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What Do You Get When You Mix Dolly Parton and Toca Boca?

It was a hundred years ago and details are fuzzy, but I remember as a kid, seeing a skit on The Electric Company about a chef who was fired because he confused cabbage and lettuce in all his recipes.

The original cast of The Electric Company

I guess the idea of mistaken identity among everyday objects has always tickled me. After digging into my creative subconscious recently, I dreamt up an idea for a short-form animated series called Don’t Mix Us Up!

This absurd musical offering would feature pairs of inanimate look-a-likes singing about how despite their visual similarities, they are really quite different. The idea sat on the proverbial shelf until suddenly and without much warning, Toca Boca called. 

I’m guessing if you’re reading this piece, you have the same obsessive love for everything Toca Boca makes, but in the slight off-chance you happen to be my grandmother and don’t know Toca Boca, I’ll simply say that Toca Boca is the Holy Grail of children’s digital media. Consistently, in the last six years, Toca Boca has broken just about every record, won every award, and earned a top spot in each list of the world’s greatest apps for 3-5 year-olds. Their stuff is adored by kids and parents around the globe and is in a word, amazing.  The hallmark of the Toca Boca experience is what’s called “sandbox games.” No winner, no loser, no goals or objectives – just a fun experience. Toca Boca doesn’t make digital games. They make digital toys.

Toca Boca announced it was building a new platform for short-form programming called Toca TV. The aim of Toca TV is offering kids the same kind of no-stress and fun digital experience – but targeted now to a 6-9 year-old demographic who had aged out of the Toca Boca apps designed for preschoolers.

I immediately blew the dust off my weird look-a-like idea and whittled a (way too giant) list down to the following resemblers: Salt & Sugar, Zero & Letter O, Whipped Cream & Shaving Cream, Mustache & Eyebrow, (and of course) Cabbage & Lettuce.

The first order of business was simple: author snappy lyrics with clever rhymes, personifying otherwise lifeless props, while lightheartedly extolling the virtues of each, and constructing observational distinctions between them.

I realized the second my pen tip touched the paper, I was in trouble.

To appeal to the ever so choosey target demographic, the Don’t Mix Us Up! lyrics had to be comedy gold. Hilarity at its finest. Yet, no matter how hard I tried, my words kept ended up flatter than flapjacks.

Here’s an early verse of Cabbage & Lettuce. Embarrassingly, this horrible version is the one that came after I already had thrown out about 16 other versions I thought were bad. I cringe at the thought of anyone reading this, but sadly, it’s important for storytelling purposes:

We’re cabbage and we’re lettuce,
Same size and shape and hue.
And though people try not to,
They always confuse us two. 

The rhymes were juvenile and predictable, my grammar was cloying, and my iambic pentameter was all over the place. I began to agonize over the project. Somehow, I had five segments due, and I didn’t even know how to even begin the first one.

Then it happened. Like a conquering western hero kicking up dust and riding in steady on her mighty steed, she galloped (in slow motion) into my subconscious with a six gun by her side and a mighty impressive catalog of heart-wrenching tunes bursting from her sweet country heart.

 
 

That’s right. Dolly Parton. Somehow Spotify decided I should be listening to classic country tunes one morning on my walk to work, and boy, howdy, am I glad it did.

Have you really ever listened to Dolly Parton’s songs? The woman is truly a lyrical genius. I urge you to put down this blog right now and pick up your music player and see just what I’m talking about. (On second thought, finish reading the blog first. I worked hard on this thing.)

Two things especially struck me as I was listening to Ms. Parton’s early stuff. (as with most performers, her early stuff is really the best stuff.)

  1. Her lyrics always sound like they rhyme, but a lot of times, she’s uses, ALMOST rhymes.
  2. Just when you think you know what she’s gonna say, Dolly zings you with an unexpected word.

Here’s an example from Coat Of Many Colors (one of my favorites.)

Back through the years I go wandering once again
Back to the seasons of my youth.
I recall a box of rags that someone gave us
And how my momma put the rags to use.

Did you catch that? She just rhymed YOUTH and USE and it totally worked. I listened to every Dolly Parton song ever recorded – some songs over and over again trying to get some of that country storytelling brilliance into my blood. Then, with confidence, I went in for round two of my Cabbage & Lettuce song.

