The Evolution of Toca Dance: Find Out the Story Behind Our Latest App

Toca Boca Producer and Co-Founder Emil Ovemar takes you behind the scenes.

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Emil Ovemar, Executive Producer and Co-Founder, Toca Boca
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Toca Dance IconThe idea of a dance app has been around ever since we started Toca Boca. Now, thanks to an amazing team working together, we finally have made one with Toca Dance!

We try to come up with original ideas that can be used as tools to be creative with. Dancing is an interesting form of creativity, as you use your own body to express your mood and feelings. We could not find any cool dance apps where you got to create your own dance in any of the app stores, so we figured we had to come up with something new.

March 2015: Our first prototype

Toca Dance started quite simply as a loop. In this simple prototype, you saw a triangle at the bottom, and when you touched a hand or a foot, you’d record move data for that specific limb. We made this character for Toca Ragdoll — an app that we prototyped but eventually decided to scrap.

In this phase, we decided that Toca Dance would work as a sequencer for dancing, and that a video would be the creative output from the experience:

  • Sequencer for dancing
  • Create a dance video
  • Dress up your characters
  • Teach them moves
  • Perform and record on stage

August 2015: A one-room experience

By August, the app was starting to take shape. At that point, the app was only a one-room experience: You would drag the characters up from sort of a sidewalk and place them anywhere you want, like on a cardboard box dance surface. That’s where you added their moves. You could move the body, move the limbs, and have the characters perform all the moves.

At this stage all the characters had different moves, and in our play testing with kids we learned this was confusing. The takeaway for us was that it was a little bit unfocused, that kids didn’t necessarily know what to do because you could basically do everything at the same time. The app didn’t communicate itself how you should play with it or what the context was — especially with this stage, where the setting was like a pile of scrap. So the dancing theme wasn’t as strong as it could be.

September 2015: Reboot

In September we had a bit of a reboot.

Updated vision. We said that we should focus on the humor. We also wanted it to have more of a homemade feel — not too professional or too glittery. Not like American Idol. We found inspiration in the work of Michel Gondry.

We also added a backstory that this club had opened up in town where dance performances were happening in sort of a community building or school-inspired building.

Linear flow. We decided to have a more of a linear flow instead of being able to do everything at once. We divided the experience up into separate rooms, where each room would have its own focus:

  • Room 1/Posters: Select characters

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  • Room 2/Costume closet: Style characters

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  • Room 3/Practice room: Choreograph the moves

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  • Room 4/Stage: Choose effects, perform and record video

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I was a bit hesitant to introduce the linear flow because instinctively compared to the previous version, it felt a bit slower to move between the rooms and change characters. But the more we worked with it, it became an easy way for each specific room to communicate how you would use that room.

I’m happy with the linear flow, and I hope that in the end, we figured out the best way to make this experience more understandable and tangible for kids.

Synchronized dancing. Instead having all the dancers doing different dances, they all would dance the same dance, which eventually led us to having an instructor as an additional character and all of the main characters mimicking the instructor.

Horizontal movements. We introduced horizontal movements so you could then move the characters sideways. But to be able to do that, we compromised on the ability to move the feet around. Down the line we’ll see if we can make a combination of controlling the feet and doing horizontal movements.

Reworked GUI. We reworked the GUI, especially on stage. There, instead of touching the characters, you control the effects.

Wardrobe decision. All characters can wear the same clothes if you decide to put them on outside their original clothing. I think that was a good suggestion from the team for how to make the characters customizable in a quick way, instead of modeling all the different clothing. Eventually we were able to create a lot of assets that all the characters can use instead of being forced to limit the amount of outfits. That was an important decision, to add as much customization possibility without taking too much time.

Collaboration, characters and more

The look. We enjoyed working with Swedish graffiti artist Finsta. He was a part of creating the look and feel of the app by designing the logo, the backdrops and the character posters.

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The music. Håkan Lidbo composed all the songs for the app. What is great is that the songs all have the same tempo, so if you switch songs your dance still works. The album covers were designed by our very own Toca Boca artists. More songs to come during the spring…

Sweet Lemonade cover by Daniel Abesour

Sweet Lemonade cover by Daniel Abensour

Olga cover by Paulina Sadowska

Olga cover by Paulina Sadowska

Minnah Bee cover by Rebecca Tell

Minnah Bee cover by Rebecca Tell

Let's Go cover by Rebecca Tell

Let’s Go cover by Rebecca Tell

Elektronikoj by Seb Roux

Elektronikoj by Seb Roux

The characters. One important aspect of why these characters look like they do is that we decided that they should all have a strong silhouette so you could identify them without even seeing the colors. That explains some of why we have very particular head shapes or hairdos for these characters. We’ll add more characters in future updates.

That’s how we made Toca Dance. I hope you will enjoy it as much as we do. We’re gonna add a lot of fun things in future updates; please let us know how you think we can improve Toca Dance. We love hearing what you think!

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