The beats and beasts behind Beastbox

Objective

What initially started out as a short promo inspired by and for his then 3 year old daughter, Beastbox’s creator Jun Iwakawa soon realised the potential his beastly creations had. Working with fellow ‘mographer’ and composer Joel Harrison, the two set about crafting an animated music video using their beasts and the 10 initial percussive sounds [ including 5 recordings of his own daughter – MC Ella ] they had curated.

“Beastbox originated from an experiment with sounds, visualised using simple geometric forms. In one such test, it took the form of a kick drum imploding and morphing into a canine’s head. From here I developed the rest of the drum kit in the same style to see what I could create. In addition, I played around with recordings of my (rather vocal) 3 year old daughter and this led to the idea of combining all elements to create an animated music video.’’
Jun Iwakawa
Designer and Creator

As Jun and Joel continued to experiment with various shapes, characters and sounds, it became clear that if kids could actually interact and play the beasts, as well as watch them, it would be a much more rewarding and educational experience for them.

“Working on Beastbox was a refreshing departure from the usual self imposed creative pressures of music production. It offered a different challenge in the attempt to see the process of making beats through the eyes of an infant. I think it was this process of necessary simplification and the celebration of the basic pleasures of arranging sound and noise into a sequence, combined with Jun’s stunning visuals, that have made the App such fun to be involved with.”
Joel Harrison
Music and Sound Consultant

After a few meetings that revealed the enormity of the task, a fortuitous catch up with the Creative Director of design studio ticktockrobot [ that represents Jun for directorial work ] resulted in Simon Armstrong coming on board to take the helm of producing the app. This in turn led to Simon finding the talented coder, Tom Southworth, who would make the app a reality.

Approach

Adopting a staggered release approach, the team agreed on the minimum viable product we wanted to achieve in order to release our app to the world. What was key was to keep the UI as simple and intuitive as possible, whilst retaining maximum screen ‘real estate’ for the beasts and timeline, keeping the apps fun visual focus as the core of its structure. Tom built the app in Unity, as this would allow us to eventually export onto multiple devices using the same project and code. Initially we tried adopting Jun’s original 2D animations into the app, but without losing the sublime details and ultimately watering down the visual impact of the creatures, the app quickly became too large and memory intensive. So we switched the approach and re-created all the animations as 3D animated models using Maya. These files could then be directly ingested into the Unity project, dramatically reducing both file size
and improving run time performance.

“Making sure that all the beats played on time turned out to be tricky. The beats trigger the animations and sound effects of each Beast to play during the different game modes, so they are key to the app working properly. The original way I programmed Beastbox relied upon the speed at which the app was run on a mobile device, which can vary, meaning that some beats were played too early or too late. Luckily I managed to find a timing system that was dedicated to playing audio sequences which didn’t rely upon the device that the app was being played on.”
Tom Southworth
Coder & Unity Developer

Release

Initially we launched a free ‘dry’ run on the App Store in the early autumn of last year. It had just Jun’s original 10 beasts, the timeline to drag and drop them onto and a separate ‘Meet the Beasts’ section, where users could play and interact with each creation individually.

Within a month we had over 3000 downloads from all over the world.

Having put so much time, love and effort into it we decided to go ahead and complete our next stage release. This saw an additional 15 beasts in 3 new suitcase sets added to the roster, as well as Save functions, an editable favourites suitcase and an all new play mode, ‘Tap a Beat’. The last was an important addition as it added a more immediate interactive experience as players could record a live track before they then went into the edit mode to refine it.

“Creating multiple ways for the kids to interact and play the beasts was paramount, as every child plays differently.
Focus group testing showed that the beasts appealed to children of all ages, yet the edit mode was too complex for younger Users whilst the `meet the beasts’ section was too basic for older children. The more instrumental and
interactive ‘tap a beat’ feature bridged that gap as all age ranges enjoyed playing their 5 favourite beasts on the
keyboard layout”
Simon Armstrong
Creative Director and Producer

To support the app we created a microsite that both advertised the apps features as well as provided a visual instruction on how to use the UI.

With a strong social media campaign, continual updates and hopefully some lovely reviews, we hope Beastbox remains a popular app that we can continue to tweak and develop for a long time to come.