Final Thoughts

For our final blog post, we thought we could wrap up with some lessons we learned.


  • When outsourcing, leave plenty of time for them

When we outsourced our animation, sound, and voice acting we were able to get them completed in time, however it would have been great for them if we gave them more time in the case there were any last minute changes. Thankfully we did not have that issue, but we are not sure what would have happened if that were the case.

  • Playtest, playtest, playtest

You will hear this a lot at the Entertainment Technology Center, but it cannot be stressed enough. Always be sure to playtest, especially at the beginning. It was an interesting challenge for us to playtest because we were never able to playtest at the village until installation. But when we were able to, we got great feedback from a large age range.

  • When installing, expect the unexpected and be adaptable

We think that we handled the lights situation while installing pretty smoothly, but that is because we were had a plan B that we were ready to implement. We did not expect it to happen, but we were ready for it regardless.

  • Visit and document your sight as soon as possible

Had we documented earlier on, that probably could have saved us a whole trip. Even if the project is a possible project, be sure you try to know everything about it BEFORE leaving your sight.

  • Stay in contact with your client

Something that we did really well this past semester was staying in contact with Give Kids The World and allowing them to give feedback and input rather than them being an afterthought. This was something they really appreciated, especially since this is a product for them and they know the target demographic best.


In conclusion, it’s been a wild journey, but thank you to everyone that has helped and supported us through this. We could not have done this without you!

AND TO THE NEXT PILLOW TREE TEAM: Please learn from us as we did from the original Pillow Tree project, and don’t forget to have fun!!!!


Week 15: Installation

This week was it…


The week of showcase, and the week of installation.


The beginning of the week was spent mostly getting ready for showcase, but we also made sure to send the PCs to the village. In hindsight, we should have prepared the computers and sent them sooner. Since it was so close to the installation date, we had to rush the PCs and overnight ship them. They got there in time, which was wonderful, but a major lesson we learned was to make sure to prep and send the PCs at least a week ahead of time.


We got the completed animation and it turned out wonderful!


Showcase was a lot of fun! There were not too many children, so it was more of showing off the project and less about testing.


After showcase, we found out the PCs had made it to the village safely (phew) and everything that we needed for installation had come in on time. We left for Kissimmee on Friday and the second we landed, we went straight to the Give Kids The World Village. We were asked to do the main installation at night so that there were no disturbances during the day. For the first night, we installed the new computers, modified the project build, and cleaned behind the tree.


We spent the day at the village on the second day. We were able to get feedback from volunteers on operating the Pillow Tree, and see how children reacted to Buttons. The volunteers asked that we change it so that rather than using a remote, it would just run through automatically. We also learned from playtesting with the volunteers that having the ability to switch scenes at the touch of their finger constantly, is too much power and can easily repeat and skip scenes. That day we also made sure to cut and drill into the tree so that we could add the doorbell and extra language switches on the side. As we were setting up the DMX lights for the show, we noticed something: the lights that are currently there were broken and could only show red light. We ran over the nearest Guitar Center and bought 3 new DMX lights for the village. This was not something we had planned for at all, but it was something that we were prepared to do. We got help installing the lights once we got back to the village, and were able to set them up immediately. That night we installed all the new buttons, finalized the build, and touched up the physical tree with some spray glue and burlap. We are not sure how long the new decorations will last, we don’t expect for very long, but we are hoping it makes the tree more appealing and gives Buttons a comfortable home.


Finally, on day 3 we made backups for the backup computer, playtested one last time, handed off documentation, and said goodbye to Buttons. We could not have pulled off this installation without everyone who helped us at the village. Everyone there was so eager and willing to help us, which is something that we really appreciate. Every child that we were able to see experience this show was smiling by the end of it. We are so proud of what we have created and hope that it functions and stays in the village for as long as possible.


To everyone that has helped us: thank you!!!! We could not have done this without you! 

Week 14: Softs And Finishing Touches

We hit the ground running this week because on Monday was Softs and half of our team had been out last week for TEA Summit. We had the animation that was 90% complete, so it was great to be able to show faculty what it will mostly look like.


We got a lot of great feedback on what we need to do to prepare for our final installation, which we are planning for next week. Some of the feedback we got included making Button’s eyes more expressive, using the volunteer to set the mood of the experience, and to add more shading to the background to make it look 3D. Our biggest concern now is that we will not have enough time to install it, or that parts that we are ordering will not arrive on time. We put in our final requests for ordering and travel and will learn more about it next week.


