Meet Animopus Co-Founder Solomon Shlosman
FamilyMinded: What inspired the creation of Animopus?
Solomon Shlosman: Well, the main reason is that my co-founder and I both have kids, and we just realized that the thing that all parents around the globe desperately need is some free time. The easiest way to get some free time is just to give away your smartphone or tablet to your kid. Then they're busy doing something safe without actually running around and trying to kill themselves. It’s the easiest way for parents, but it is always a compromise. Most parents don’t actually want their kids to be constantly watching cartoons or playing games.
It's always a trade-off between having some free time and your kid not watching cartoons. It's always a trade-off. We decided to create some kind of healthy app that naturally reduces kids’ screen time so parents can still get a little free time with fewer worries about how it will effect their child’s development.
FM: How does the app work?
Shlosman: Currently, the app has 84 cartoons. After subscribing, users get one cartoon per day. In each cartoon, there’s a missing component. Kids are prompted to draw the missing character or object. Then, they upload a photo of their drawing, the app removes the background, and their drawing appears as part of the animated story. Their drawing becomes the main character of the cartoon.
FM: How is the app different from similar apps on the market?
Shlosman: Most drawing apps require kids to draw on the device’s screen. That’s the most significant difference. Animopus promotes the development of fine motor control and creativity by encouraging kids to draw in real life, not with their finger on a tablet. Drawing on the tablet is still an option, but most kids opt to draw with markers, paints or pencils instead.
The second thing is that many animation apps have a style that’s not very artistic. You can hardly distinguish one app from another. The graphics all look the same. We were trying to build something more like a good children’s book with quality illustrations. All the cartoons in the Animopus app were designed by illustrators from around the world to try to keep this feeling of a well-crafted children’s book.
It’s actually very important to us. As parents, we’re very picky. We don’t buy every single book on the shelf. We try to find something that was made with love and passion, that someone put a lot of effort into. Instead of making an app that was overstimulating and predictable, we worked hard to make it visually interesting and artistic.
FM: Is there evidence to prove Animopus reduces screen time?
Shlosman: Yes! We measured how much time kids spent not looking at the screen while using the app, and our findings were encouraging. Seventy percent of the entire interaction with the app was spent away from the screen, drawing in real life. Only about 30 percent is spent watching the cartoons created. Each cartoon lasts for about two minutes, so even the time spent watching isn’t much compared to watching TV or playing a game.
FM: How does it help kids develop imagination and creativity?
Shlosman: I believe that when a kid feels that they made something that’s actually the main character of the cartoon, they become a creator. They’re not just a content consumer, but a content creator, responsible for the content. When you’re a creator in charge of, say, drawing a sun, you feel like you can’t draw just any sun. You have to draw the best sun possible. It’s your cartoon, and you’re the director. Animopus gives kids responsibility for content they both create and watch. Unlike just watching cartoons, it’s both empowering and encourages creative thinking.
FM: How have parents and kids responded to the new animation app so far?
Shlosman: We do have pretty good metrics in terms of how many people continue using the app several weeks after subscribing. We’ve had a few technical support requests, but most of the feedback has been positive. Several people who tested the animation app have shared that it turned into a family activity rather than something just for kids. They all draw together and watch how the cartoons come to life when they upload their pictures.
FM: Have your own kids tried it?
Shlosman: My kid is only 2, but my co-founder has two kids ages 3 and 7. His 7-year-old was the main tester of the whole thing, and even though we’re done testing it, she still uses the app all the time. When I go to review the app’s dashboards and see someone who's in the app almost 24/7, I almost definitely know that it’s her.
FM: Would the app be beneficial in early education settings, like preschools or kindergarten?
Shlosman: Yeah, absolutely. We would love to partner with some kindergarten classrooms or preschools. It’s impossible to get rid of technology. It penetrates life from everywhere, even in schools, and the age that kids are exposed to devices gets lower and lower. We’re trying to use an app to give kids some way to express themselves and their creativity without actually looking at the screen — not in some environment someone else created for them, but with simple stuff. Pen and paper. Or paints, or whatever. Anything where you can hold it and feel it, just a blank slate without any bright screen shouting at you with music and colors.
You get a lot of insights when you’re not distracted by sounds or push notifications. It’s like a meditation, and I believe it's very beneficial for early childhood development, and we’ve spoken to psychologists who feel the same.
FM: Are there ads within the app?
Shlosman: You get six cartoons free initially, plus one cartoon each day over the next three days. An additional trial subscription unlocks another 12 cartoons, and the rest are unlocked when you subscribe. Then, you’ll have access to all the subcategories of cartoons, like unicorns, cars, underwater, etc. The subscription is about five dollars as a monthly subscription, or $30 for a year.
Beyond that, there are no in-app purchases. Plus, even the initial Animopus subscription has a safety question to prevent kids from subscribing without their parent’s consent.
FM: How do you see Animopus evolving in the future? Any additional features you’d like to add?
Shlosman: We’d like the app to have the ability to actually distinguish what kids draw. Right now, if you draw a cat, we can’t tell for sure that it’s a cat. We’d like to develop the technology so that the app understands whether a drawing is a cat, a dog, a dinosaur and so on. We’d like to be able to recognize which part is a tail and where the ears and eyes are so that we can fully animate their artwork.
Drawing tutorials are another distant possibility, potentially utilizing partnerships with art teachers and other content creators.
FM: Anything else parents should know?
Shlosman: I think they have to know that Animopous is from parents to parents. We're not some random guys who just decided to make a business out of their kids. We really know the struggle, and we wanted to make something that works for real families. The app has been tested on hundreds of kids, so we learned what kids like to draw, what they don’t like to draw, and what prompts were age appropriate before releasing the app to the public.