Simpsons, Behind The Screen
January 7, 2006 4:58 PM   Subscribe

Simpsons? Is that thing still around?
posted by keswick at 5:00 PM on January 7, 2006

Sadly, yes, it is still around, and not funny at all anymore.
posted by Effigy2000 at 5:09 PM on January 7, 2006

Is that something people watched back before there was Family Guy?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 5:18 PM on January 7, 2006

Until about five years ago, "The Simpsons" was hand-made and hand-drawn. Now, black-and-white storyboards and digital drawings called "animatics" are done in Los Angeles at Film Roman Studio. Then the material is shipped to South Korea, where characters' movements are filled in and the coloring is done.

*Cracks Whip* Work harder ! Be glad for differences in cost of life, lifestyle , social security and whatnot or you'd be a simpson watching, beer drinking, suv driving, gas guzzlin mmmerican !
posted by elpapacito at 5:26 PM on January 7, 2006

The show is a gravy train for everybody involved. You can't blame them. The voice actors make millions for a few hours of work a week, and Groening & Co. have a streamlined production setup that offshores a lot of the work they'd otherwise have to be responsible for.

I hope the rumors surrounding a Futurama restart are true. I think Groening's interest shifted toward that show and never veered back after it was cancelled.
posted by killdevil at 5:27 PM on January 7, 2006

Eeeeexcellent read, thanks.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 5:34 PM on January 7, 2006

Until about five years ago, "The Simpsons" was hand-made and hand-drawn. Now, black-and-white storyboards and digital drawings called "animatics" are done in Los Angeles at Film Roman Studio. Then the material is shipped to South Korea, where characters' movements are filled in and the coloring is done.

How badly-worded an explanation can you get?!

The Simpsons is still hand-drawn, isn't it? If I'm understanding the gist of what they're saying, then they don't do the key pose animation in LA anymore, but S. Korea, along with the inbetweens?</animator jargon>

And animatics aren't "digital drawings", they're storyboard panels filmed to whatever sound has already been recorded. Hmm... going by this sample, I don't think I'll bother to RFTA...
posted by May Kasahara at 6:02 PM on January 7, 2006

Is it me, or have the past three episodes been some of the worst ever? I had been defending it for a while, arguing that the last two years had been getting better, but it's almost unwatchable now. The Sideshow Bob in Italy one was atrocious.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:31 PM on January 7, 2006

Back in the day the "coloring in" for a lot of animation was done in Dublin. Shipping it overseas is nothing new.
posted by fshgrl at 6:39 PM on January 7, 2006

Anyone know what type of ratings the typical simpsons episode has gotten over the lifespan of the series?
posted by parallax7d at 7:07 PM on January 7, 2006

Until about five years ago, "The Simpsons" was hand-made and hand-drawn. Now, black-and-white storyboards and digital drawings called "animatics" are done in Los Angeles at Film Roman Studio. Then the material is shipped to South Korea, where characters' movements are filled in and the coloring is done.

Oh brother. This has to be one of the most dunderheaded descriptions of the TV animation process I've ever read. The storyboards and layouts (key animation & background art) are drawn by hand by actual humans in Studio City, CA, just as they always have been since the series began. The Simpsons producers have always used animatics made from a rough soundtrack and layout drawings. It's so the writers/producers can have an idea of what the show will look like before an episode is sent to Korea to be inbetweened and painted. What 'happened' five years ago, not just to The Simpsons but to practically every non-flash animated show in the USA, was that the individual animation cels ceased to be painted by hand overseas. Digital painting is much cheaper and easily corrected when a problem pops up. There's probably also a lot of post & editing work done on computer too, for the same reason.
I'm with May Kasahara- Why bother reading the damned article when its author can't be bothered to do any research on his subject?
posted by maryh at 7:14 PM on January 7, 2006

skallas: To use an old Warner Brother's cartoon trope, "Now I've heard everything!" [points cartoon gun at head, pulls trigger, ascends to the heavens playing a harp]
posted by maryh at 7:41 PM on January 7, 2006

I read somewhere that the reason why the Simpsons will never go off the air is because all the important people involved are divorced and have to make huge alimony payments.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:30 PM on January 7, 2006

Last episode I saw was where Bart and Marge set up a tea shop (?!) in Bart's treehouse. And I was like, "What? Was this show ever funny?"
posted by Afroblanco at 8:38 PM on January 7, 2006

It's sad, but I suppose inevitable...the Simpsons has deteriorated to the point of being unwatchable. I bear no ill will towards anyone involved with the creation or production, though - hell, those folks have given me (and YOU) so many laughs and catchphrases and humor-filled sessions that they can be forgiven for just about anything at this point.

