02
Aug
10

Animation Showcase: Homer Goes to College

- By Bob Mackey

When The Simpsons had its prime-time debut in 1989, the show’s animation was considered crude by most. While it’s true that the visuals improved by leaps and bounds after that first rocky year, the original 12 episodes of The Simpsons – despite their roughness – still stand as a major leap forward in the progress of television animation. And over The Simpsons’ first handful of years, talented artists like Brad Bird, David Silverman, Jeffrey Lynch, Jim Reardon, Wes Archer, and Rich Moore (amongst others) not only defined and refined the look of the show; they also raised the bar for a genre of entertainment largely considered — at the time, anyway — a brainless distraction for equally brainless children. For these visionaries, The Simpsons provided the opportunity for endless experimentation; which is why it’s no wonder that most of these folks went on to fame and fortune at outstanding animation studios like Pixar and Rough Draft.

Generally speaking, the animation on the first six-or-so years of The Simpsons is far “looser” than what it would eventually become; the art on these early seasons complemented the excellent writing, instead merely serving as just a platform for the dialogue. For lack of a better term, directors and animators on The Simpsons were once allowed to make their drawings more “cartoony,” which meant deviating from the standard design of a model sheet for the sake of drawing the strong poses necessary to create a visually interesting and, most importantly, funny image. Of course, when this is taken too far, the results can be disastrous: you only need to look at the outtakes from “Some Enchanted Evening” to see what happens when a group of animators gets The Simpsons completely wrong. But, when used correctly, brief bits of cartooniness can add vibrancy and emotion to a scene – which is something the show used to do very well.

Over the years, The Simpsons’ animation became much more conservative and homogenized, and by the end of season eight, the show had lost nearly all of its cartoon snappiness. And as a fan of the show, it’s this quality I miss the most. For my first post on Dead Homer Society, I’ve decided to visually dissect “Homer Goes to College,” which is an excellent showcase for the brilliant animation once seen on The Simpsons. For those worried, this examination isn’t going to be couched in technical terms; as an animation enthusiast, I’m going to try and break this down into terms everyone can understand.

1 2 3 4

This early scene of Homer chasing a bee down a hallway relies entirely on the animation for its humor. Sure, the idea itself is a little funny, but a sitcom-staged shot of Homer running wouldn’t be as funny as what we see here: strong, goofy poses that punctuate his haplessness.

5 6 7 8 9

Here’s a brief instance of some cartoony punctuation. These drawings are incredibly odd when compared to how we normally see Homer, but he quickly snaps back into his normal model once he leaps from the sewer. You can tell whoever drew this was having a lot of fun.

10 11 12 13

When was the last time The Simpsons made you laugh with a drawing alone? Here, Homer is locked in an exaggerated position that seemingly defies his anatomy, but that only adds to the hilarity of the scene. Strangely enough, Matt Groening always hated this kind of stuff; if you listen to various DVD commentaries, he claims he was always obsessed with giving the characters solid and consistent anatomy. This isn’t inherently bad, but it makes drawings like the ones throughout this post practically illegal.

14

This shot isn’t particularly mind-blowing, but I picked it because it shows how expressive the characters used to be. Here, Homer’s eyes and mouth are a little bigger than normal, but these small embellishments really sell his sense of panic. In general, eyes on the Simpsons used to be much bigger, and much more expressive, as we’ll see below.

15 16 17

One of the subtle hallmarks of Simpsons animation used to be the eye bulge; animators would sprinkle this little bit of business in dialogue heavy-scenes to accentuate certain words or ideas. Here, Burns isn’t speaking, but his eye bulge adds a little zing to his freak out. If you weren’t aware of the eye bulge, go back and check out some early episodes while keeping this little bit of acting in mind — it’s everywhere.

18 19

Again, nothing mind-blowing about the animation here, but the brief bit of squash and stretch before Homer’s standard scream makes his reaction much more expressive.

20

On these earlier episodes of the Simpsons, it wasn’t odd to see characters emote in ways they never had before. Instead of looking at model sheets for stock expressions, the animators in these days tailored the emotion of their drawings to the unique situation of the scene. We’ve seen Homer angry countless times before, but for some reason, this drawing feels fresh.

21

An excellent display of self-control from whoever laid out this scene. Later episodes would probably place the emphasis on Homer, but the composition of this shot (which goes on for a while) sells the awkwardness of the situation, and highlights Homer’s choice of seating.

22 23

More acting unique to this episode. I don’t think I’ve seen Homer in these poses before or since.

24

Nothing incredible happening here, but I took this screenshot to highlight how Homer was generally plumper and more retarded in Jim Reardon’s episodes. His walleye here used to be a hallmark of the shows eye acting (along with the bulge), which seems to have been lost to the mists of time.

25

Another expression I haven’t seen before or since. Something tells me this brief bit of self-satisfaction from Homer wouldn’t look nearly as funny if it was animated five years later.

26

A really strong pose from Homer. What would you call this emotion? It’s a perfect, dialogue-free reaction to the nerd revealing the reality of their road trip.

27

This scene begins with an amazing shot and tons of detail. Staging like this is what made The Simpsons so much more visually interesting than anything that had come before. The planning of the prank could have begun with a less complicated shot, but its current layout really sells the mock-drama of the scene.