We look a little bit alike
But you’ve got to get it right
I’m cabbage
And I’m lettuce
Don’t Mix Us Up!

See what I did? I rhymed ALIKE and RIGHT and it totally worked. Or as country music’s royalty taught me, “It’s as OK as ol' Blue layin' on the porch chewin' on a big ol' catfish head.” (That’s a good thing.)

The rest of the lyrics gushed out of my pen like the mighty Mississippi and I couldn’t be more proud of how the segments came out.

Hearing the final dance-mix vibe (composed brilliantly by Junior Joe), you would never in a million years guess that country music had anything to do with the genesis of the segments.

kidscreen awards

Now Don’t Mix Us Up! is a finalist for a coveted 2017 Kidscreen Award and if I happen to end up on the stage holding the shiny award and you see me lean over and say into the microphone – as I’m surely being played off the stage – “I want to dedicate this award to Dolly Parton.” You’ll know exactly what that’s about.

Please enjoy the final Cabbage & Lettuce segment below. I dare you not to wake up at 4:00 a.m. with this tune stuck in your head. You can watch the other four episodes we made for Toca TV on YouTube, and be sure to download the app for hours of playful fun!

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February FableFriday: Mikaela Johnson, Production Assistant

Everything’s coming up roses. With Valentine’s Day a couple weeks away, we’re thinking sweet thoughts about our staff, but especially for Mikaela Johnson. The newest member of our production team has been hard at work helping our producers pull together complex projects with big impact. Her love story with educational media started when she was a kid—and she was familiar with one particular piece in our portfolio before she even started

“Well I guess you could say my journey began with playing Zoombinis at my family friends’ house when I was very young,” shares Mikaela—and it wasn’t just games that caught her interest.

“Some of my earliest home videos include me as an infant sitting in front of the television watching Arthur or other PBS programs,” Mikaela says. “When I think about my own childhood and the role that media played in development, I realize how important it is to make sure the content out there is going to foster healthy development in kids.”

With Mikaela’s day-to-day devoted to spreading the love for all things media-related, we sat down with her to learn more about her adventures in production, advice for budding professionals, and Mikaela’s unmatched affection for breakfast food.

 Welcome, Mikaela! What’s your journey to FableVision story?
I formally entered the world of public media through WGBH in Boston. I spent my first summer at WGBH interning with On Campus Radio, where I learned the ins and outs of news reporting and radio production. The following summer I returned to WGBH, this time in the children’s department, and became an intern for High School Quiz Show. I fell in love with media production, primarily but not limited to children’s media. I started as a freelancer at FableVision helping with some big animation projects and eventually joined the team full time as a production assistant, where I get to work on a full suite of media!  

Can you walk us through a typical Monday in your shoes at FableVision?
On Mondays I begin the day by catching up on emails and then checking in with the producers to see what’s on tap for that day. We have a weekly staff meeting where we discuss deliverables for that week and get updates from the various departments. The coolest part about these meetings is that each week a different FableVision staff member will showcase one of the awesome projects that he/she has been working on! Throughout the day I am scheduling and attending client meetings, checking in with artists, animators, and developers to make sure they have all the tools they need, and participating in various project discussions. Every day is different, and I always have to be on my toes.

What advice would you give to an aspiring producer looking to break into this industry?
The more experience you have with media production at the time of applying to jobs the better candidate you will be. But experience alone won’t get you your dream job—you have to show your passion not only for projects you’ve completed in your internships and at school but for the types of projects that you would be taking on. At the end of the day, you have to put your heart into the work that you’re doing so you need to demonstrate what you bring to the table.

Production work involves a lot of juggling and multi-tasking. How do you stay organized?
I’ve become very into making checklists—on my phone, on my computer, and in my email. I’ve found Google calendar reminders to be particularly helpful with respect to meeting deadlines and keeping track of meetings.

What's one skill you'd love to pick up inside or outside of the studio?
One of my New Year’s resolutions is to become an expert at knitting. I’ve already attended my first FableVision knitting club night and learned the knit stitch, but I have a long way to go!

