Apple cites Gray's Disney iPad app as 2013's best
URBANA — All Theodore Gray wanted this Christmas was for the Apple store to feature the Disney app he helped develop.
Apple went a few steps further, this week honoring the Urbana native's work as "the iPad app of the Year 2013."
It's called Disney Animated, it retails for $9.99, and in August it joined the nearly 100,000 new apps added this year to an online store with more than 1 million of them.
"We knew the app was great and the people at Disney thought it was great," Gray said Wednesday in his downtown Urbana office. "It's selling OK, and it's got nothing but positive reviews."
Gray directed Disney Animated's development for Touch Press, the London-based interactive eBook publishing company he co-founded. At the peak of the project, his team included 15 Touch Press employees and several others from Disney.
The app offers a 90-year history of the techniques behind 53 of Disney's full-length animated movies — from "Snow White" to "Frozen" — including text chapters written by Gray and many other nifty features.
— 360-degree animated photos of small plaster models of characters from the early Disney days. They're priceless, are usually tucked away safely in a vault, and hearken back to an era when animation artists would draw by hand, just for one movie, countless pictures of the characters.
— A color bar that, when pressed, quickly takes users through the 53 animated films without sound.
— Features that allow users to create their own animated films, then upload them to Facebook, Twitter, their smartphones and other platforms.
Reviewers have raved about the app's broad appeal — how it can keep children or adults, or children and adults together, busy for hours.
So, how did a company based in England, a continent away from the Magic Kingdom, land the job of creating a special app for Disney?
On a flight from New York to Los Angeles several years ago, a Disney vice president became engrossed in an iPad app called "The Waste Land," about T.S. Eliot's famous poem. It was a production of Touch Press and its chief creative officer — Theodore Gray.
"He had no prior interest in poetry," Gray said. "After he landed in L.A., he told other Disney executives, 'We should do something with these people.'"
Gray doesn't know whether he'll do more work for Disney. The University of Illinois chemistry alumnus' current project: developing an app and printed book about the elements, molecules and their reactions.
He hopes both will be released simultaneously in time for Christmas 2014.