Mexico is a country full of history, folklore and color, but above all, full of beautiful traditions and customs, which have been preserved from generation to generation. One of these traditions is undoubtedly the celebration of the Day of the Dead, which takes place on November 1 and 2. This tradition was recognized and declared by UNESCO, as Intangible Heritage of humanity, in 2008. Perhaps losing my mother in 2009 brought this tradition closer to me, for Mexicans to honor and celebrate our deceased loved ones, it is something very sacred. A great icon of this celebration is undoubtedly "The Catrina", a character full of history, who gives color and spark to these days, in which there are many sensations in the environment, because we will always miss the loved ones who have left. From all this, I got the idea of ​​making a Skill, which takes advantage of the enormous resources that Alexa technology offers us, to bring users an experience that allows them to know and live a little of this beautiful tradition, and what better than from the hand of this unique character known as "The Mexican Catrina".

What it does

Mexican Catrina, is an educational and cultural skill, with serious content but at the same time fun and entertaining, it is a skill for all ages, where from the hand of an animated Catrina, we can say The Catrina, Day of the Dead or Literary Skull, each section and theme of the Skill has original animations and content, where I have worked since the creation of the character, animation, background music, scripts and programming.

How I built it

Despite the fact that the catrina is a character in the public domain, and it can be said that all catrinas "are the same or very similar", due to makeup and clothing. The first step was to give my catrina a friendly and fun personality.

Part of the job was to investigate the origins of The Catrina. Also look for family photos, and others in the public domain. Also find musical pieces related to tradition and that were in the public domain.

Since 2018, when Alexa arrived in Mexico, I have built skills, I think this experience has helped me to have what it takes to build, which I consider is my best skill so far.

The technologies used are:

  • APL Motion
    • Follow On Wake Word
  • Alexa Presentation Language (APL)
    • Multimodal Responses
    • SendEvent
  • Alexa Presentation Language for Audio (APLA)
    • Multimodal Responses
    • Mixer
  • Speech Synthesis Markup Language (SSML)
  • Amazon Polly
    • Ivy
  • Audion assets: Music from the public domain, played by my children, and some software.
    • La Bruja
    • Llorona
  • Flow design: MindManager
    • StoryBoard
  • Visual design:
    • Corel Draw
    • Photoshop
    • Cartoon Animator 4.
  • Tableta gráfica digitalizador
  • Video creation and editing:
    • Camtasia 9

Challenges I ran into

First, I will talk about the cultural challenge that this Skill has represented me: every year, I have lived this tradition closely, but I had never considered trying to explain it to other people, and less to people from another country, culture and language. I understand that not everyone is happy to talk about "death." Explaining the origin of The Catrina, and trying to convey a little of that personality of grace and mischief, with which we Mexicans see her, has been difficult, but also very pleasant. Every year my wife writes some “Literary Skull”, and this year she wrote me some for this skill. A literary skull is a set of witty verses and rhymes that speak and “joke” about “death” and about people who have already left, and even involve living people, but I had never written one in English! That was a challenge!. The Catrina, is an icon and character of the Day of the Dead, and although it is in the public domain, and surely all of Mexico has painted Catrina or Catrin at some time, making a cartoon of her has been a process by no means simple, but I think which is the one I have enjoyed the most. The process of collecting history, data, images, from the public domain, was very pleasant, but looking for background music was very special, because it not only implied finding pieces from the public domain, but also having or achieving an own interpretation, and although I know a Little music, my wife and children supported me in this, I must say that some software tweaks were necessary, but I think the result is really worth it.

The technical challenge: I have been involved in Alexa technology, since 2018 when it arrived in Mexico, I have published some other skills, and all that undoubtedly helped me to crystallize, this one that I consider my best Skill. There were several technical challenges that I faced, including of course digitizing a character made on a sheet of paper, articulating it, then animating it, and trying to inject a little grace into the process. In the same way, mixing videos with what we call prompt, Alexa technology first executes the Prompt, which ruined the pretentions of the skill, however, Alexa technology provides event handling, specifically sendEvent, the which is handled through APL documents.

Accomplishments that I'm proud of

I have always been proud to be Mexican, and I have seen in this Skill the opportunity to show the world a bit of the beautiful traditions of my country, and seeing the result of my Skill, I really feel proud to see that my goal is being achieved. Technically I am proud of the handling I did of the APL and APLA, as well as the handling of events.

What I learned

Since I was a child I have liked the fine arts, specifically I practice oil painting, and a little music (violin, guitar and singing). But in these almost two months of work, I have learned to digitize on a graphic tablet, a bit of animation principles, and especially APL and APLA, as well as the basics of APL Smart Motion. Culturally, I have also learned a lot about my own country.

What's next for The Mexican Catrina

I would like to add more content, maybe a catrina game using Alexa Web API For Games, and that they are enabled through ISP: In-Skill Purchasing.

IMPORTANT NOTE: My wife and I authorize our two children to appear in this video. In the same way, relatives of mine already deceased appear.

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