My super friend Traci Paige Johnson, a graduate of Northwestern University, joined me in 1994 to create Blue’s Clues which ran for 10 years on Nickelodeon. Traci’s unique style of cutout animation became the signature look for Blue’s Clues & beyond. Today she is the co-owner/ founder of the media company, Yummico.
How was creating Blue’s Clues different than creating Yummiloo?
When you and I created Blues Clues, we had Nickelodeon (with their resources and money) behind us. In contrast, I created Yummiloo with scotch tape and rubber bands – not literally, but certainly in spirit. I came up with the idea and did the design & animation with my husband in our basement. Yummiloo has been a bootstrap operation from top to bottom.
Was there a specific instance with one of your boys that gave you the idea that “we need something about food for kids?”
I actually do remember a very significant ‘aha’ moment. When my 3 yr old, Emmet, was around one & a half, I was feeding him and he refused to eat his broccoli. Tired and frustrated, I reached into his toy bin and pulled out a little plastic gorilla. I spontaneously play-acted the gorilla swinging over to his plate, roaring: “YUM… broccoli!” Then I had the gorilla pretend to eat it. I hadn’t planned to do this beforehand, I was just improvising in the moment. But it worked! The gorilla’s interest in the broccoli changed Emmet’s attitude, and he began to eat it too. I took note. Modeling and play, when introducing new foods, is a powerful combination.
Aside from this one particular instance, I’ve felt a general frustration with the way we, as a culture, present food to kids. There are so many things out there that are working against parents who are trying to get their kids to eat right: the ubiquity of unhealthy treats, of relentless commercials, and of kids menus stuffed with only chicken nuggets and white pasta. We parents need all the help we can get.
Yummiloo came out of this frustration, and out of a realization that there wasn’t a nutrition series for preschoolers involving good stories and pre-school relatable characters. I’ve done a lot of research on this issue and it all states that the “window of opportunity is open” in preschoolers and this is the time to introduce a variety of foods. They want to model good behavior and want to do what’s good for their bodies. Yummiloo’s mission is to make “real food” as irresistible to kids as “fake foods”. I want to take the tools of visual media (like those employed in advertising) and use them to get kids to want to eat right, to want broccoli and apples and be a true “food adventurer” setting the foundation of healthy eating for the rest of their lives.
You and I share a vision that shows for kids should be richly textured, smart, interesting and layered. How is Yummiloo all those things?
Yummiloo is a world that kids will want to jump into… and it’s made entirely of real, healthy food. The messages and curriculum aren’t “skill & drill” but are couched organically into the story. There’s hide and seek for the youngest viewers while teaching about composting for the older set. We’ve built the message of modeling healthy food into Yummiloo’s very design. It’s “delicious media…good and good for you.” Like all the shows we create, it inspires kids even AFTER the screen is turned off.
Yummiloo is so beautiful! As an artist, what was your process in designing it?
Honestly, I was really inspired by the power of advertising – by the way a gorgeously photographed burger in a TV commercial can make you want to eat a burger (or pizza, ice cream, etc). I wanted to take the tools and techniques of Madison Avenue and employ them in the creation of a world made entirely of healthy food. To do this, we went to the market to get the freshest foods available; we lit and photographed them to bring out their color, their shape – and their overall ‘yumminess’; then we brought them into the computer. These photographed foods were the foundation, the inspiration, out of which the world took shape.
Have you heard any feedback from kids? Are they asking to eat more broccoli trees?
Funny you should ask – we just got a post from a mom whose thee year-old asked for a plum while in the produce section of the supermarket… and she had never had a plum before. It’s in its early days, but kids seem sparked. They’ve really responded to the world and enjoy pointing out the foods they see hidden in the landscape. I’m encouraged. This is the perfect age to get kids excited about fresh foods.
Why an app first? Do you feel a strong connection with interactive media and teaching kids about healthy foods?
When the iPad first came out, my creativity was sparked. I couldn’t help thinking that if we were making Blue’s Clues today, we’d be making it for the iPad – with real interactivity! Also, from an utterly pragmatic point-of-view, an app is a wonderful way to launch a brand fast – and for relatively little money.
What is your ultimate goal with Yummiloo?
My ultimate long-term goal for Yummiloo is to help foster a generation of healthier eaters – and thereby a healthier generation! In the short-term, I hope to make Yummiloo a trusted brand and a helpful ally to parents like me. It’s certainly not just a single app – but a property that will hopefully live on all devices, across all media.
What kinds of stories do you tell in the app? What can kids and parents expect when they play it?
We have so many stories we want to tell, it was hard to pick just 1 for the first app. But eventually, we settled on the Yummiloo ‘Rainbow Power’. In it, the Yum Yums are headed to their annual carnival, but the Rainbow Machine which powers the carnival is empty. Kids at home need to help Rooty and the other Yum Yums harvest as many different colored fruits and vegetables, teaching food identification and where food comes from. Just as it takes all the colored foods to power the carnival, it takes all the colored foods to power YOU!
I love that you & your handsome husband Bob worked on this together. How was that different from working with me?! I was your work husband! 🙂
It is such a joy to work with such a talented designer, writer and big picture thinker. We’ve been wanting to do a project together for a long time & the end result has been fabulous. It’s so wonderful brainstorming ideas, stories, and characters together. Then when designing, he takes my initial sketches/ideas & does “his magic”. He translates them into the computer adding textures, shadows, and makes them come to life. We complement each other so well. He’s also the most patient person I know, letting me make infinite changes and tweaks to get it “just right.” It’s a luxury to work this way and I’m so grateful for him!