FailedIt: Booples – Bible Verse Children’s Animation

booples logoI decided to create a children’s animation video series where the song lyrics contained a Bible verse. I had never done animation but what does that matter?

Read the whole FailedIt Series.

The idea came to me at a 1-year-old’s birthday party. A friend mentioned how her kids repeated the songs they heard in videos. I thought that it would then be great to have a Bible verse in the lyrics. So… I’ll do it!

Why shouldn’t I? What could go wrong?

I remember one night while my wife had a bunco group over, I hung out in my son’s room. He was about 1 at the time and sleeping. That way, if he woke up, I was right there. I had a sketch pad and some little light and I drew a bunch of weird characters. I picked one I liked most and seemed easiest to draw: a lot of circles and such.

I researched animation software and decided to use one that was called, at the time, Moho by Lost Marble. It has since been purchased and renamed Anime Studio Pro. It seemed to combine a lot of the features and functionality I wanted, wasn’t too intimidating and cost $100.

Children’s Animation

I went through the tutorials for the software and learned a lot. I figured out how to draw my characters too. I broke down the various pieces of the character and added a skeleton structure in the software for movement. Then I added a few small differences for each character – mostly color… and eyelashes for the girl.

The software allows you to create a 3D world even if you draw everything 2D. It gives things a childrens animationreally cool feel as the distant background goes by at a slower pace than the foreground.

I wrote out the script and scenes. I planned how each would relate and what I would reuse form one scene to another. I tried to be very systematic about it so that it would be efficient.

Traditional animation records the voices first and then you create the animation to match. That way you can work out the timing and expressions based on how the voices turned out.

Knowing that, I worked on the animation first – why not do it backwards? That’s sure to end in great success.

It wasn’t too bad, but I learned my lesson: record the voice work first. If you watch the first episode, Not Curly But Straight, you’ll see the first scene’s timing isn’t great.

Should I start over? Nah. Keep going.

Actually, I’m very proud of the series, but the failure was that my heart was in the wrong place after a while.

I talked to a friend and he agreed to help with the music. We (mostly he) recorded the first song I wrote. We did it in a room at his house and he really did it all. At one point, I thought I could hear my voice in there, but I may be kidding myself.

Somehow his sound card messed up after that session. I asked another friend, Pete Buchwald, if he was interested. He wound up doing the music for the rest of the episodes. The first song was better than I’d hoped and the rest were amazing!

Pete worked with me on the lyrics and then produced melodic gold out of it. Every time he’d send me a test sample it was like Christmas morning. Just amazing. I would respond with something like “That’s perfect!” and he’d reply with “That’s just a start.” It got even better after that!

Anyway, without the music, the series would have probably been a complete embarrassment. Fortunately, I’ll never know.

I made a total of 3 episodes all just a few minutes long. They were meant to NOT be flashy and high energy. I didn’t want to cater to cheap humor or short attention spans. Clearly I was not trying to succeed. Who wants that?

booples dvdI sent the videos to people I knew and some had some feedback… which I promptly ignored and got 1500 DVDs produced. I still have a good number of them.

Booples were born.

Then I got the marketing machine rolling. I send DVDs to sites to be reviewed, I entered film festivals. I even went to one in Seguin, TX which was awesome. I didn’t win.

I made another DVD which was meant to be Bible stories. I started with a Jonah story and later made a story about David and Goliath (“David Rocked Goliath” – see what I did there?). I’ll be honest, I don’t remember why I abandoned the “Bible story” theme. I probably couldn’t write good stories.

While I was making these episodes, I was spending a lot of time learning about a things. One of the biggest was how to create closed captioning data on a digital video file. Man, that was a beatdown. But I was very proud of learning how to do it.

Basically you had to script it all out and then run that through a process to convert it to the right type of data. Then I had some software that allowed you to, as you watched the video, specify the timestamp for each line of dialogue.

Then you took that data and converted it to the right type of data for the digital file. Another piece of software would combine the two. Boy, that makes it sound almost easy.

Actually, it wasn’t that hard to do, but it was an utter pain to figure it out. Unfortunately, it also took many hours to figure it out. It saved me a lot of money and, the biggest thing, it allowed me to get the videos on TV.

The failure that bugs me is that I let it go from a simple, fun, creative ministry to kids to something that kept me from sleeping, bothered me that it didn’t get attention and took me away from my family.

The Smile of a Child network aired them (and may still air them). A couple other places did too as well as websites and some websites that allowed users to download the videos.