Nestled in the woods of Maine is a pretty sweet liberal arts haven. Tell us about your time at Colby College.
I absolutely loved every minute of my time at Colby, and I will forever be grateful for the longstanding relationships that I created there. Colby has an incredibly tight-knit, prideful student body, one that I believe is a product of its remoteness. One of my favorite parts of Colby was how much time people spent outdoors, even when it wasn’t really warm enough to do so. The second any sign of Spring hit after the brutally frigid winters, people would hang out outside all across campus. I also played for Colby’s varsity squash team for all four years and worked as a Research Assistant in Colby’s Child Development Lab.

Tell us about your experience playing for the varsity squash team! What did you learn about working with a team from that time?
My squash team at Colby became my family, and I think it had a lot to do with how supportive we were of each other day in and day out. Being part of a small team that spent at least three hours a day together taught me the importance of communication and the effectiveness of group discussions. Before our matches we’d each share our individual goals for that match and our group goals, which allowed us to help each other reach them. If we weren’t performing at the level we wanted to be performing at, we’d sit down together and brainstorm ways to become stronger players individually and as a group. I learned how to both give and take feedback in a constructive way and how important it is to lean on other team members.

You have a background in psychology and child development. How has this shaped your work in the educational media arena?
I’ve always been fascinated by the way children think and learn, an interest that spurred from years of babysitting and working in preschool classrooms. As part of my research for the psychology department, I spent more than 50 hours in preschool and after-school programs where I interacted with children, assisted staff, and collected data for projects that studied child development. Over the past few years, I’ve watched the progression of technology and its increasing integration into classrooms. The more I see it in action, the more I want to help work on the educational programs and tools used in school and beyond.

Rumor has it that you were a member of the pottery club at Colby. How did you foster this interest and is it still a part of your creative life?
One of my roommates and I decided we wanted to try out pottery so we joined the club. We went to the studio late at night and taught ourselves how to make pots—most of our work ended up being a bit uneven or lopsided, but it was a great way to de-stress!

How do you relax and unwind after a long day at the studio?
For me, the best way to unwind is by going to the gym or to a spinning class on my way home from work. My three roommates and I usually cook our dinners at the same time, so it’s fun to come home and chat with everyone while I cook. I finish the night by watching an episode of a funny TV show, like Parks and Recreation or Friends, and then finish up the night with a half hour of reading.


More things to love about Mikaela!

Favorite book with all the feels? A few weeks ago I read the book Commonwealth by Ann Patchet that DEFINITELY had the feels.
Sport that’s closest to your heart? Squash
A city you adore? Florence, Italy where I studied abroad my junior year of Colby.
A movie you fell in love with at first sight? My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Ice cream flavor you’re smitten with? Mint Oreo
Food that un-breaks your heart? As Ron Swanson once said, “There has never been a sadness that can't be cured by breakfast food.”
Tea or coffee love affair? Coffee
Valentine’s Day – Hallmark holiday or most romantic day ever? I spent the past four Valentine’s Days with my squash team, traveling for tournaments. If I spent those days with people I love doing something that I love, does it count as romantic?
An animal you cherish? Sheep. In my sophomore year at Colby, my mom sent me the softest stuffed lamb during exam week, and it was love at first sight. Lamby sleeps on my windowsill now!

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Show and Sell: FableVision Hosts Webinar on Animated Marketing

Get your marketing efforts moving in 2017! FableVision’s Shelby Marshall and Sarah Ditkoff are helping you shake up your marketing strategy in their exclusive webinar Show and Sell: The Power of Animated Videos, hosted by our friends at Agile Education Marketing.

Video is fast becoming the most powerful and effective marketing tool for online businesses. Statistics show that people are 43% more likely to be persuaded by a speaker's presentation when the audience sees visuals—and because videos use both visuals and audio, they are even more effective than visuals alone.

In particular, animation provides even bigger benefits, and for many uses they are a better choice than live-action videos. Shelby and Sarah prepare you to use animation to shake up your marketing campaigns.

Did you miss it? No worries! Here’s a crash course with three important takeaways from the webinar:

What makes video so great anyway?
Many people are visual learners. Our brains are wired to retain more information when more than one sense is engaged, so someone watching a video with sound is more likely to remember what they learned than if they just read text. With evolving technology, one third of all online activity is spent watching videos and on average, people will stay two minutes longer on your website when engaged with a video.

Video also performs better on marketing analytics. Having a presence on YouTube, and embedding video on your site increases your chance of a Google front-page search result. Search engines give preference to pages that include video, and pages with video are more likely to receive backlinks. Videos can double your click-through rate from email and they consistently outperform other marketing content.

