functionality that I've done before or something quite similar and the process is very much a technical exercise.  In projects where I’m doing something more unique, I see it as a puzzle to solve: I know where to start and what I need as the completed functionality, but the path in between is not always clear. Occasionally in this situation, the solution is so obscured that I need to spend some time trying out far-fetched options to see if anything sticks, thus guiding me to a functional solution. 

Do you have a favorite app that you've worked on, either because you like the final product or because the work was particularly fun?

For both reasons, my current favorite Night & Day Studios app is "Yummiloo Rainbow Power". The team at Yummico were a treat to work with, and the characters they created in the Yum Yums are so cute and fun. Additionally, implementing the game play and interactivity was an interesting challenge that allowed me to learn and use technologies that I was less familiar with.

yummiloo.png

What are your duties at Night & Day Studios?

During the conception phase of a project, my primary role is to say what ideas are possible and/or feasible given the constraints of time and technology, along with how best to implement those ideas, or how to alter them to fit the constraints. During the asset generation phase, I serve more as an advisor, consulting on how assets should be provided, and occasionally generating apps to test a feature or functionality concept. In the programming phase, I take assets and game-play concepts and put them together into a functional app. Through the lifespan of the development of an app, these phases often overlap or are revisited, as ideas are tested and revised.

So you have a hand in every aspect of the production process from concept to completion. Can you give an example of a time when the dream or idea for an app was simply not plausible?

Early on in a project we throw out crazy interaction ideas that either roll into something feasible or  get discarded. Also, we've used different cross-platform tools to build some of our apps, and sometimes a desired functionality is limited by that tool, even if it’s something we could accomplish by developing natively on each platform. An example of the latter is audio listening/recording. The cross-platform tool we currently use does not have a recording feature, so while I’ve added recording to iOS versions of some apps (e.g. Peekaboo Barn's record-your-own-voice feature), we had hesitated to include it on apps developed cross-platform because we prefer our apps to have the same features for both iOS and Android.  With the help of the programming community, I now also have a working solution for Android, so we can include recording more frequently.

What do you like about working at Night & Day Studios?

There is a laid-back attitude that’s ingrained in the company culture. There can be stressful times throughout any project, but generally it's a friendly and relaxing environment.

Is it too early to share any details of your plan for world domination?

One word: Scandinavia. Oh, on a company level? Make apps that are fun to play, even if you aren't a kid.

Peekaboo World Tour: Fridge

In celebration of our first book's publication, the board book version of "Peekaboo Barn", we're taking a tour through other apps in our Peekaboo series. First up: a tribute to "Peekaboo Fridge" from our own Sara Berliner.

When my son was two his favorite toy was the refrigerator. No wonder: a fridge is a sensory playground for a toddler. A huge door to muscle open, a light that pops on, a blast of cold air, and inside, a riot of colorful objects in every imaginable shape. He would pull drawers open, climb the shelves, nab the ketchup, and complain when I tried to move him on to another activity. You can't teach energy conservation to a two-year-old!

So I was delighted when Night & Day released the "Peekaboo Fridge" app. Finally, I thought, a digital substitute where it's absolutely warranted. And one much more charming than my kitchen: a 1950s cat clock, cheese with a mustache, a banana in high heels and lipstick? A dance party under a disco ball before the eggs (wearing glasses, of course) fall asleep back-to-back? The analog version can't compete. My electricity bill thanks you, Night & Day!

fridge.jpeg


Night & Day Studios' Nat Sims on Peekaboo Barn's Publication

To celebration the release of the Peekaboo Barn board book, Night & Day Studios’ founder, Nat Sims, took a moment to reflect on the road that led to its publication.  We’re proud of the book, and of Nat and Nathan’s work. You can find the Peekaboo Barn book here.

