When I first got into publishing, I had some quite inaccurate ideas about what editors do. I was sure that being an editor meant always having your red pen in hand, reading manuscripts and cogitating about literature all day. I do read a lot of manuscripts and I am never far from a red pen. But making a Barefoot Books singalong song also includes a lot of tasks that red pens can’t help with, including:
1. Learning about the behavior of all kinds of farm animals;
2. Dancing to Dip ‘n’ Flip (The Jacket Song) in the middle of the office;
3. Having lengthy discussions about exactly how animated trees should sway;
4. Proofing a video so many times that I can sing the whole thing in Spanish without knowing any Spanish at all.
This all started, of course, when we listened to Jan Dobbins’ “Tin Can Band” version of A Farmer’s Life for Me, named for the tinny computer-generated instruments she used to rough out the tune. Once we acquired the text, we had to find the right musical artist to record the song. When Mike and Dan Flannery visited the office and had us all away from our computers, singing about rutabaga and dancing with our coats, we knew our search was over. The Flannery Brothers added layers of live instrumentation to Jan’s catchy tune and gave the Farmer’s Life its lullaby ending.
We knew that we wanted lots of kids working and playing on the farm. All the characters have personalities that we made up (mostly for fun) with Laura’s help – we even gave everyone names!
The Plante family (named after a friend of mine from high school) includes shy Cleo (named for the famous Barefoot cat), playful Rusty (named for his ginger hair), and their two visiting friends from the city, Drake and Rihanna (who have a crush on each other and have names inspired by the song “What’s My Name?”)
To add a seek-and-find element to the illustrations and show the kids playing while they worked, we asked Laura to have one child hide in every illustration, and I love all the creative ways she worked this into the book; my favorite is when all you can see is Cleo’s eye through a gap in the wall of the pig pen.
This spread is actually the first scene that Laura illustrated for this book, and she took some cool photos of her studio to show us how she creates her art by painting everything in pieces and then digitally combining them in Photoshop.
Seeing all of Laura’s lovely illustrations come to life at the hands of the very talented animators over at Karrot made me actually giddy. Some of the things we talked about during the animation process are positively hilarious when taken out of context. For example, the animators and I talked at length about how many times the characters should blink; the mechanism for bending the characters’ elbows; positioning Rihanna’s long hair to feign movement; and which sheep should frolic and which should graze.
Directing an animation is a bit like directing illustrations; there are a lot of little details that need attention: what parts of the illustration should be static and what parts should move? Where can we reuse elements from other scenes to add extra interest? How can we best use all of Laura’s art? We worked collaboratively to answer these questions and create a dynamic and playful animation. Watch it for yourself and tell us how we did! And see if you can spot all of my favorite parts:
- moving wind turbines throughout the animation
- the sheep from the back cover appearing in the hillside scene
- Rihanna and Anabelle the cow peeking out of the barn when the water trough goes whoosh
- the dog playing with a butterfly from the hay scene during the credits
- cake batter dripping off the mixer
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