The Development of Felipe Femur
We’d like to think that Felipe Femur has come a long way from being a mere idea in ZebraFox Game’s Creative Director’s head–an idea for a Halloween themed children’s story character–to a developed set of bones with a cast of friends, a website, and series of mobile games. We’d also like to believe that he still has a long way to go. The introverted skeleton with a lot of heart remains an interesting character and an anchor for his ironic and often outlandish friends. As such, there are many stories to be told with him and his friends. But Felipe’s future would be nothing if not for his past. Over time Felipe has evolved, as have many of his friends. The following will discuss this development of Felipe Femur and friends. Below are some images of the early work on Felipe Femur the skeleton with a lot of heart. On the left is the original sketch that creative director, Russell, did in his idea journal; the center image is that of artistic director, David’s,initial sketches after learning of Russell’s concept; and the image on the right is one of the first digital depictions of Felipe.
It is perhaps best to begin with a description of Felipe Femur for those who are new to the character: Like most skeletons in the closet, Felipe tends to stay hidden away. In other words, he’s usually a lone wolf, as his friend Gummy the toothless werewolf likes to say. In his closet he loves to build things: forts, houses of cards, and he also loves to solve puzzles, but sometimes he grows bored of these things. On occasions he yearns for time with his friends. And so he invites them over to pull up a coat hanger and hang out, or he walks to find them. Being the health nut he is, Felipe loves to walk, and in doing so, he meets many new friends, and he meets up with old friends, too. Maybe someday, if you’re out and about, he’ll walk into you! When Felipe doesn’t feel like walking, he’ll sometimes use his magical closet door to travel. The door’s origin is as elusive as Felipe’s past. All that is known is that with a couple twists of his skeleton key, his closet door can open in any location where a closet is found. He never does this uninvited for he has accidentally scared people when they open their closet in search of a sweater and find a surprise skeleton. Felipe loves music and can often be found playing a pair of maracas. He also sometimes plays the bongos and sings in his band, The Skeletones.
We at ZebraFox Games chose to create something that would better the lives of those who stumbled upon it, no matter how small that betterment might be. This was the idea behind the website, but also the original story. The theme of Felipe Femur came naturally for we’ve always loved the theme of monsters, the thrill of reading spooky stories starting with R.L. Stein’s Goosebumps series, and the ironic nature of things such as Alanis Morissette’s song Ironic ironically not being ironic and physic medium conventions being canceled due to unforeseeable circumstances. With an initial idea of an introverted skeleton living in a closet, Russell brainstormed with the artistic director of ZebraFox Games, David, to get a general idea and the desired direction of the work. With this base idea, Russell went about writing, struggling with rhymes, alliteration, and the length in order make the original story appeal to children, but making sure to avoid dumbing it down by any means. We believe the original story still carries a very real message: Felipe is an introverted, not shy, protagonist, who shouldn’t be afraid to rely on others once in awhile. In an extroverted world, introverts often struggle. Felipe is all bones with nowhere to hide is inner self for his inner self is his outer self. With the absence of a stomach, nose, and skin, Felipe and his friends illustrate that no one person can do, or at least not be great, at everything, and we must all rely on one another. Making it clear that Felipe has friends challenges the stereotype of introverts as being antisocial weirdos, and depicts them as those that still need social interact, but simple recharge in private, and have solitary hobbies. Felipe Femur was and is intended to be the base upon on which many more related stories may build upon. The original story itself follows Felipe as he helps three of his friends: Gummy the toothless werewolf, Runny the woozy witch, and Sunny the sun-loving vampire. While Russell had initially imagined it being a print and picture children’s book, it evolved during production to be an interactive bedtime story. The story was paired with a jumping platformer game and made into an Android app. The original dialogue screen for this original app can be seen below. It was changed slightly before release, using less colors and showcasing Gummy’s crescent moon shack more than the colorful words shown here. This was a decision made by artistic director, David Dorn.
Early on, Felipe Femur had three friends with rhyming names as rhymes are a tool used to get a child’s interest and encourage them to read. Rhymes can be fun, but this became a bit of a problem when we decided to expand the Felipe femur universe to include new friends. Russell had already run out of rhymes, save for Mummy. Thus the rhyming friends became Felipe’s inner circle and the new ones settled to be more acquaintances or fair weather friends or even adversaries. Several of these friends made appearances in other ZebraFox Games productions, such as Wesley Richards the cat mayor in City Blocks, as a human nicknamed Zebra in No Proper Thief, and the upcoming Blame (which began before the idea for Felipe Femur was ever conceived). Clyde Lamm the ghost was the protagonist in No Proper Thief, and Oscar the main character of Rock, Paper, Wizards! Dale the profitless salesman makes an appearance in the upcoming Felipe Femur: Choice Adventures app. Perhaps the first character to really get back to the ironic motif of the Felipe Femur universe was Gilli Fishel, a young lagoon creature who has a fear of water. Gilli appears in the Digital Dreidel app, and a couple stories were written from his perspective: The Yawning Deep and Surf Session Lesson. He also appears in the Felipe Femur & Friends neighborhood meet and greet app along with all the others. Melody the mute banshee followed Gilli and became a love interest to the charming Clyde Lamm, making her first appearance in the poem The Theremin’s Melody and a subsequent appearance in Felipe Femur: Choice Adventures. Beyond this, we have several characters in mind that includes an idiotic disembodied brain, a humorless clown, a hydrated mummy, a down to earth alien, Joe Miller, who makes his first appearance in Felipe Femur: Choice Adventures, Dale’s competitor, Lucy and the Unicorns, Lurking Larry, and a vegan wendigo. Since the release of the original Felipe Femur story app, we have released several other games. The popular scary stories app, Halloween Campfire Stories, that features spooky tales from Gummy, Sunny, and Felipe; Dr. Sweet Tooth that is both sweet and gross; Rock, Paper, Wizards! that showcases Oscar Burlin’s story and cameos Runny the witch; Present Danger that has cute plushies of Felipe, Dale, Runny, and Gummy; Digital Dreidel with Gilli Fishel; and Gummy’s Thanksgiving Feast with a very hungry Gummy the toothless werewolf. Russell took care to make each character have an ironic nature. The four originals have been mentioned, as have the ideas for upcoming characters and Melody the mute banshee, but the newer, presently available, characters are equally ironic. For example, Oscar is a mundane magician. It’s ironic because magicians are all about showmanship and excitement and Oscar is dull. Another is Clyde Lamm who is a spirited spectre, which is unusual as he’s full of life but also dead. Dale is a profitless salesman, and was one of the more difficult characters to think of an ironic quirk. He was a character created by David Dorn long ago for a 100 day 100 painting challenge. He was a good character, but needed something ironic to fit into the Felipe Femur world. After many hours of thinking, I finally had something that worked. He’s profitless because Lurking Larry, a behind the scenes type of character who is never seen but always present, is always stealing Dale’s clients and sales by undercutting his prices.
