Dash Interviews Developer/Illustrator Joyce McAndrews

“Being drawn so cute really makes playground life a breeze,” according to the star of Dash & Ditto’s Playground. Since he was so curious about his creator, illustrator Joyce McAndrews, we let Dash come up with some questions for her.

Joyce at age 3

When people see an app that is hand-drawn, it really stands out. Is this your first experience doing art for an app?

Yes, this is my first experience creating an app.  I answered an ad on Craigslist in December 0f 2009 requesting a children’s illustrator for creating apps for the Droid and the iPhone. The Droid was fairly new to the market  and I was excited to create a kid’s app for both platforms.

How did you get started in art? What other kinds of projects have you done?

I wrote a children’s book in 1996 and I wanted to illustrate it so I taught myself to draw and my medium was watercolor.  I drew in black ink only so I couldn’t erase and I filled books with random drawings.  My work had a natural whimsical feel.

I’ve worked on a number of projects creating illustrations for storyboards, residential and commercial spaces, film sets, environmental posters, textile designs, websites, and logos.

What drew you to doing art for a kid’s game? What was the inspiration for the bunnies, animal friends and the ‘playground’?

I’ve always wanted to work on educational projects for kids. Not long after I taught myself to draw, I was asked by a firm to animate a series of dancers I created but I didn’t have the confidence. I couldn’t wrap my head around the process.  When I took on this project, I didn’t know that it would lead to animation.  The app was supposed to be a simple project of inanimate objects used in simple matching games.  After months of creating images,  my programmer partner, Marc and I thought it would be fun to create a character that would interact with the kids.

We talked about different animals and then I remembered doing a commission for my friend Jamie’s daughter, Maya.  Jamie wanted bunnies for Maya’s bedroom so I created a piece that had lots of different bunnies in various positions.  I thought maybe I could bring the bunny to life.

The app started with just one white bunny.  Throughout the development of the app I worked closely with my 10-year-old Goddaughter, Sophia.  Sophia mentioned that the bunny needed friends.  I knew she was right and thought that issue was easily resolved by simply changing the color of the bunny to grey and using the same images for animation.

The inspiration for the bunnies’ personalities was based on Sophia and her best friend Elijah.  They were inseparable.  Sophia was always running off with a new idea and Elijah was a step behind adding excitement and creativity to the experience, hence the names Dash & Ditto.

As for the rest of the bunnies’ friends, I wanted diversity.  As the app developed, we tied the educational component in with all games teaching mostly how to count to ten.  So I created ten friends: a dog, a cat, a pig, a raccoon, a possum, a mouse, a flamingo, a squirrel, a skunk and last but not least an owl.

Although not so much a friend as a foe, let’s not forget the gopher. The gopher competes with Dash in a race for the carrots.  The inspiration behind the gopher was from the game whack-a-mole.  I find this game a bit much for a kid to be slamming a hammer on a moles head but kids love it.  I wanted to make a version that was kinder to animals.

What are your biggest challenges when translating art into an app? What are your biggest satisfactions?

The biggest challenge was the animation part.  How was I to create a series of images that would translate into motion?  I don’t have a bunny or any animals presently so I had to imagine what it would be like to move from an animals’ perspective.  I was up and down from my drafting table on all fours, eyes closed with pen in mouth at one moment and sketching the motion on paper the next.

There was one more element that was challenging and that was having to compromise on the image resolution.  Each file image had to be small in order to keep the app moving at a reasonable pace which in turn pixilated my otherwise precise lines.

As far as the biggest satisfactions, well they are exactly the above mentioned.  After a decade of constantly sketching thousands upon thousands of ink drawn sketches, I had gained the confidence to animate my work.  The moment Dash first lept across the screen my heart burst with glee.  I now can’t stop the desire to create more characters.

Another challenge was compromising image resolution for the good of the game.   It took a lot for me to let go of the “perfect line”; after all, that was my signature.

If you met someone considering creative work on an app, what would you want to share with them about the process? What advice would you give other artists considering digital media?.

It’s exciting and requires a lot of  discipline and flexibility. I look at the process like remodeling your home.  You set a completion date and the completion date passes and so does the next.  There are bound to be setbacks.  I’m learning to be present through the process and not get attached to the outcome.  Sometimes a little compromising goes a long way.

The work of an illustrator for print is simple.  The files are large, the resolution, high and the output is exactly what you expect.  With an app, the files are small, the resolution low and images can pixelate.

It is also interesting when dealing with the real estate constraints.  The window on a cell phone is small so when creating the layout you need to consider the limited space and keeping it simple is key.  There are lots of different phones out there so color and layout can vary.  Being opened minded and flexible helps to accept the varied platforms.

What else are you working on? What would you like to do next?

I am currently working on a new app, Touch World that teaches kids geography.  I chose this subject because Americans rank among the least literate in geographic knowledge of the world.  So I have set out to make geography fun.  When the player locates the indicated country, they get their passport stamped with the country’s flag, and  learn general facts (population, agriculture, languages, etc).

When researching the number of countries in the world, different numbers were shared but most reports state 195 (South Sudan is indicated to become the newest in July 2011).  So off I go to create thousands of images to support this goal.  It’s lofty but fun.

I’m not sure what my next project will be. Once I am through with the geography app. I hope to do more collaborating and it would be really fun to make an animated film with animals.

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