We began working with subtitles and playing around with how they look. We decided to go with a rounded font, with a light white border, and a light blue text. We chose blue because it contrasts and stands out against Buttons. We also improved on ways to skip from chapter to chapter without the scene flashing so that it flows better. Lastly, we worked on the background which we think is almost complete.


Next week we are going to be preparing for installation, archiving, doing volunteer documentation, and creating our finals PowerPoint.

Week 13: Visiting The Village Again

For day 1 of our trip, we met that the ETC at 3AM to catch our flight at 5AM that morning. Once we landed, we went straight to the village where we took a tour again to get a better since of the village, and also since it was the first time one of our instructors was visiting it. Once we started working on the Pillow Tree, we first checked out the lights that give the tree a red tint and noticed that they can be DMX lights, which the village said was fine for us to do we just need to connect them via cable to a computer. We ended up moving the tree away from the wall so that we can access the computer because the computer is literally inside the tree. We got approval from the village to move the computer to a back room if needed, which is something we are planning to discuss as a team. The previous team did a great job with labeling and organizing all their phidgets so that we are able to tell which phidget is attached to their corresponding object. We also took this time to interview a couple volunteers there so that we can put together some general training documentation for them. One challenge that we are seeing is if only one volunteer is helping with the Castle Of Miracles at that moment we need to make sure there is enough time in the opening scene for them to run back and put a pillow in the shoot. For this, we are thinking of having the first chapter break come after the dance party, that way there is enough time for them to run back to put the pillow in and come back.

For day 2, we took extensive pictures of the tree as well as took footage of the tree and ourselves inside the village that we can use for our preview video. We spoke with someone in the engineering department who tried to help us with the lights to see if we could temporarily change the colors so that there wouldn’t be a red tint to the tree. We lastly looked at the physical tree and tried to brainstorm some ways to touch it up and make it look nice. We are thinking we may get to cut some of the hanging burlap off and glue what we can to try to just make it look a little nicer and less scary. We are considering the idea of painting, but are hesitant because it will most likely fade away over the years like it did for the previous team.

Overall, the trip was extremely insightful and we are all very grateful to have to have had the opportunity to go before final installation!


This week is also TEA Summit, so 2/4 of us will be out for the week, but we hope to continue on our background and preparing for softs next week.

Week 12: Visits And Voice Acting

This week we a had a few industry professionals come in and give feedback on our build. At the moment we are starting to wonder what adding physical acorns would add to our experience. We are hoping it adds a level of interactivity, but what worries us is that these are physical objects that children will be touching (we faced a similar dilemma earlier in the project when we had the idea of trading an acorn for a pillow).


This week we also met with Tim who did some amazing voice acting for us! He did a great job and we realized we only had to modify the pitch so that Buttons sounds gender neutral.


We also got things ready to go back down to the village which we are doing this weekend.

Week 11: Moving Forward

On Monday we had process grades and were officially approved to go back down to visit the village next week. We began making preps such as a checklist and a list of questions.


We also began designing more backgrounds for the animation. Here are some that we have right now:

Some of the feedback we have gotten on them is that they do not necessarily highlight Buttons, but rather look like they are competing with Buttons. We are going to be redesigning the backgrounds next week while trying to keep the color scheme.


This week we were also able to get in contact with a voice actor, Tim Hartman, who has agreed to help us with voice acting for Buttons! We will be meeting next week with Dan (our sound designer) to record lines.


This week both Anthony Daniels and people from Cortina Productions playtested our tree and gave us feedback. They both thought that is was simple and to the point, which are two goals that we feel we have achieved.


Lastly, we also started discussing having multiple languages. We would like Spanish, French, German, and English as all language options for our experience. We chose English, Spanish, and French because those are the most common languages used at the Village; but we also included German because we remember Give Kids The World mentioning that there is usually a large German group that visits the Village every summer. We currently have others helping us translate, and hopefully be able to get others to voice act in these languages.


Next week we are planning to get things together for visiting the village and moving forward with voice acting.

Week 10: Playtest

This week was all about preparing for the big playtest day on Saturday where kids and their families will come to the ETC in order to test our projects thus far. On Monday, all the teams met, learned, and tested some techniques for how we can improve on our playtesting in preparation for Saturday. We began writing questions for things that we wanted to know about our current build and things that we would be able to improve on.