As we had a large and growing cast of ironic monsters and quirky weirdos, we thought it would be a good time to do a meet and greet. Thus the idea for the Felipe Femur & Friends Android app and HTML5 file was born. We spent hours visiting children’s sites to see what would be engaging to children and found that besides games, videos, music, that explorable settings like the Beverly Cleary website’s Explore the Neighborhood section were engaging. We wanted to go above and beyond that simple point and click neighborhood; however, and make something where kids and parents could really get a feel for the characters we created. This project was admittedly more in the hands of the artistic director, David, as it is heavily art based. Russell simply had to write scripts for each character and find voice actors to voice the characters, submit ideas and suggestions for residences, mini games, and touch ups throughout the three month period it took to complete, as well as compile sound effects, promote the app, and write up a press release and app store description. Now children and parents and even curious adults can hear Felipe and his friends speak, play several mini games, learn more about each character, get links to other free games, and discover plenty of craft and recipes related to the Felipe Femur universe. . Particularly impressive were the voice actors, especially for Felipe Femur and Clyde Lamm, voiced by Dave Soltura, which came out particularly well.
To see the evolution of the characters, it’s important to focus in on the main four characters, as they have been around the longest and were thus most susceptible to change. Each of the main characters have transformed overtime to be more rounded, brighter, and more full bodied. Each of the original character designs were simply busts, or from the shoulders up, as that was all that was needed for the original Felipe Femur story app, but it’s clear that they now have full bodies as were needed for the newer games, namely Felipe Femur: Choice Adventures. The edges on the characters’ forms are far less sharp than they used to be, giving off a more approachable look, and the brighter colors also lend themselves to help achieve this goal. The rounded curves are perhaps most noticeable in Felipe’s sombrero and Gummy’s nose, but can also be seen in the curves of Felipe’s skull. The lines in general became less harsh, as is quite clear in the hair line of Runny the woozy witch and the outline of Felipe’s head. It’s apparent, perhaps, that Sunny the sun-loving vampire changed very little except for growing arms and legs. He was fairly bright to begin with and his original lines were perhaps the most expertly executed in the early drawing, thus he had to change very little. Besides, vampires don’t age and with less lines it seems he might even be younger. The initial sketches seen early in this post do have the characters with bodies, but the style in these was deemed by us as ultimately inappropriate for children which explains why in a literal sense Felipe, Gummy, Runny, and Sunny have all decrease in size to roughly a child’s height.
Beyond Felipe Femur’s neighborhood, we have plans to expand the music section for the Skeletones and Melody on the website. We frequently update the website with crafts designed by our craft and recipe coordinator, Keely Nesbit, as well as new holiday word searches, coloring sheets, and stories. Educational articles and character corner updates also appear frequently. In addition to the website, we have been working on a word based Felipe femur game titled Felipe Femur: Choice Adventures. This began with the title Felipe Femur: Choice Scares, but we learned from our mistake with the Halloween Campfire Stories app that we shouldn’t imply it’s scary as players are prone to exclaim that they weren’t scared and rate it poorly as such. Even though it’s clearly for kids, as the Halloween Campfire Stories app was, we didn’t want to imply that the game will impart a universal feeling of fear. This new word and choice based app has proven to be quite time consuming. The coding is far more complicated than the sophomoric effort in No Proper Thief, especially given that the first of the three stories is open in exploration rather than linear. On top of the upcoming games, crafts, and activities, we are considering a Felipe Femur Fan Art competition with a small but considerable prize.
In conclusion, we believe it’s clear from the images presented alone that Felipe Femur has matured. From a mere sketch in the creative director’s journal, to a computer painting done by the artistic director, to a more rounded and kid-friendly face with eyeballs in the original Felipe Femur story app, to the short and cute skeleton he is today with a boyish voice (David Soltura) and a library of games and stories, Felipe Femur has grown. In a literal sense he has shrunken two fold, sure, but as far as depth and approachable appearance, he has developed greatly. Play the new Felipe Femur & Friends app; enjoy free crafts and recipes; print free coloring sheets, bingo cards, and word searches; play games; listen jazz music; and read articles and stories here on the official Felipe Femur website.