BECOMING THE WRITER OF PEEKABOO BARN

When I was a kid, my dad let me try his manual typewriter. The afterwords of various Piers Anthony novels had convinced me I should become a writer, and the hard-to-press keys made my efforts seem very serious. Hours later I would have a single page of writing to wave in my friends' faces, and my mom in particular loved the idea that I would someday write a novel.

As I met a number of people I considered real writers my aspirations changed: I could become a publisher instead, or a game designer. Years later, some friends and I created Behemoth3, a short-lived publishing company that made monster books for Dungeons & Dragons. We made real, physical books that came with a searchable, hyperlinked PDF download at the same time—in 2004. Sadly, our great illustrator Sang Lee passed away, and we never published the one I wrote. (For you D&D nerds, it was about the remorhaz.)

When we shuttered B3, I returned to my day job, creating educational media for museum exhibitions. We made interactive kiosks, long-playing projected videos, sound pools, banners, backdrops, and text panels. I loved designing the gigantic graphics for exhibits but we relied on fabricators to get them made, and museums to promote our work. In 2008 we started making handheld tours, and once we had an app running on an iPhone, several of my dreams became possible at once. 

We could create stories and games and control everything about how they look and feel. Our first great success was Peekaboo Barn, an effort of dozens of people over the years and a bestseller that launched our business and over a hundred more apps. The only thing was, our apps weren't physical things you could hold in your hand. Yes, you could touch them, but they were ephemeral and battery-powered. I still wanted to make something "real," whatever that means.

And now my strange journey with books and writing has come full circle. We found a great book publisher—Candlewick Press—and worked with them to make the Peekaboo Barn board book. A strange rule of books is that there's an author, and as the original dreamer behind Peekaboo Barn, that title has fallen on me. It feels weird to have "written" a book that is mostly the word moo and similar animal sounds, but I won't deny that it's a thrill to have a book coming out. I hope you like it, and I hope I can share another story with you soon.

Peekaboo Barn Board Book Available Today!

If you have kids and love books, you've probably seen a bear carrying a candle on the spines of some of your favorite titles. That bear represents Candlewick Press and their sister company in the UK, Walker Books; together they publish wonderful books, stories and designs that highlight why digital media is a complement to, and not a replacement for, good old-fashioned paper. Candlewick is the home of Guess How Much I Love You, I Want My Hat Back, and Flora and Ulysses, which won the Newbery Medal in 2014. Their new imprint, Candlewick Entertainment, is home to our very first physical product, a lift-the-flaps board book version of Peekaboo Barn. We're honored it's the first book Candlewick has published based on an app, and even more honored to be work with another fiercely independent, employee-owned, author- and illustrator-driven, kid-centric company.

You can order the book from Candlewick directly, or from Amazon, Powell's, or from your favorite bookstore or website.

Peekaboo book.png

Peekaboo Barn: The Book

Night & Day Studios is proud to join the ranks of distinguished authors with the immortal word of "Moo!" The Peekaboo board book, a flip open adventure that allows toddlers and grown-ups to match animals with their sounds is available August 5th, 2014. Written by Nat Sims and illustrated by Nathan Tabor, the Peekaboo Barn book lets children play with the popular barnyard friends in a new, exciting way. Available for order now, the book comes with a free download of the Peekaboo Barn app, which Apple has listed in the Top 25 Education apps for more than five years.

Come join the fun:

Order the Peekaboo Barn Board Book from Amazon, Powell's Books or your local book store.

Welcome to Night & Day Studios

There are so many exciting things going on right now, we decided to re-launch our blog to share with our friends. Besides joining with new partners like BabyLit™, Highlights for Children, and Sesame Workshop, we are branching into new territories with our original apps. This blog will provide news on upcoming products, like our Peekaboo Barn board book, the upcoming Farm Day app, and more exciting adventures coming soon.

We will also review and discuss some of our favorite things for kids: books, movies, toys, and apps that we like and recommend. There will be insights into the creative and developmental process that a Night & Day Studios app goes through, a weekly playlist of music we’re listening to in the office, and developing stories we find notable for families with kids.