Making Web Technology Work For An Interactive Site
When you own your own site, you can decide what you want to do with it, and you can make it happen. And that’s exactly what a team of production pros did: they combined the love of reading, the love of children’s entertainment, and the love of producing to create the website MrsP.com
MrsP.com began in 2008 as an interactive website that would expose children to books, reading, and story development In addition to hearing a story told by a virtual storyteller, children can browse through the library, play an assortment of games related to featured stories, and submit their own writing examples.
Plautz founded the company along with actress Kathy Kinney (“The Drew Carey Show,” “Grace Under Fire,” “Newhart”) and Clay Graham, who was the head writer and executive producer of “The Drew Carey Show” as well as writer/producer of “Who’s the Boss?. Plautz began her production career creating new markets and entertainment properties for producer Norman Lear. She spent time working as worldwide marketing executive for Hanna-Barbera Studios before moving into an internet and new media position at Intel where she focused on web development.
The Mrs. P team knew what needed to go into a good web design, and how to organize a production to create something really compelling. Their goal was to combine video narratives, sound effects and an environment with a rich, textural look and feel that would be compelling to children. They wanted the business to be located in Portland, where Graham and Plautz lived. And they wanted to develop a brand that people would recognize.
After discussing the look of the library they wanted to depict on the website, Kinney realized her personal library fit the description. Graham traveled to Kinney’s Los Angeles home to storyboarded her room. He was able to pull apart pieces of the library in Photoshop and develop a functioning set that acts as the backdrop for MrsP.com. Plautz then assembled an Oregon-based crew to assist with web development.
“As chair on the Oregon Film committee, I knew there were creative, talented people that wanted to work based right here in Portland,” said Plautz.
Working with a local animation studio, Plautz was quickly able to staff her venture with the talent at hand.
"Everyone on the team had worked in TV or on the internet," said Plautz. "Our Oregon crew consists of at least 20 people, including voice-over artists, web development, graphic artists, editors, green screen operators. Cathy is our only non-Portland based crew member. Her shots are done in her Los Angeles home and emailed to us. They are then edited in Portland."
Plautz and her team have worked to develop a fully interactive environment for anyone using the site, including children, parents and teachers. By clicking on various elements of Mrs. P’s library or home, her character becomes animated and interacts with the audience. Certain features of the rooms, such as hats that appear on a mannequin’s head in Mrs. P’s living room or a framed photograph in Mrs. P’s library constantly change, adding a level of excitement and exploration for children who frequent the site.
In addition to surprise objects, there are items that are in motion or make sounds as the curser rolls over them that lead to an interactivity with Mrs. P.
"Everything with Mrs. P’s environments is animated," said Plautz. "Cathy’s character is a real person sitting there waiting for you to press something in order to become interactive. We’re trying to push the envelope with the amount of content we have on the site. Our goal is to make the internet become interactive."
With such a heavy focus on connectivity within the Mrs. P website comes development hurdles. Flash tends to take a long time to load, causing delays between the pressing of a prompt and the interactivity of Mrs. P.
"Most of our animation is done in Flash but in a language called Flex," said Plautz. "It’s an Adobe delivery service that optimizes the Flash. We were one of the first to use this Adobe delivery service. To use it, four different versions of every video get loaded on the back end, which creates dynamic streaming."
If a computer doesn’t have strong broadband capabilities, however, the end user will have a tough time downloading the data and will have to remain patient as images load. To compensate for this problem, Plautz and her team launched a new front end in January 2010 that allows the viewer to watch Mrs. P. as other elements of the site download.
In addition to supplying interesting visuals and an interactivity to the site, Plautz and her team wanted to create snappy content. The illustrations that accompany stories Mrs. P reads have contemporary designs.
"We’ve added a new twist by having Mrs. P give her take on the stories," said Plautz. "You can zip right to the moral of the story, giving uniqueness to a classic storytelling model."
Sound is an important component to Mrsp.com. Plautz had folley artists residing in Portland that have been working to create a sound library. Some sounds they’ve acquired through stock libraries, others are folley sounds they’ve created. The sound team also works on voice-over recordings done by Portland actors.
As the popularity of MrsP.com continues to grow, so does the brand. In addition to Mrs. P’s stories available on iTunes, Plautz and her team is looking at developing a television show.
“There are a lot of opportunities out there,” said Plautz. “Mrs. P can be done anywhere. Our business model has been to build a brand. The Mrs. P television show will bring a built in audience. We’re going to continue to produce Mrs. P in Oregon, however, using the talent that is here. It’s just a gentler, easier place to live.”