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Cat Doorman Blends Music and Images into App for Kids

When approached by friends at Night & Day Studios to design an iPad app for children, Portland-based visual artist and musician Julianna Bright started with a question: “How can we bring the warmth of a picture book to this medium?”

Night & Day Studios partners with individuals and companies to develop apps featuring imaginative content for children and adults. Although Bright definitely recognized the growing use of this technology by younger audiences, she hoped to create something of beauty that would still engage users in a more traditional way.

“I guess I envisioned people using the app much like a storybook or like the way a child would play a record. You get to interact with it,” says Bright. “But, you know, you close the book when you’re done with it.”

The result is ‘Little Red Wagon,’ an interactive app for which Bright created all of the illustrations and music.

Screenshot from 'Little Red Wagon'

Screenshot from ‘Little Red Wagon’

courtesy of Night & Day Studios

The app follows a little girl with her wagon on her way to a picnic with her animal friends. The girl stops by the bakery, the dairy and other vendors to pick up food. All of the visuals – the smiling sun, the trees, the animal friends – are interactive, each reacting differently when you touch them.

Though Bright has lots of experience creating music and art for adult audiences, this project represents her first foray into the world of designing apps for kids.

In the past, Bright has performed as a drummer and singer in several bands, including former punk outfit the Quails. She currently plays with bands the Golden Bears and Sleepheart. Her visual art has been featured on album covers, in magazines and galleries, and she maintains an online Etsy shop, selling prints of her work. She generally works in gouache, watercolor and ink.

Compared to her usual work, Bright describes the ‘Little Red Wagon’ visuals as “softer and rounder.” Originally coloring them in on Photoshop, she ultimately decided to hand-watercolor all the images.

“I think there’s something really lovely about looking at the hand-painted illustrations backlit on an iPad. They have a really nice luminous quality to them.”

Equally important to the visuals was the app’s soundtrack. “I think it’s definitely a music-focused app,” says Bright.

Bright produced and performed the song “Little Red Wagon” for the app in collaboration with Chris Funke, member of Black Prairie and the Decemberists. The song is an adaptation of the old folk song “Little Brass Wagon.”

These recording sessions inspired Bright to continue creating children’s music. While waiting for the app to be completed, she kept writing and recording, ending up with an entire album of children’s songs, which she released under the moniker Cat Doorman.

The album, Cat Doorman Songbook, which was packaged in conjunction with the ‘Little Red Wagon’ app in January, features 12 original songs and two covers. The album was recently awarded the Parent’s Choice Silver Honor Award. This month Bright and the band will be performing at KindieFest, an annual “family music festival” in Brooklyn.

Going forward, Bright hopes to continue to use technology in conjunction with the Cat Doorman project to create “ardent, wholehearted kids’ media.” She plans on releasing two more apps, with an album of children’s music along with each.

“[Apps] really offer something special that books or a record on their own can’t,” she says.

Watch Julianna Bright and her band perform “Turn Around.”

Cat Doorman: Turn Around

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Cat Doorman: Turn Around

Julianna Bright performs "Turn Around" from her album "Cat Doorman Songbook."