Overall, video is an effective tool for marketing because it awakens visual and auditory senses, reaches people where they are, and you can measure the effectiveness of your digital marketing.

It’s not all the same!
Different types of videos serve different purposes. Here’s a quick overview of the three varieties of animated videos:

  • Whiteboard animation: This type of video allows for an authentic “hand of the artist” feel.  This is a useful medium for: corporate training, showing statistics, and idea/concept pitching.
  • Motion graphics: Motion graphics mixes typography, illustrations, and simple animation. This type of animation is visually interesting, gives you more creative flexibility, and provides more options for sound design. It also allows for the option of merging of live action and animation for a unique look and feel.
  • Full animation: Great for expressing emotions, showing details, and illustrating hard-to-convey concepts. This form of animation provides the flexibility of incorporating humor and delight with visual storytelling, and can push the boundaries of your audience’s imagination.

Some things to consider when you’re choosing the type of animated video that’ll best meet your needs are your audience, what fits your budget and timeline, how you plan to share it, and what will work with your long-term plans.

Okay, I learned all this new information! Now what?
The secret to successful video marketing? Really understanding the needs of your audience. The webinar walks through the ingredients FableVision Studios uses to make compelling videos that are informative, accurate, entertaining, and memorable: sprinkling in humor, symbolism and metaphor, tapping into empathy, and creating a clear Call to Action.

Want more? Check out the recorded webinar below, download the slides, and tell us your thoughts in the comments below. We want to hear how you’re making use of animation in your marketing. A huge thank you to Agile Education Marketing for hosting us!

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The FableVision New Years Toolkit: Everything You Need To Make 2017 Your Best Year Yet

The air is ringing with 2017 New Years resolutions. Every January, a new year presents the opportunity to make small (or big!) changes in our lives to be better versions of ourselves. FableVision wanted to give you a little help. We went around to ask our staff what helped make their 2016 a productive year.

Read on to find gadgets and gizmos, apps and podcasts, ideas and a dash of imagination. We hope this will inspire you to make the most of 2017 – get out there and be awesome!


Bob Flynn, Director of Art and Animation

Brian Grossman, Technical Director

  • Flickr: In 2016, I was able to organize all my photos online on my Flickr account. Gathering up photos from various computers, tablets, phones, etc. was a chore, but I now have everything organized and posted online. I love being able to call up memories on a whim. Next up, scanning all my family photos and making some photo books!
  • New babysitters: 2016 marked a turning point in our household. With the kids getting older, we’re able to let them babysit for one another for short periods of time. This has been a big breakthrough in terms of freedom. Now, if only I can find something to do…

Christina Kelly, Production Artist

  • Reply All podcast by Gimlet Media: hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman: A fun, interesting, and eye-opening show about internet culture and history. The podcast explores how unexplored parts of the vast subcultures and tidbits of the internet has shaped us and also showcases internet figures through interviews and amazing short stories.
  • Golden Thread Tarot app by Tina Gong: A gorgeous, sleek, and simple app that acts as a tarot card deck and a tarot card reader companion to your own tarot card deck. The design of the app's deck is lovely and the UX design is very pleasant and works well for a medium that typically feels unfamiliar in digital form. A fun and meditative addition to my everyday routine.

Andrea Calvin, Vice President of FableVision Learning

  • Edith and Mazer Calvin: The Calvin house became a tad more cat-filled in 2016 when we welcomed Edith the Cat Calvin and Mazer the Cat Calvin to the family. We adopted the double-pawed siblings from Paws of Plainville (#adoptdontshop) the Saturday after Thanksgiving and have been cuddling and playing ever since. A tad on the hefty side, Edith likes to snuggle and sit. Mazer is more adventurous and is known to climb to the top shelf.

Jordan Bach, Senior Developer

  • Meet the Composer podcast from Q2 Music, hosted by Nadia Sirota: Great explorations into the minds and work of composers. I've gotten to know some new music and come away from each episode having learned to listen a little better, and inspired to live more creatively.
  • Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin: I raced through the first volume of these wonderful, cozy, funny essays about cooking and am now slowly savoring the second volume. Originally written for Gourmet Magazine in the ‘80s, the recipes can be a little dated but the spirit is infectious. For Colwin, cooking is all about connection. More dinner parties in 2017!
  • Gather Here: It's a sewing/knitting/craft shop in Inman Square, Cambridge, and although they sell lots of great stuff, it's really about learning, making, and community. I go there to take classes, to rent equipment, and for meetings of the Cambridge Modern Quilt Guild.

