Stella Lai introduces Mr. Chiizu

It’s no secret that Stella Lai is one of my favorite artists and favorite people. (You might remember her as the cover artist of Giant Robot 58.) So I was super excited when my friend asked me to beta test an app that she built with her friends Krister and Jessica. The Mr. Chiizu app, which combines the Neo Print experience with downloadable packages featuring the art of various cool/cute artists (including Stella),  is finally out now. Here’s what Stella has to say about it.

MW: I think it’s cool that while I may never be able to purchase one of your pieces of art, I can play with them using Mr. Chiizu! Where did the idea for this app come from?
SL: About two years ago Jessica approached me about making a purikura app for the iPhone. I thought it might be fun, so I shared the idea with my business partner, Krister. He felt that a purikura app might be a bit gimmicky (he lives in Japan and has seen the waning popularity of photo booths) so the idea sat on the shelf for a while. When Apple released StoreKit, which simplified selling content in-app, we saw an opportunity to make a photo decorating app with a variety of different pieces of purchasable content. As popular as the iPhone and iPad are, we didn’t see an obvious way for artists and illustrators to publish their work, so we thought it would be a cool idea to create a fun app featuring work by our friends and artists we love.

MW: Beta testing was pretty cool. Did you get any surprises when the testers’ images starting popping up?
SL: The beta testing was helpful and we are thankful for the nearly 50 people who participated. We’d been working off and on for seven months in a bubble so it was great to see the app through the eyes of other people. We received a lot of helpful insight and I think we were able to improve the user experience.

MW:  I understand you were already bootlegged in China. I suppose in a way, it’s flattering. How did you find out. Was that a straight crack or what?
SL: Krister is obsessed with checking our user analytics and about two weeks ago he noticed there was a discrepancy between our internal analytics and our sales reports from Apple. He probably lost a day of sleep trying to figure out why until he tracked down a site where people with jail-broken phones are able to download the app for free. At first we were a bit angry but then we realized it’s just part of life and embraced it. The reviews on the hacker site were very positive, ha ha.

MW: Nice acting in the promotional video. You were a natural. Was that the first take!
SL: I tell people it’s my cousin the dancing bear. Yeah, Jessica and I did a video shoot at my studio on a Saturday and we put the video together pretty quickly. It was fun. I think it was just an excuse for us to do a ridiculous video.

MW: What’s next for Mr. Chiizu?
SL: After the hacking incident, we reevaluated and decided to release a free version of the app with only  theme and no sharing. People will have to buy a theme to activate sharing.

For this new version (and our existing four-theme version) we’ve added Sina Weibo sharing–an olive branch for the Chinese market (no Facebook or Twitter over there). We’ve also localized the app into Japanese and Chinese. Another new function we’ve added is sending your Mr. Chiizu design to Instagram. We are hoping to release this new update mid-October, once we finish testing.

Before the new update, we will be releasing two new themes. One is a ghost theme by Juka Araikawa in time for Halloween. The second is a theme designed by Crowded Teeth. Her work is amazing and we will be doing a giveaway when her theme launches, so stay tuned!