The award-winning studio behind the latest story for Within’s AR reading app for kids prizes outside-the-box thinking over tried-and-true practices
Chromosphere is an Emmy Award-winning international design and animation studio that forges new creative frontiers using artists who believe in unconventional ideas and aren’t afraid to experiment with new techniques.
Under the leadership of Creative Director, Kevin Dart, Chromosphere created, “Sinclair Snake: Museum Mischief,” the seventh story for Wonderscope, Within’s critically acclaimed augmented reality reading app for kids. The detailed mystery-adventure featuring a slithering reptile who slimes objects in a museum, is the app’s most playful and active story to date.
Within caught up with Dart to talk shop about how his team achieved the amazing level of detail in the story, including the moody lighting and the clever sound effects. You’ll never guess which room at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles Dart used as inspiration.
As a father himself, Dart’s experience creating “Sinclair Snake,” stoked his enthusiasm about the potential of AR for teaching children to read.
Check out our Q&A below for more interesting details about Dart and Chromosphere’s process.
Kevin Dart photo courtesy of Chromosphere; Credit: Newton Dart
Q. First, introduce yourself and tell us what you do at Chromosphere
I’m Kevin and I’m the Creative Director and also Founder & CEO of Chromosphere. I do my best to guide the studio in fun and creatively satisfying directions, and also try to keep our artists motivated and inspired to do rad things.
Q. When growing up, did you have a favorite storybook? Are there stories that continue to inspire you to this day?
I love the “Spider” books by Robert Krauss, like “How Spider Saved Halloween.” Those are some of the first books I remember reading, and I just recently passed them onto my son who loves reading them too. I also loved, “Be Nice to Spiders,” by Margaret Bloy Graham, about a spider living at a zoo. I don’t know why I liked spider books so much. I think I like any book that encourages relating to and appreciating animals.
Q. Is Sinclair Snake the first story you’ve created using augmented reality? What’s behind the decision to make the story fully immersive?
Yes it’s our first project using augmented reality, but we’ve had a fair bit of experience doing VR projects, which made it natural to imagine this story in an immersive way. I think I’ve also always loved the idea of being able to transport to a completely new environment, so AR & VR lend themselves nicely to that.
Q. What kind of team do you bring together to create an interactive story for kids? Are you leaning into your experience with linear storytelling, gaming or both?
We’re really lucky to have a very technically & artistically diverse team at our studio who are super excited to adapt and problem solve on any new project. Everybody has a wide range of skills and backgrounds, from games to movies and TV series, so there’s a lot of different expertise we can call on to help us when we find ourselves in uncharted territory.
Q. The lighting of Sinclair Snake is extraordinary, with beautiful ambient occlusion and reflections that fully immerse you into the world of the museum. What was the creative thought process that led to this achievement, and the technical hurdles the team had to overcome?
We put a lot of thought and care into making sure that each room in the museum had a distinct feeling in the light and color scheme, which were designed by our art director, Jasmin Lai. These colors create moods & atmosphere which help accentuate the flow of the story and enhance the emotions. I think because the museum is so detailed and filled with objects, the way we approached the lighting was essential to making sure everything was readable. There were so many technical hurdles to overcome, such as the flashlight effect in the Egyptian room, or the laser & reflection effects in the gem room, but our technical guru, Theresa Latzko, absolutely triumphed over all of them.
Q. Were you inspired by any real life spaces when designing the immersive exhibits in Sinclair Snake?
Yes, we really wanted it to look and feel like a classic museum so we looked at lots of reference of places like the London Museum of Natural History with its grand arches and windows. We were also inspired much closer to home by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, in particular their incredible gems & minerals exhibit, which had a big influence on the climax of the story.
Q. How do you tap into your experience of being a Dad when it comes to designing an interactive story for kids?
We play so many simple and silly games at home using our imaginations, and I think I wanted to create something that felt as fun and silly as those games and stories we make up. The kids also love really simple sound-based jokes, which is part of why we attached so many varied and wacky sounds to everything in the museum. My son’s favorite is the squeak that Sgt. Salamander makes when you tap on him. We were really fortunate to work with composer Simon Panrucker who came up with the incredible score and the plethora of silly noises for all the objects in the museum.
Q. As the studio’s first AR experience, what was exciting to you about telling a story in this new medium?
We were super excited by the potential to break away from linear storytelling traditions and really embrace the interactive potential of the medium. I think that aspect is what really draws people into the experience and getting to know the characters, is having that chance to be a part of the story and help them out in a real way.
Q.What did you want kids to feel when they played through Sinclair Snake? What do you hope kids take away from the story?
I hope that it sparks their curiosity and imagination. I used to always fantasize about being able to step into the books I read when I was a kid. Now that kids have books they can step into and play with, it makes me really excited to think of what they might dream about doing next that will be even cooler.
Q. What are your favorite moments in this story?
It kills me every time when Sinclair says “A job? With a ssss-alary?” I like that he is so worldly and sophisticated yet so practical at the end of the day. I also really enjoy tapping the diplodocus skeleton. It’s very satisfying.
Q.What can AR do for animation that other mediums cannot?
I think it definitely offers an opportunity for imaginary characters to share a real world space with us that can lend a specific kind of believability that’s probably hard to achieve elsewhere.
Q. Anything else?
I really hope you all like it!
For more on Wonderscope, visit us in the App Store.