IPG Children's Publisher of the Year

Making The Three Little Pigs app: Q&A with illustrator/animator Ed Bryan

Posted by Deb on Feb 20, 2011

What’s it like to make an app? We thought you’d never ask! Recently I talked to Ed Bryan about his experience creating our debut iPad title: The Three Little Pigs. Ed’s background is in video games and before joining Nosy Crow as Head of Apps Development – Creative, he was an Art Director at Rare Ltd (Microsoft Games Studio). For the past 15 years Ed has worked on a variety of successful games titles as a 3D artist, animator and illustrator, including Kinect Sports, Banjo-Kazooie, Viva Piñata and Grabbed by the Ghoulies.

1. What sort of products have you developed in the past and how does creating an app compare?

The games I’ve worked on in the past have all been made by more than two people! The first Banjo-Kazooie game for the Nintendo 64 was built with 14 of us, whereas my last game, Kinect Sports had a team of around 70!

As the teams get bigger and bigger, you find yourself doing less hands-on creative work and more leading and directing. With The Three Little Pigs (TTLP), I was back to doing everything, which is scary and exciting.

Something that TTLP has in common with most of my previous work, is a focus on characters, and a younger audience. I want to make things that are beautiful,, charming, funny, have high production values and attention to detail.

2. What was the biggest creative challenge of this process?

The scariest thing for me was having to draw and colour in so much art! The technical challenges of building the app are things I understand well. But proving to myself that I was up to the job of illustrating the whole story on my own was something else!

At the start I was determined to try and produce art that had the look and feel of a picture book. I wanted new poses for each character as they appeared throughout the story. Everything had to be unique. I didn’t want it to end up looking like a video game. Against this artistic desire was the constant thinking about how on earth I was going to take the art and turn it into the 3D scenes that appear in the app, and how I should draw the characters so I’d be able to animate them well.

3. How did you approach the illustration? Was there a character you drew first and then the rest flowed from there?

In March 2010, when we had our first conversations about making apps, we made a quick mock-up of the wolf knocking at the door of the brick house. Amazingly, he changed very little; I think for the final story I just gave him a new pair of trousers!

A very early version of the sister pig (Pig 2) appeared in the demo too. But she was initially a boy!

When work started properly, I worked through the story and sketched how I thought each scene would look. Once we had all settled on that, I was able to start illustrating.

The first complete scene was the pig family at home. This was a good place to start as it gave me a chance to get most of the characters out of the way and get the feel for how the app would look.

For all the other scenes, I took the original storyboard sketches, worked through what interactions would take place and started to build up the final art on the computer. I had to remember that in the app you can look behind objects, so I’d had to make sure that I coloured in everything, even if you couldn’t really see it in the original 2D illustration.

4. Do you have a favorite character or scene?

Truthfully, I love them all. I think we were able to create individual personalities for each character, not only with how they look, but also the way they move and the way they all talk.

I like how the older brother pig (Pig 1) heads the football (soccer ball) in the final scene; how the sister pig dances a lot; how the confident little brother pig (Pig 3) builds his brick house, and how poor Mr. Wolf gets stuck in the chimney – these always make me smile. It was a lot of fun putting it all together.

My favourite scene? The football (or soccer) scene worked really well, and gives a little nod to Banjo-Tooie, a game I worked on a long time ago. I think the way the houses blow over came out rather well too.

5. What was the hardest part to draw or animate?

Getting the wolf up the ladder was tricky. No matter how I animated him, it never quite looked like the image I had in my head.

I had a few scary weeks where I put off illustrating the third little pig’s kitchen. I’d already had one go, but it was dreadful. I spent some time doing other bits and pieces for the app, but eventually I had to face the fear, and get on with that last scene.

6. Have your children seen the app along the way? How have they reacted? Do you incorporate their input?

Yes, both of my children saw the app taking shape and always wanted to see the latest build. It’s always tricky showing unfinished work to anyone and having to explain that the bit they want to play with isn’t working yet, or is broken at the moment.

The watershed moment came when my eldest son, who is five and a half years old, was able to read through from start to finish for the first time. Seeing him with the app made me confident that other children would enjoy what we were trying to make.

What I found very reassuring was that both children would always be asking to read ‘Little Pigs’. My eldest would offer advice too, such as putting a big arrow pointing up the chimney, so the reader would know where the wolf was going to come down!

Towards the end of the project, both children helped to test the app too. It’s remarkable how quickly a 2 year old can break a piece of software! This final stage of development is vital, and having children using the app regularly helped us to tune and polish the final product.

Click on the App Store icon below to get The Three Little Pigs for iPad. iPhone and iPod touch versions will be available in early March.

Comments (5)

  1. Fascinating! I’m glad to read that there is going to be an iphone version. I’ve been waiting for something to compete with Angry Birds – the only app that keeps the attention of a certain 4 year-old :@

    sue eves Monday February 21, 2011 #

  2. Hi,
    Very nice project. Just wondering how you made it? Is it 3D like Unity, or 3DSMax and then some sort of embeding in apple xcode? I’m a freelancer (french one) very interesting by this kind of enhancement.
    Thanks for the details, very stimulating ;-)

    Pierre Martin Monday February 28, 2011 #

  3. Thanks Pierre, glad you like the app. I use Maya for all the modelling and animating. We have our own proprietary engine running on the devices.

    Ed Monday February 28, 2011 #

  4. Congratulations on the app Ed, it truly looks amazing, I like the fact that you made every character unique the way it moves it really shows the characters personalities. Currently I’m working on a similar project animating illustration for a children’s book although not interactive, but certainly something I’d like to do, very interested in this kind of work.

    Wilson Galucho Friday March 11, 2011 #

  5. Hi Your version of the Three Little Pigs is enchanting. My little boys love it and I have to say I love it as well. Thanks for sharing the behind the scenes story. Do you think this is the future of the children’s picture book? By the way what animation software do you use?

    Clive Rose Monday October 31, 2011 #

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