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Academy Alum's Apps Make Learning Good Values Fun for Kids

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A scene from Brandon Chappell’s 2014 book and app 'Drew Meets Boo.' Courtesy of Brandon Chappell.

Since graduating from the Academy of Art University in 2009, Brandon Chappell has been busy putting his graphic design and animation skills to use in a variety of projects, including creating interactive apps that help kids learn good values in a fun way. His latest app, SPOOF, is based on an animated short film of the same name that he directed while attending the Academy.

“All of the animation work for the film was done on a volunteer basis by other students,” said Chappell, who earned a B.F.A. in 3-D animation and visual effects. 

The animated short follows SPOOF, a zany rabbit, and his pals, on an epic adventure in a forest as an evil fox pursues them. SPOOF’s Christian theme gently teaches kids about the power of forgiveness, friendship and love. The film won awards in Christian, faith and spiritual categories at several events this year, including the San Francisco Film Awards, IndieFEST, the Accolade Global Competition and the Best Shorts Film Festival. 

In addition to awards for SPOOF, Chappell and a team of other Academy students who collaborated on a short called Reprogrammed while he was attending the Academy recently received an IndieFEST Award of Merit.

Chappell started working on an app based on SPOOF in 2014. “My first two apps had pretty good success, and since the SPOOF animated short was taking off and doing well, it made sense to do one of it, too,” he said.

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Academy of Art University alumnus Brandon Chappell. Courtesy of Brandon Chappell.

Chappell got into making apps in a roundabout way. In 2012, a friend, Jacqueline Del Monte, asked him if he could draw a one-page illustration for a story her then 11-year-old daughter, Justine, wrote for a school project. “I decided to surprise Justine and turn her story into a book,” he said. 

His vibrant illustrations brought Justine’s simple, engaging tale about a young boy who learns to be true himself and stand up to bullies to life in the resulting picture book, Drew’s Dancing Drum. Chappell then turned the book into an interactive app. To date, the app has been downloaded 7,000 times in 93 countries and has been translated in Mandarin Chinese and Spanish. 

In 2014, Chappell and Justine teamed up to make a second book, Drew Meets Boo, and he designed an interactive app for it as well. With their subtle anti-bullying messages delivered in a way children can relate to, the books and apps attracted the attention of San Bernardino PBS radio station KVCR. The station invited Chappell and Justine to come on air to talk about Drew’s Dancing Drum and filmed their appearance for a segment for KVCR TV. PBS also used Chappell’s book apps to create one-minute animated spots that ran on KVCR and PBA30 TV in Atlanta. The spot will likely run on other PBS stations in the future. 

“We never thought this would grow into what it has,” said Chappell, who, along with Justine, recently returned from doing a radio show for WABE in Atlanta. “Working on these books and apps really opened my eyes to bullying awareness and where bullying comes from.”

Chappell said the most time-consuming part of making an app is testing it on different devices and getting all the bugs out. “Drawing and painting everything, cutting things out and getting it all animated also takes thousands of hours, because I’m doing it by myself,” he added. “SPOOF took me slightly over a year to create, the other apps took about five or six months.”

Chappell appreciates the solid foundation in drawing and other art forms he gained at the Academy for helping him build a career that’s presented him with a variety of creative opportunities. “If you learn the basics, you can apply them to anything you do, whether it’s designing an app or making a movie,” he said.  

He is currently making a special holiday version of the Drew’s Dancing Drum app. His apps are available on iTunes; both books and apps are also offered on drewsbooks.com. To learn more about Chappell’s work, please visit http://brandonchappell.weebly.com.