Chocolate Factory Publishing is a relatively new company. How do you profile yourself with the competition?
We know there are a lot of apps available for kids. The majority we’ve seen fall into the categories of games and educational apps. We’ve noticed fewer apps that can fill the shoes of the traditional printed picture book, something that can bring kids and parents together and spark a conversation about everyday things. That is the niche we would like to create. We are all terribly fond of printed books and we want to make apps that bring the best qualities of picture books to tablets and mix it up with all the exciting possibilities of digital publishing.
Why is “The Book of Holes” only available for iPad? Are you planning to make the app also available on other platforms?
Of course, we considered an iPhone version, but the illustrations are so detailed and complex that we decided it wouldn’t make sense. It would be too hard to click on the animated elements and play the games, and too many details would get lost. We are looking into tablet versions for other platforms.
If you look at the app now, which features would you like to improve in case you decide to do an update?
We are really quite happy with the look and functionality of the app as it stands. No bugs have appeared and we’ve had no complaints so far! What we do want to do is make other language versions available. Danish, Japanese, and Spanish will come first, but it would be fun to make a Chinese version as well.
Graphics: Did you add or cancel illustrations that weren’t in the original book?
The “good holes” page in the print version has a full-size hand wearing a ring and the hole is where the ring finger would be. By sticking your finger through the hole you become part of the illustration and can animate it in the simplest way possible. We had to rethink this page for the app, and it became a game where you have to place holes on certain
items (such as a shower head and an ukulele) to make them work.
The graphics in this application really make the product stand out. Where did the inspiration come from?
Poul Lange has been making collage-based illustrations for many years. It’s a medium that has always appealed to me. At first, I would mostly do abstract constructions using scraps of paper that caught my eye. When I started doing editorial illustration I had to create more “realistic” images, and that inspired me to get into illustrating children’s books. Fortunately I found that kids are drawn to collages and their multitude of details, even though they don’t look like traditional picture book drawings. I am inspired more by fine artists than illustrators. Kurt Schwitters and Joseph Cornell are great inspirations, but I try not to look too much at their work, as I don’t want to start merely copying their style. And Picasso is always good for an inspirational quote: “Every child is an artist. The poblem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
The Chocolate Factory is composed by people who have worked for companies such as Esquire and Nike. How did the transition to developing for kids go?
I don’t think any of us had a problem with this. We didn’t have to go looking for our “inner children”—they just jumped out spontaneously! It was almost like having a play-date. We got together, brought our “grown-up” knowledge, and started having fun. The techniques and technologies are the same ones we use in our other jobs, but the medium allows us to think outside the box. And we all relish the opportunity to work on something that’s so playful—it can feel really refreshing after a day of more “ordinary” work. It’s also really great to work with a small team of friends, as we have complete control over every aspect of the app; we never have to compromise on something justbecause someone in a corner office gets a bee in their bonnet!
The app is a stunning example of the convergence of art, education, entertainment and sound. How difficult or easy was it to find the right combination?
I think the key was not to think too much about it. We had a story to tell, but we told it mostly to ourselves (or our inner children, if you will). We find this is a more honest approach than trying to cynically figure out what (grown-ups think) kids need. Besides, we want our apps to be entertaining for parents as well. We started with the printed book, went through it, and let it inspire us to add animations, activities, games, and sounds–all the fun stuff the iPad allowed us to do. One thing we quickly found out was that we wanted a sound-side that matched the handmade feel of the illustrations. So we found an amazing “voice acrobat”, Zero Boy, who did (almost) all the sounds using only his mouth and vocal chords. We found that set our app apart from the many that use all electronically generated sounds.
Were there elements/ideas you had to cancel in the development process?
There were things in the printed book that could not be duplicated directly in the app—the obvious one, of course, being the stamped-out hole. The solution we found is in the transition from page to page, where you get sucked through the digital hole onto the next page.
Did you rely on research or find the right combination with a trial-and-error method?
Of course, we’ve shown the app to both children and grown-ups throughout the process, but mostly we trusted that our direction and intentions were sound. We are not great believers in focus groups—from our other work we’ve seen how too much of that kind of research can result in bland, middle-of-the-road products. But a considerable amount of trial-and-error was part of the process.
If you look back at the designing and programming process now, what was the most difficult phase? What did you struggle with the most?
Someone once said: The first 90% of the work is easy—it’s the second 90% that’s the problem. We found that to be very true. All the inspirational work, the playing around with possibilities, that all seemed quite easy and fun even though it can be very challenging. It’s the last phase, when you think you’re almost done, that is the most tiring. To get all the details to fall into place, prepare the stuff that really has nothing to do with the app, and get ready to launch was a lot of work, and nowhere near as fun as working on the app. And of course it doesn’t end with the launch…
Poul Lange and Kayoko Suzuki-Lange are the co-founders/owners of Chocolate Factory Publishing. Did they work together when the Book of Holes came out in 2006? Did they create the Book of Holes concept together? Were there other people involved?
We (Poul and Kayoko) have been married for eighteen years, so we’ve worked together before on many levels. Poul wrote and illustrated the (Danish) print version of The Book of Holes, but it was Kayoko’s idea to digitize it. We went looking for a programmer, and Rob Seward came highly recommended from our geeky friends. His girlfriend, Tracey
Hill, brought her editorial background to the mix, and now the team feels more like a family.
Was the company founded after the success of the book? If yes, was it founded with the idea to develop an application or where there other plans involved?
We founded Chocolate Factory Publishing LLC to publish this app, but we definitely want to do more. Several others are in the works.
Is there a story behind the name of the company?
We lived in a loft in a Brooklyn building that used to be a chocolate factory, and we thought “Chocolate Factory Publishing” was an appropriate name for a company that creates sweet goods! It’s also a bit of a nod to everyone’s favorite chocolatier, Willy Wonka. And what child—or grown-up—doesn’t like chocolate?