Another Animation Created In Colorado

How we started an animation company in Colorado

The Easter Duckling That Couldn’t Swim

Chapter 6

Memoir by Steven R Leonard
Animation by Joel Heaton
Music by Lindsey Saunders
Editing by Sarah Heilman

The scope of the project. Animating a memoir.

In April, 2014 I answered a Craigslist posting for an author seeking an animator. Steven R Leonard is a Denver native who has finished the first of three humorous memoirs detailing his adventures growing up poor in a large (he’s the oldest of nine children) middle class family in the 1970’s.

Steven originally requested that I create the animation with stick figures. I had something else in mind. The animation, web and social presences have been organized in a way to broadcast the Steven R Leonard memoirs for exposure and a viral following. The “demo” reel is a combination of the writing, animation and music.

When this project came along I felt excited as this was the type of story I had been waiting for. I have been animating for 12 years and I have never taken on a full script that a writer had offered me. Other than animating numerous medical animations and procedures this project was the real deal. So, to me the project was exciting and the content was hilarious. Steven writes in a classic satire format. The characters are vast, punchy and very real. A great combination. Just like The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad and Bob’s Burgers the animation is based on a community with hundreds of characters.

Lindsey Saunders from Erie, CO was chosen to create the opening and closing music for the animation. These will appear in every animation we launch. Ideally the music Steven and I requested was something fun, silly, retro and a jingle. The intro to Paul Simon’s, Me and Julio was the original music I used in the first animation but, Lindsey’s original piece worked even better. Her finger picking, strumming, Whistling, Woooos! and a Yeah! all compliment the genre of the 70s music. They also cleanse the hearing for the narration and real life events that are about to be told. This music caters to the complexity of the situations going on in the Leonard family. Relentless mayhem and the need for serenity within a dysfunctional family.

Starbucks in Broomfield, CO became our home base for meetings. The first time I met Steven he gave me 5 printed out chapters of The Easter Duckling That Couldn’t Swim. I sat and read all 5. I laughed my butt off. Right from that point the things that came to mind were shows and cartoons based on the 70s’, families and the world realizing chaos. The Wonder Years, School House Rock, Madlibs, the illustrations of Richard Scary, That ’70s Show and of course Bob’s Burgers as of recent. The concept of the Leonard family and most modern day adult animation or sitcoms are funny because of dysfunction. Take a look back at All in the Family, Sanford and Sons, The Simpsons and others. Satire is good. Dysfunction can be made funny.

Animation Techniques

I started using Flash in 2002 when it was still owned by Macromedia. At that time Flash was a great software for vector animation and had potential for web but it encountered resistance for problems with security issues. Flash creates vector animation. Small in size with shapes and lines so sharp you can cut a finger on it. The vividness of the vector shapes and colors make Flash an ideal format for HD. Apple iOS abandoned any support when the iPhone and iPad were developing. When Adobe acquired Flash they integrated more floating palettes into the application and made them more consistent with those from Illustrator, Photoshop and Dreamweaver. Some of the tools from those applications were integrated into the Flash interface and vise-verso.

The scenes are created are in .swf format. I used a tool called MAC to SWF Video Converter to convert the .swf to an HD format for YouTube. Then they were compiled in iMovie at 1280×720 HD YouTube. I tested other converters and researched every trick I could come up with to export Flash for video. I would always have a small movie symbol or sprite that would not work with the complexity of what I was creating. Sometimes I work with great detail and precision. So there is no room for error when I am designing something. This video for Flowering Design is the first project I used MAC to SWF Video Converter. The animation is quite complex.


Storyboards are essential to animation. I like to keep them for just this purpose. To see the development, the process. They become the timeline, workflow, prototypes, designs, characters and images. They help to flush through certain scenes or areas that are lacking to rework. Transitions eventually appear by following the storyboards and reviewing the scenes. The Easter Duckling That Couldn't Swim is written as a book. It was not written as a screenplay or animation. Some scenes had to be re-animated, re-written or scrapped to make work. Many times I had to go back and rethink an entire scene. Even though the launch of this animation as a demo reel is complete, I still am far from accepting it as a final product. Every time I view it I see things I want to refine. In general it is a fun process but an incredibly taxing and draining commitment. I could be found at 4am many mornings laughing or crying after spending the whole day and night animating.

The following are examples of the storyboards that I used in this project. They show specific scenes. Some were drawings of objects or characters in a particular scene. The drawings would eventually be scanned into Illustrator, Flash or Photoshop where I could manipulate. It was always a starting point. Animating a story without a storyboard is like baking a cake without a recipe or the ingredients in front of you. As I develop more animations for this project I am excited to see how the characters are refined and made more successful. See this Bob's Burgers Demo reel for a real life view of an animation that became syndicated from the demo reel. Check out Tina Belcher was originally a boy named Daniel. Her character is hilarious. Her persona is fabulous. She is becoming a 2014 icon for women everywhere.


I found through story boarding I sometimes would create individual characters on the fly. Sometimes animals, backgrounds or objects. It is essential to flush out every angle you can so that when a character needs to respond to a movement, gesture and action you will have something to go by. The more time that is spent on character poses the better. Here are just some of the character development images. At this stage some characters are still not entirely developed. Dad Leonard is my favorite character. His expressions, his stature, he's lanky, he yells, he is kind, goofy and the sub-leader of the family. It has been great getting to know him. The character descriptions Steven provided are hilarious. Some characters need more work. All the characters are based on real people I have never met and I was expected to make them satirical.

UX Design

User Experience Design- "UX design is a process where all facets of design and technology form a bug free experience and interaction and accomplishes the goals a user wants or needs." When I took on this project I understood the importance of integrating the video deployment with the website. Initially Steven needed the website to be a marketing platform and a portfolio to present the memoirs to the big 5 publishing companies. We developed the animation to deploy in a MP4 HD format for YouTube. The YouTube channel can be accessed from Roku, NeoTV and other smart TVs. It also supports YouTube pairing from the iPhone. This technology gives a clear HD resolution for Flash animated video. By embedding the animation from YouTube to a landing page or social network we can share the videos. Our users need to interact with a website and social channels to promote the book and the video. I created the UX guidance documents to build a custom coded WordPress site with the jetpack plugin. Jetpack allows the WordPress site to "publicize" our blog content to several social networks in one shot. As more animations are completed they will be added to our YouTube channel. The SMM potential of displaying our content on the web is easy and works well. The following files are the UX design guidance support documents I gave to my developer. We walked through the whole site for a period of 2 weeks making changes and adjustments until it was ready for launch. I have also attached the development pdf file that I passed along to my programmer. It helped him out a great deal when looking at the layered .psd. The site is minimalist and works on all devices as a responsive layout. I had a programmer, colleague and developer Gulam Abbas Sethjiwala, build a WordPress and bootstrap engine for the site. We will continually be making updates and additions such as a store, sidebars and galleries of the work. He and I make a great team with a UX developer and master programmer. We work well together. The full pdf of the UX Design Guidance Document is located here. (user stories, personas, user pathways, workflows, mobile app development timelines, features and functionality, wireframes, prototypes, mockups)

What does the future hold?

We are looking forward to launching other chapters over the next few months when we secure more funding. These chapters collectively will be submitted to create an animated series and refined. For me I am always looking for 2D animation projects, projects in UX design and developing web technologies, apps and websites. We are working on our submission to Indiegogo to secure crowd source funding to complete 4 more chapters currently being developed. Please share, like and comment to us on our Steven R Leonard Facebook page to help us gain exposure. Feel free to reach out to me for consulting, advice and sharing your work through The Easter Duckling That Couldn't Swim

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