But like a horse with three broken legs, it's probably time to just put the damn thing out of our misery.
posted by davidmsc at 9:14 PM on January 7, 2006

Not disagreeing with any of the above. Makes you wonder if a movie at this point is even worth the effort.
posted by evilcolonel at 9:28 PM on January 7, 2006

I think there was once last season where I finished watching an episode, turned to my wife and said, "wow, this episode actually had a plot that actually sustained an entire show". Those moments are so few and far between for the Simpsons the last half decade that it actually needs to be commented on.

Interesting article though.
posted by my sock puppet account at 9:40 PM on January 7, 2006

I had this suspicion for the last several season that each third of the show was done by a different writer. Starting sequence runs and introduces guest voice characters till it gets silly. (commercial) Mid-section uses characters introduced in the second half of the opening sequence to create a major problem or two.(commercial) Everything gets wrapped up with clever (read:dumbshit) reference to something that happened in the first writer's segment. (commercial). Each bit email forwarded to the next writer and then back to the original and then to the cast. Right?
posted by es_de_bah at 9:50 PM on January 7, 2006

Reading the comments I feel some irony that it was posted by a guy named 'hivemind'. I still think The Simpsons is funnier than Famly Guy and Family Guy 2 (or is that Simpsons 2 and Simpsons 2 2?) In fact I still think it's funny. This audio posted here in May from a show last season still makes me laugh consistently through the episode, just like the syndicated earlier ones.

Re: the article (which is strangely similar to the LA Times one posted here a month ago), I would love to see a documentary of The Simpsons getting made. I think it would be fantastic to see Hank Azaria and crew shifting back and forth between the dozens of character voices they do, and I've always wanted to see what the comedy writing process looks like (the closest I've seen so far is The Onion writers brainstorming in The Aristocrats).
posted by dgaicun at 11:22 PM on January 7, 2006

Another vote for the, "Oh my god, please, just kill it!" argument. I've seen some of seasons 2-6 a good ten times, and many of them still leave me laughing. But the past few years have been so staggeringly horrible I don't understand how a group of people can sit around a room, read the script and go, "Yes, that's exactly what we want, make that!"

They're just... Confusing. Like when other shows (Family Guy's a good example of this) misstep, it's in ways where you can see that they thought they were doing something amusing, and either the timing was wrong or the joke just didn't fly right. Simpsons at this point I'm staring at the screen dumbfounded, like honestly trying to figure out if the writers intend the things they're writing or the situations the characters are in to be funny at all.

I can't imagine what their motivations might be otherwise, but you'd have to have such a tin ear for comedy to find much of it amusing that I don't understand how you'd get a job working on a comedy show of any stripe in the first place. I realize somebody somewhere must be laughing, but man -- I have a pretty low bar set for comedy, and this stuff manages to mambo right underneath week after week.
posted by wolftrouble at 12:20 AM on January 8, 2006

Man, I just don't understand this "Lord of the Flies" mentality, heaping invectives on a very clever and very funny show. Is it just trendy to bash something popular or is it more of a question of being afraid to publically admit you like it? I wonder if ran a search of the MeFi archives, would I find more allusions to "The Simpsons" or "Robot Chicken"? Maybe that knee-slapper with talking glob of meat? One of those thuddingly dull pseudo-manga thingies?
posted by RavinDave at 2:01 AM on January 8, 2006

wolftrouble - so very, very true.

For god's sakes. Marge and Bart make a fucking tea shop in Bart's tree house. Nothing funny about that! Nothing!

I mean, don't get me wrong. The Simpsons quite literally changed my life, once upon a time.

I'll never forget the day after the first episode aired. I was in 6th grade. It was in shop class, second period. We were all just dumbfounded. Having been weaned on the Life in Hell comics, we thought we were prepared. But no.

"The Simpsons last night, did you see it?"

"Yes, yes. I saw it."

(staring at each other in amazement)


Unfortunately, those days are long, long gone.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:06 AM on January 8, 2006

I think it would be fantastic to see Hank Azaria and crew shifting back and forth between the dozens of character voices they do

Check out some of the voice actors on Conan with
videos linked under the "goodies" section. Good stuff, especially the one with Dan Castanella and Harry Shearer.
posted by kyleg at 3:02 AM on January 8, 2006

Back in the day the "coloring in" for a lot of animation was done in Dublin. Shipping it overseas is nothing new.

That's very true. Murakami-Wolf and Sullivan Bluth both operated studios here; a guy who lived across the road from me painted cels for An American Tail.

The big studios left us a good few years ago, but there are still two good animation schools in Dublin. Disney scouts visit regularly, so I hear, but anyone I know who studied animation really wanted to be a comic book artist.
posted by macdara at 4:03 AM on January 8, 2006

I don't mind the show. It's had hideous and great episodes throughout it's whole history. If anything, it's more like it was at the beginning of it's run.