In preparation for Saturday, we decided to build a physical prototype in our project room that uses the same technology as in the village. We tech already at the ETC and built the tree using cardboard as well as a stand for the computer in the woodshop. This required us to wire up some phidgets as well as remaking the animatic, reorganizing the chapters in the Unity build, and integrate the physical hardware into the Unity build.

As we did this, we also worked on other things for the project that would come in handy for the future. For example, we began noting how things are wired so we could put it in documentation for when we visit the village again. We decided to also reach out to the previous team to see if any of them might have backups of the past pillow tree experience. To our surprise, we were able to get in contact with two of the previous members! They explained that they did but they need to look for it, so we hope to hear back from them soon.


We also decided to make three new background so that once we get alpha frames of the animation, we can begin testing what background colors look good with Buttons, since Buttons is white and therefore the colored lighting might cause Buttons to change colors.


Saturday was a big day for us. Playtest day. We tested with 27 kids and got tons of great feedback! Since we are unable to test constantly at the village, we modified the project so that it could relate the kids not at the village for optimal results and minimal explanation. For example, because we couldn’t get 27 pillows for each child, we got candy bars and replaced the word ‘pillow’ in the script with ‘candy bar’. Another example is during the hide-and-seek portion, rather than mentioning places that you could only fine in the castle of miracles, we replaced them with places you could find in the room, such as under the table and behind the couch cushions (that was the final hiding spot for the candy bars).


It was interesting to test different ages because some danced

While others explained that the dance party felt awkward and needed more direction for the dance party, which was something that we think we are going to be implementing in the near future.

We also need to indicate that they need to hold down the button for a while, otherwise they will only briefly press it.

It was a little hard to test the hug because this was not a family event necessarily; so many children were with friends or strangers.

Some were hear with siblings and hugged, but because some of them were strangers to each other, we let them know that they could hug the squirrels in the room since there was not always someone they “loved a whole lot”.

Overall we got great feedback and will continue to make iterations in the future.

Week 9: Halves

Last week was Spring Break, so we decided to take the week off.


This week was halves . We spent the week focusing on our presentation, and supporting the other teams during their presentations.


Because we do not have any sound designers on our team, we reached out to Daniel Cohen, a fellow ETC Student. We are very excited to be working with him! He has already given us some awesome background music that can be looped; check it out:




This week we also started getting equipment in our project room so that we can start working on making a mock prototype with lighting and Phidget interactions.  Next week we are planning to complete the prototype as well as all audio.


Also, Jaehee took a great pic of us and all the squirrels we have in our project room to post to the ETC Facebook:

Week 8: Continuing Production

This week was a short week because spring break starts on Friday.


This week we began building a physical model as well as a virtual one that we could walk through. On Tuesday we playtested at the Children’s Museum again and got great feedback on the story. We showed the kids the storyboard video and asked them about it. They all seemed to like the dance party part and one even hugged his mom when the squirrel asks to hug someone you love a whole lot. This week we are also working on completing the background which will be the squirrel’s room.


Next week is spring break and we will not be meeting. However, the week after that is halves, so we are excited to present our current progress and get feedback.

Week 7: Productive Production


This week was the Game Developers Conference (GDC), but because we were only down 1 person, we continued to work.


On Monday, we created more concepts that better matched our character and we recorded Kacey saying the lines so that we could incorporate them in the animatic. We finished the video so it currently looks like the following:


On Tuesday we began building the project in Unity. One roadblock we encountered was that the regular version of Unity 5.4 did not play or import videos unless you had Unity Pro (we did not). However, because Unity 6.1 was currently free for beta downloads, we installed it and are now able to freely use the video materials they provide.


By Wednesday we were able to have a rough prototype for the build done and able to show it to our instructors and Abby as well. We also met with a potential animator on Wednesday, who is believes that this animation can be done in 2 months and agreed to partner with us for this project. We are very excited to welcome Rob to our team and excited to work with him for the remaining two months.


On Thursday we went around the ETC and asked the students that did not go to GDC if they would choose a squirrel concept based on the personality traits of our character and our final concept is officially:


We met with Rob one more time on Friday to go over the final concept. We are still decided on a new name because Give Kids The World would like the name to be an object rather than a person’s name.

Next week, we are planning to playtesting this story on Tuesday as well as building a model of the tree in our project room, and figuring out how we might be able to incorporate a bar code scanner.