Loren Lee-Flynn, UX/UI Designer

  • Song Exploder Podcast from Radiotopia, hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway: This podcast has changed the way I think about music. Each episode is a deep examination of a single song and the creative process behind it. By isolating individual tracks from a recording, Hrishikesh prompts musicians to describe their decision-making—the how and why—in detail, eventually revealing how all of the parts come together to form the whole song. Even music I would never listen to for enjoyment becomes fascinating when viewed at this level.
  • Zumba in Norman B. Leventhal Park: Every summer, I look forward to the weekly Zumba classes offered through the P.O Fitness program at Norman B. Leventhal Park. The classes are fun, challenging, and completely free! The instructor, Emily McLaughlin keeps things interesting by offering a mix of Latin, Hip-hop, and kickboxing moves. The best part is, outdoor classes means no mirrors, so you can pretend you look like a fly-girl, even if your dancing more closely resembles Elaine's from Seinfeld.

Margarita Dekoli, Senior Developer

  • Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett: In Becoming Wise, Tippett distills the insights she has gleaned from luminous conversations with the leading thinkers over time and from mind to mind into a coherent narrative journey examining the great questions of meaning. The book is a master class in living, curated by Tippett and accompanied by a delightfully ecumenical dream team of teaching faculty.

Matt Brelsford, Developer

  • Moving to Western Massachusetts: This was the best decision of the decade for me and my wife, Jamie. It's something we dreamed of doing and living here absolutely changed our lives for the better. I live in a beautiful loft in a converted mill building above an indoor park, with an outdoor park in my backyard that hosts live music in the summer. We have a big kitchen and the awesome local food has inspired me to become a better cook.
  • Working from home: As much as I miss seeing everyone in person at the office, I still feel connected since we have a 'working from home' Google hangout that allows us to see what's happening at the studio. People still pop over to say hello and ask about my weekend, or talk about what games we've been playing. The commute is also pretty excellent.
  • Coworkers: See below.

Mikaela Johnson, Production Assistant

  • Bedtime Reading Ritual: I've been reading for the last 30-45 minutes before bed instead of watching TV on my computer and I feel much more relaxed when I'm falling asleep.

Mitul Daiyan, Marketing Coordinator

  • Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World written and illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky: A gorgeously illustrated book that now lives on my shelf and the shelf of a few lucky friends that I’ve gifted this to. The book follows inspirational women in science who have made great strides in their field. Loving the girl power in this inspiring book!
  • Headspace: There's no doubt that everyone can stand to benefit from a little meditation and mindfulness. This wonderful, guided meditation app has something for everyone. The free version provides 10 free 10-minute meditation sessions that you can use over and over again. It has greatly improved my commute and helped me catch a breath of fresh air.

Headspace meditation app

Women in Science written and illustrated by Rachel Inotofsky

Sam Zollman, Production Assistant

  • Sewing and clothes-making: A newfound passion that I picked up after a year living abroad. The process of selecting fabrics, thinking spatially about the construction, and cultivating the physical skills has been a much-needed artistic outlet, plus you get to wear the end result!
  • Stretch Music by Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: Scott blends Afro-Native American and west African rhythms, New Orleans jazz, and Trap music to create a personal reflection and excavation of his family history. It seems dense, but I think it is some of the most beautiful, creative, and inspiring music out there.    

Sarah Ditkoff , Marketing and Client Services Manager

  • In The Company of Women by Grace Bonney of Design*Sponge: A coffee table book that's actually worth sitting down and reading cover-to-cover. This inspiring compilation of women entrepreneurs and innovators in the greater creative community is full of great stories of successes, failure, and insights. The perfect gift for professionals in any creative field.
  • Revisionist History podcast by Panoply Media, hosted by Malcolm Gladwell: Once the news cycle has moved on, Revisionist History goes back and reexamines something overlooked or misunderstood from the past, like an event, a person, or an idea. Hosted by Malcolm Gladwell, the three-episode educational miniseries within Season 1 is especially fascinating.

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