Interview with Carrie Alexander (from Rocketwagon)

First off: congratulations!! Can you tell us what inspired you to tackle the app as a medium, rather than, say, a traditional book form?
CA: My husband, Jon, is a freelance creative who has a background in graphic design, video game development, writing, and video editing. He had no app development experience, but because of these other pursuits was aware of the possibilities within the app medium. This idea first came from a drawing that our daughter had made, and when Jon saw it, he was immediately able to visualize the possibilities for Kalley’s “machine” as an app. The original drawing had a lot of interesting stuff in it-fire, choppers, smashers, cranks, and conveyor belts, and it was easy for him to see how these elements could controlled by little fingers on an iPad. We never considered making Kalley’s Machine into a traditional book because Jon understood this “new” idea of digital interactive stories. I had no idea what he was talking about, and he had to explain it to me in more traditional terms by saying that we were going to make a “pop-up book” for the Ipad. When he said this, I understood.

How did you come up with the idea for Kalley’s Machine Plus Cats? Was this a team effort, or did one person take the lead?
FamilyPhotoCA: When our daughter Kalley was 4 years old, Jon took a job downtown, which meant big changes for our family. We had to buy a second car because Daddy would be commuting, instead of working out of our basement. Kalley was very sad about this new development, and she came up with a plan. She made a drawing that was difficult to decipher at first, but because it was clearly important to her, Jon sat down and asked her to tell him what it was. She solemnly explained that this drawing was a plan for a machine, and that if he would just build it, the machine would make food for us, so we wouldn’t need to buy it and he wouldn’t have to go away to work anymore.

Right about that time, we had been dreaming about how we could spend more meaningful time together as a family. Both of our girls were getting older, and life was becoming more “busy”. We began to wonder if we could do something to fight the fragmentation, and that’s how we came up with the idea of making a story together. So it was a team effort, but was absolutely led by Jon. Basically, he built the app and let us help with the details. I did most of the machine drawings, and our older daughter, Corbett (8), drew the cats. The girls did the sound effects, and Kalley and Jon narrated the story. We made our own background music with our old Muppet keyboard and stuff around that house that sounded cool when we banged on it (like the furnace).

screen03What was the most difficult part of developing and producing the app? The most fun?
CA: The hardest part was developing the discipline needed to create something. Each of us loves to draw and be creative in our free time, and it took us a LONG time to stop treating this project like every other (often unfinished) craft we do just for fun. I have never had a job where I had to draw the same thing over and over again until it is exactly right. Kalley got easily bored with doing the recording, and couldn’t understand why she had to say the same thing again and AGAIN! We learned that little girls are not nearly as talented at sound effects as little boys are! Jon was SO frustrated with us at times, and I think that if he could have fired us, he would have!

itunesFeatureThe most fun part was that we just spent so much time together. This whole thing started because we love being together as a family (that’s why Kalley didn’t want Jon to leave), and her machine really did accomplish it’s purpose in that respect. For about nine months, most of our free time was spent working on this app together. The other “most fun” thing was that when Kalley’s Machine launched, it was featured on the FRONT PAGE of the app store. It was a huge thrill for our whole family to see Corbett’s cat right there next to Disney’s Olaf!!

Do you have any advice for parents using this app with their kids? What can they do to extend the creative experience beyond the device and into the real world (with art projects, crafts or conversations)?
RW: We envisioned Kalley’s Machine as a shared experience, so we hope that parents and children explore it together. We purposely left out arrows and other instructions, so that you just have to play around with it to see what it does. In the weeks after our launch, I got messages from friends (and strangers) who would say things like “we didn’t realize that this part did that and it made us laugh when we found it!” And I would say “that’s what we were hoping for!”

I hope that the “painters” make kids want to mix up their own paint colors to make the perfect color for their own art, and I hope that the “baker” makes kids want to help Mom in the kitchen. We had hoped that the “touch to read” feature would help beginning readers with new words, and at our Launch Party (to my delight) our neighbor came up and said that they were using it exactly for that purpose with their kindergartner. We have heard from parents whose children, inspired by our app, have created their own drawings (and 3-D models) of “machines”, so I would encourage families simply to ask their kids “if you could make anything, what would you build?” and then follow it up with “why don’t you show me?”

FamilyKalleyWaveIf you don’t mind telling us, what can we look for from you next?
CA: We hope that Rocketwagon is a vehicle by which we, together as a family, tell stories we need to hear and make games we need to play. We are currently in the early stages of  development of a game about a street kid from Rio De Janeiro who juggles a soccer ball in the streets, hoping to use his soccer skills to escape his life of poverty. We think the interactive medium is a powerful way to involve the audience in a story. And we think that involving our girls in a project like this is a powerful way to educate them about the realities of poverty in other parts of the world and become part of the solution.

Thank you, Carrie!
CA:Thank you SO much for this opportunity. We are truly honored by the Cybils award.

Be sure to check out their video on YouTube and follow them on Facebook or at their webpage.