But then, I hadn't realized it was supposed to always be funny, or always be the same sort of humour that person X favours.
posted by juiceCake at 7:39 AM on January 8, 2006

Sadly, I think Groening may end up being less well-remembered because he failed to pull the plug at a tasteful moment. I'm not saying he needed to end the show right when we all liked it the most (a la Calvin and Hobbes) but after the first crappy season or two, he needed to take a goddam hint. It's unfortunate that as much as I loved the first ~11 seasons of The Simpsons, at this rate, the body of the show will consist of more crap episodes than genius ones.

For the last few years, the "smartest show on TV" or "most brilliant cartoon" or whatever title has certainly been found elsewhere. The first few seasons of Family Guy, or Aqua Teen easily beat the contemporary seasons of The Simpsons, which is sort of strange, considering how silly these newer shows are, and how smart and cogent the Simpsons used to be.
posted by rxrfrx at 7:41 AM on January 8, 2006

One problem with the Simpsons is that its turned extremely formulaic. Es_de_bah actually described most of the process, as layed out by a Simpson producer. The first part of the show is usually just used as a setup to start the "plot" in the second part, which is concluded in the third. I think when this formula became set in stone, the quality of the show began to suffer.

About the time of Futurama's debut, the show began to suffer. It just wasn't really that funny. Then, and I'll give them some credit, a couple seasons ago, they picked themselves up (not to their best, but better than before) and produced some shows which convinced me to start watching again. Since then, that quality has begun to dip once again. I consider it a good show if I laugh three times in the thirty minute period and usually, thats the number of somewhat decent jokes they manage to squeeze in.

Last year or so, the New York Times ran a good article on the show, in which the writer blamed the show for turning into the "Mega Homer" show. Episodes that revolved purely around Homer being stupid, careless, or both, and not much else.

Ultimately, enough people won over in the early years hang around and tune in, hoping, that they'll get some of the gold they remembered from the past. As long as enough of those people do so, Fox will keep on retaining the show and the Simpson producers won't feel pressured to sit down and examine the state of their product.
posted by Atreides at 8:57 AM on January 8, 2006

I don't know. I honestly haven't watched the Simpsons in its prime-time slot in years. To me it feels like a piece of another era. I do remember, though, the cycle of expectations where you'd see a new Simpsons episode, frown your way through it because it's not nearly as good as you hoped, and then a couple years later laugh your ass off at it in reruns. This happened with, let's see, the Lollapalooza episode, the George Bush moves across the street episode, and the New York episode, among others. It's a strange power. What other show has bad episodes that magically become good years later?

(I always thought most of the Simpsons was drawn/colored overseas since season two or something.)
posted by furiousthought at 11:31 AM on January 8, 2006

Besides the worst writing I've ever seen (even for the hotel standard, USA Today) it describes what's so wrong with the Simpsons: casual and business like. Run through several dozen writers until anything funny is raped out of the show. I know some hardcore Simpsons fans and they refuse to acknowledge the show is in existence, like when someone's favorite band goes form underground showings to studio-manufactured crap.

TV shows seem to work best when they have one or two principle writers on the show. It's more black and white, when jokes fail they fail, when they work they really work. South Park and Family Guy are the future of animation. Calling Family Guy "Simpsons 2" is like calling All in the Family "I love Lucy 2".

And the Christmas episode? What the hell? Did they totally ignore the entire "Fighting Hellfish" episode?
posted by geoff. at 11:44 AM on January 8, 2006

That the show has slid far, far below its previous standards is well beyond debate. However, I realized a couple of years ago that I am The Simpsons' bitch until it finally goes off the air, no matter how bad it gets. I've been sitting down to watch it at 8:00 Sunday (and 8:00 Thursday before that, and 8:00 Sunday before that) for more than half my life now, and I just....can't....stop!!!!

While we're on the subject, though...people have been bitching about how The Simpsons has been going downhill since the first episode of what I believe was the fifth season (i.e. the barbershop quartet episode).
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:42 PM on January 8, 2006

There is something in every Simpsons episode that makes me laugh hard, and I'm glad it's still on the air. I do think it's time for drastic change though. They should age the kids by about 5 years.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 2:44 PM on January 8, 2006

I think that many of the negative comments may have been more accurate 5 years ago. It's still funny enough to keep around. I think the medium is far from exhausted.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:09 PM on January 8, 2006

Protocols of the Elders of Awesome writes "I do think it's time for drastic change though. They should age the kids by about 5 years."

No, that would suck much harder. There is no need to resort of silliness like that. There is no underlying reality in Springfield, and aging the characters would make it a different show. The problem with The Simpsons lately is that so much of the humor is self-referential that there's very little original material anymore. It's all inside baseball at this point.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:52 PM on January 8, 2006

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