Dan Ferguson is a creative executive with 20+ years experience. He co-founded, managed, and sold two digital agencies known for creating mobile business apps for American Airlines and CarMax as well as marketing/entertainment apps for LEGO, Universal Pictures and National Geographic. He co-created Chicktionary, a mobile app that has ranked as a Top 10 App on the Apple iTunes store and was named one of the Top 10 Kids Educational Apps by Time Magazine. He now heads the digital interactive group at Reel FX.

In today’s piece, Dan shares the process of creating Baby Turkey Trouble the official app of Free Birds which hit theaters in early November.


Free Birds Yellow PosterJust in time for Thanksgiving, world-class animation studio Reel FX launched the highly-anticipated Free Birds. In this hilarious, adventurous comedy for audiences of all ages, two turkeys must travel back in time to change the course of history. Their goal: remove turkey from the holiday menu!

To coincide with the movie’s release, we launched our first-ever mobile app: Baby Turkey Trouble. We knew it was important to have a mobile component related to the movie and we decided to work with Corona SDK to reach multiple mobile platforms quickly and effectively.

Developing with Corona SDK

Dale Carman, co-founder and executive creative director of the studio, is known for adopting new technologies and finding solutions to creative problems. Carman is always looking for tools that can help us be creative at the speed of thought. After spending a few weeks experimenting with the platform, he realized that it was the right tool for us.

Senior Developer Ed Maurina worked with the Reel FX creative team to develop the game and, within a few days, he had a working prototype that we could play-test. The prototype weighed in at less than 600 lines of code. Corona provided a great deal of functionality and flexibility while maintaining a concise API, making it possible to ramp up game features quickly without exploding the complexity of the code base.

The Early Stages of Game Development

The game began as a simple “match 3” app and we were able to quickly build the core game mechanics and start playing within days. Once we incorporated the animations, it started to feel solid.

The original game prototype featured characters from the film, but after testing, we decided to focus on the baby turkeys. Unfortunately, the babies in the film have limited vocalizations like “chirps” and “coos,” so we didn’t have much to work with. Working our voice actors, new tracks were recorded and the baby turkeys got voices.

Jackie James and Molli Leggitt giving the baby turkeys voices
Voice actors Jackie James and Molli Leggitt

Incorporating Visual Details From the Film Into the Game

With Corona, we were able to integrate Game Center and Google Play Game Services to create some fun achievements. This allowed the design team to focus on unique and entertaining achievements.

One of our favorite achievements is centered around “El Solo Lobo.” Using visual achievement badges, we were able to show the transformation of Reggie, voiced by Owen Wilson, into the tenacious soap opera star. This transformation, not done in the movie, is something we could incorporate in the mobile scope using Corona.

El Solo Lobo - Achievement
Transforming Reggie into “El Solo Lobo”

The team also leveraged models and scenes from the movie. For the title image in the game, we used a shot from the movie where Jake, voiced by Woody Harrelson, is hanging out with the baby turkeys. However, Reggie was not present in that shot. To incorporate him into the title screen of the game, we added him digitally and modified the baby turkeys.

Title image - before
Still Frame from the Movie Free Birds
Title image - after
Modified Still Frame from Baby Turkey Trouble

Baby Turkey Trouble: A Finished Product

After adding dozens of condition-specific sound effects, music tracks, videos, particle effects, raycast-based row and column match detectors, board shuffling, Facebook, Twitter, and many other features, the final version was still sleek and lightweight. Best of all, we were able to use the same code base to publish to Apple, Google Play, and the Amazon App Store.

The Free Birds movie is a great experience for the whole family and we’ve created a game that anyone can pick up and play. As a studio, we know how important it is to connect with our audience wherever they are, and gaming is a fantastic way for us to create new stories and deepen the bonds with our characters.

Baby Turkey Trouble is free for both Apple iOS and Android users.

App Store: bit.ly/freebirdsappleios
Google Play: bit.ly/freebirdsandroid
Amazon Appstore: bit.ly/freebirdsamazonapp

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