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BYU animation grad and wife create app to help children learn Primary songs

For Arizona husband and wife, Blake and Natasha Johnson, working together is second nature as they raise their 5-year-old twins. But the couple, who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently combined their talents to work together in creating the LDS Animated app for mobile devices. The app puts well-known Primary songs like “I Am a Child of God” and “Love is Spoken Here” to animation, with the lyrics appearing along the bottom.

The app was launched in September and currently features seven different Primary songs, including “I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus” and “I Will Follow God’s Plan.” Each song is animated with different scenes or stories and scrolls through the lyrics in a sing-along style. “I Love to See the Temple” and “I am a Child of God” are free songs included with the download of the app while the other five songs are available for purchase. Each of the songs are available in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese.

“We wanted this to spread … across as many people and languages as possible,” Natasha Johnson said.

Previously, the user had to pay for each version of the song, but with a new update, all of the languages are now available after the song is initially purchased in any language.

The Johnsons plan to make a video for each of the seven songs that will be used during the 2017 Primary sacrament meeting presentation. They hope this will help children learn and comprehend, not only the lyrics in the songs, but also the messages.

“Video is engaging, which is part of the reason we wanted to create this,” Blake Johnson said. “It engages (children) mentally and emotionally.”

Blake Johnson graduated from Brigham Young University’s animation program and worked in Hollywood before starting his own business.

“I have always had a passion for film and storytelling,” he said.

Currently he is the sole animator and artist for LDS Animated, while he continues to animate and design products for other clientele.

“I always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” he said, but it was his wife who helped him focus his talents with the idea to animate children’s songs.

Both husband and wife have a desire to create quality, Christian content that could be a force for good. Blake Johnson said his brain is constantly being bombarded with ideas and that Natasha was the one who shepherded the ideas to create the app.

“Natasha has been a good guidance on my mind,” he said, adding that it is she who helps them set and achieve clear goals.

The Johnsons have been working on the app for almost two years but for the past nine months, Blake Johnson has focused his attention on the project full-time. Seven of those months were spent creating the first song, “I Will Follow God’s Plan.”

They chose an app format because of its accessibility to mobile devices. Also in this format, the videos can be streamed or downloaded so they are available anywhere, even if an internet connection isn’t.

Both Blake and Natasha Johnson said that they wanted a safe space for children to view kid-friendly content. While there are uplifting and clean videos on YouTube or other apps, the Johnsons said that they wanted one where they felt comfortable letting their kids watch any of the videos without constant supervision.

“Whenever I hear the (Primary) music, it really fills me with the Spirit and as a mom I wanted to teach my kids how to feel the Spirit,” Natasha Johnson said. She added that the music and the images also help teach foundational gospel principles and reinforce what children learn in church on Sundays.

“When they came home (from church) and saw the pictures and the words on the screen, it really came alive for them,” Blake Johnson said after testing the app on his own children. “That was really fun to see as parents.”

The couple said they have received feedback from customers that the app does have a profound impact on the comprehension and learning of a song, which is something that Blake Johnson experienced firsthand. While he was creating the first video, Blake Johnson would show his two children the video. He started showing it to his daughter when she was 3-years-old, and by the time she was 4 she knew the entire song.

The Johnsons said that now it takes about a month to animate a new song, a month full of very long days and nights. But it is not just Blake Johnson who creates the final product. Together, they decide on a song and start brainstorming the story they want the images to portray.

Natasha said that they each take several days to brainstorm separately before coming together to start creating the video. Then, while Blake Johnson is working on what customers see, Natasha works behind the scenes handling all of the legal aspects and song copyrights.

The couple also hopes that the app will be able to create missionary opportunities. They are excited to bring the content into homes for other families and church members and hope that “the animated videos not only help children learn the songs quickly, but instill Christ’s teaching through the story elements.”