Curious Learning: Global Literacy Tablet Apps

Curious Learning is a non-profit dedicated to improving the quality of education for children growing up in poor or underserved parts of the globe. With beginnings at the MIT Media Lab, Curious Learning has developed collaborations with universities and communities across the world, from rural Virginia to India. They use inexpensive tablets to deliver literacy applications and track progress to thousands of children.

Based on my previous work with the founders, I was asked to design and animate playful animal characters for these learning and assessment apps. There were three main challenges to the first iteration of the project:

  1. Because of the global reach of the project, the characters had to appeal to a wide array of cultures. They couldn’t be too tied to any one part of the globe.
  2. They also had to be customizable, allowing for a user to accumulate different styles of body parts and accessories depending on the number of tasks accomplished.
  3. Finally, the app/game was to be developed in Unity, so the characters would have to be modeled and animated in 3D.

I decided that bugs were an answer to each of these challenges. They are nearly universal creatures. They have segmented bodies which are easy to design as modules. And they would be easy to create in 3D, although I also commissioned a Unity developer to create a shader that would replicate the look of the initial watercolor studies I created for the project.


I animated the creatures in Maya. Here are some renders.


For the second app, we decided to go with Native.js, a 2D graphics engine that runs on simple Javascript. This both simplified our work, but also limited our ability to animate the characters. I developed a flat, paper-textured look and feel. The animals were designed from distinct primitive shapes, like a circular bird, a diamond-shaped frog, and rectangular goat. I was also responsible for designing the interface for the half-dozen games included in the experience.


After testing the motions out in flipbooks, I finished the characters and animated them frame-by-frame in Photoshop.