I was contacted by an illustrator wanting to illustrate a book for me for free to publish it via a2940043327727_p0_v1_s260x420 publisher he knew. I wrote the book specifically relating to adoption because we were adoption our second son. It is called “We’re Brothers and Sisters.”

He did a great job and I’m really proud of the book. Actually, I’m very proud of the series, but the failure was that my heart was in the wrong place after a while.

I went to some conferences and overall spent a lot of time learning about how to do things and trying to promote it. As with so many things, I probably spent my time on the wrong thing. Eventually, I felt I wasn’t even present playing with my son. That was a killer (in the bad way) feeling.

Something that was suppose to help kids was keeping me from my kid.

I wanted Booples to generate some income and allow me to do it more of the time. Looking back, I probably needed a partner or an agency to promote it. But I was determined to do it for very little money.

I produced the first DVD for $125. $100 was for the software and $25 was for a guitar part Pete needed a guy to play in one of the songs. I believe I paid him for some of the songs but I can’t remember exactly which ones. Regardless, it wasn’t enough.

All of the closed captioning and such was free. I paid for the DVDs to be produced, but only because burning them myself would have been more expensive.

At the NARB convention, which is a story in itself, I met Phil Vischer creator of VeggieTales. I started stalking… er, following him online and was fascinated with his story. His book, “Me, Myself and Bob” really spoke to my soul.

children's animationHe was very kind and I was able to speak with him a few times at that show. I also went to a children’s ministry conference in Chicago and got some more time with Phil there. I read his book multiple times too. Each time I felt led to provide free access at booples.com to all of the videos. Before that, I just had clips and such trying to promote sales.

I did get some sales via my website. It was kind of fun to process a sale. Kind of. But the problem was that it wasn’t enough. Maybe I was impatient. I tried to sell the DVDs cheap (again, what the industry does has no hold on me). I hoped it would promote more people to buy the DVDs.

But what happened was that I didn’t make money.

As a ministry to kids, that’s fine, but as something that’s taking my time and often time from my family, it has to justify itself.

I tried various things, but nothing really panned out. Eventually, I got burned out and knew that my priorities were more on checking my website view statistics than ministering to kids.

I stopped it all.

The videos are still available, but I didn’t go through with the plush animals or anything.

The TV deals weren’t much. Christian TV is still mostly backwards: you pay to be aired. It’s like infomercials in a sense. Phil also pointed out something interesting about the market now compared to the VeggitTales hay-day.

Back then, home video was new, TV was bad and Christian bookstores took off. It was the hat-trick. The trifecta of perfect timing.

For my efforts, DVD was starting to die… a long death, but it was the start. People have a billion channels and it’s not “offensive enough” for parents to go buy something extra.

images-1Online video was getting started, but it was spotty and hard to make money at. Similar issues of content, delivery and convincing people to pay anything for it.

Looking back, what I should have done was just take my time and keep making content. If I had just made a DVD every year, I could have had 10 DVDs by now. I’m sure it would have gotten better and better and built upon itself.

It might not have ever been “big” or successful, but I probably would have enjoyed it.

My failure wasn’t so much in that it wasn’t successful. That’s a failure in a sense, but that’s not the failure that bugs me.

The failure that bugs me is that I let it go from a simple, fun, creative ministry to kids to something that kept me from sleeping, bothered me that it didn’t get attention and took me away from my family.

Eventually, I “gave it to God” and told Him and myself that I wouldn’t work on it anymore unless He gave it back. He hasn’t.

So the videos are still out there. The book is available… I think. Sometimes I get a little check from a company or two that are still selling them. I think they’re available for download at Amazon. I don’t really pay attention.

The most I think about them is when I come across an old Booples shirt in my closet or a box of DVDs in the garage. Want one?

Phil had a great piece of advice in one of his talks. He said Walt (Disney) needs a Roy. Walt did the dreaming and creative side and Roy did the business. Walt would have been nothing without Roy.

I want to say I looked it up and Roy came later or something. I might be wrong or misheard or misread, but I think the advice is spot on. If you’re a great song-writer, don’t think that’s going to make you a great manager or promoter or whatever else.

So what do you do? Try to find someone who is. Easier said than done because you need to be sure you can trust that person, work with that person, etc. I haven’t successfully done it so I can’t say how to do it.

Given that, I’d then say you should focus on what you do well and what you love. Keep your day job as “fund raising” and work on your passion without the expectations and weight that will turn it into work.

I have a history of failing at this so I’m still working at it.

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