Just like the rest of IDEO, the Toy Lab is dedicated to building creative confidence. Admittedly, they have a bit of an edge when making kids’ products—children have natural creative confidence, so the Toy Lab’s job is to encourage them to preserve it and show them new ways to apply their innate creativity.
On a recent visit to the lab, I got an early look at Monster Moves, a new app that lets kids choreograph moves for a team of dance-happy monsters. If that conjures images of elaborate 3D creatures, think again: At first glance, Monster Moves appears to be completely flat. Any single frame of the game looks just like a simple 2D illustration.
But when one of those 2D monsters does a twirl or flip, suddenly (and pretty magically), you see that each one has a complete three-dimensional physiology, from the top of his head to the booty he’s shaking.
It might seem hardly noticeable, but think about it: if the image was truly two dimensional, there would be no top or bottom, no back or sides. To make the monsters look flat, but still have the ability to rotate 360°, the team used 3D modeling to create the characters, and then stripped down the art to make the monsters look two dimensional. Even though they appear flat, all the monsters have skeletons and skins, and they can turn to any angle.
So why bother making them look flat?
Toy Lab’s Michelle Lee explains that the 2D look of the game is crucial to its function. The mission of Monster Moves is to help kids understand that they are the choreographer, and that there is a direct connection between their choices and the monsters’ dance steps, which develops an awareness of creative control. The designers wanted kids to focus on the dance moves, so it was important that the art not distract them with too much 3D detail. That’s why they stripped away all the fancy shadows and shiny curves and kept the monsters as simple as possible.
The early version (left) has a 3D look, which the designers thought was still "too much." They chose to eliminate all shadows except for the drop shadow beneath the character (right).
Sara is a writer and editor based in San Francisco. She's a regular contributor to Wired, Make, Communication Arts, and the Harper’s Weekly Review. She's always looking for new projects involving culture, books, technology, and cool people.