28 29 30 31 32

Another bit of exaggerated animation before Homer pops back into a normal pose.

33 34 35 36 37 38

And again. The simulated motion blur of Sir Oinks-A-Lot’s face is absolutely hilarious, and really makes him seem vicious for those brief few frames. Homer’s eye bulge is equally great; I actually remember slow-mo-ing this scene back when I originally recorded the episode as a kid.

39 40 41 42

Some fantastic poses from Bart and Lisa that really sell the range of emotions they go through in this scene: from awe, to shock, to panicked urgency. You don’t even need to be aware of the scene’s context to know what they’re feeling.

43

A hilarious shot, from a perspective of The Simpsons I believe we’ve never seen before or since (or perhaps just not that often). The characters’ unique anatomy makes them extremely weird-looking from certain angles, but going with a strange, funny shot like this just shows how much the animators were willing to experiment.

44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55

This may be my favorite bit of animation in the entire history of The Simpsons; in fact, I look forward to this scene every time I watch Homer Goes to College. It’s incredibly brief, but the animators transformed a simple stage direction into an incredibly expressive (and impressive) bit of acting. Every little frame, from Homer’s confident slide out of this chair, to his jaunty little walk, to the way he hands in his paper, completely sells his confidence in a way that dialogue never could. If I didn’t know better — and I don’t — I’d say David Silverman did this scene.

56

Another great expression to end this post. You can really tell that Homer has no goddamned idea what he’s talking about, here.

Since I have no way to conclude this little article except awkwardly, I’d like to thank you for humoring me in this examination of what I feel is one of The Simpsons’ most-overlooked qualities. If I can muster up the fortitude to do this again, I’ll probably tackle “Homer’s Triple Bypass” next.

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16 Responses to “Animation Showcase: Homer Goes to College”


  1. 1 Derp
    2 August 2010 at 10:07 pm

    Brilliant post and I’d love to see more. Perhaps a direct comparison between a few frames from two episodes, one from the classic era, one from zombie Simpsons would also make an interesting article.

    The worst bit is now that animation in the Zombie Simpsons is so lifeless. The characters never go off model and the scenes are sterile. They may as well reuse footage between episodes since obviously none of the love is poured into the animation any more. At the very least, it was originally entertaining.

    • 2 P. Piggly Hogswine
      3 August 2010 at 7:37 am

      Superb post, Bob. I enjoyed every bit of it. I came across the stills of Homer exiting the hallway a while ago on another site and found his facial expressions, and those of the inspector to be both hilarious and of great detail. So to see several more scenes paused and reflected on has added even more substance to what was already a memorable episode. I’ve watched the Itchy & Scratchy/Rock Tumbler bit hundreds of times but those pics have shown it in a different light. I look forward to your future posts, “Homer’s Triple Bypass” is one that should give lots of opportunity, especially the immortal heart attack scene in Burns’ office.

      Derp; regarding your first paragraph, have a read of http://deadhomersociety.wordpress.com/2010/04/15/compare-contrast-nude-burns if you haven’t seen it already. Charlie posted it a few months ago, it gives a good example of the difference between a classic episode and a ZS one.

  2. 4 studentee
    3 August 2010 at 12:20 am

    hear hear. the animation is an aspect of golden-age simpsons i like, but couldn’t describe why accurately. i’m glad someone went in and deconstructed it. hope there will be another installment

  3. 5 koyuki
    3 August 2010 at 12:23 am

    thank you for this! it was very entertaining and explained exactly what i loved about classic simpsons. the animation style added so much to the humour. i can’t wait til the next entry and possibly a deconstruction of a newer episode?

  4. 3 August 2010 at 3:49 am

    I’m going to echo everyone else here – there is something soulless about Zombie Simpsons and this post explicitly points out just how much more character there was in the animation in the good old days. The show IS a cartoon, after all, with very bizarre character designs (the characters are YELLOW for goodness’ sake). There’s nothing about it that says it should be aiming for a realistic look in High Defintion.

    I can’t even begin to imagine the hard work that went into this episode and many others – it’s great to see that it’s been acknowledged. I would also like to see more :)

  5. 7 D.N.
    3 August 2010 at 9:47 pm

    Re: “Another expression I haven’t seen before or since” (http://deadhomersociety.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/25.jpg), that expression of Homer’s is fairly similar to one he pulled in “Treehouse of Horror IV” when he finished the last piece of forbidden donut (http://deadhomersociety.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/forbiddendonut.png), the main difference being that in the “Homer Goes to College” shot, Homer is being viewed from a lower perspective.

    Anyway Bob, terrific post. I’m aware of how soulless and bland-looking the animation of Zombie Simpsons is compared to the looser, funnier animation of yesteryear, but your screengrabs and analysis has made me even more aware of just how zany the older animation really got.

  6. 8 Jason
    4 August 2010 at 5:47 am

    Great article, I just wanted to add to D.N.’s comment; that expression (http://deadhomersociety.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/25.jpg) reminds me of “Mmmmmmmmmmmmm, incapacitating” (http://www.simpsoncrazy.com/content/screenshots/episodes/2f21/2f21_055.jpg) when Homer put pepper spray on his eggs in Season six’s immortal “The Springfield Connection” even though they’re quite dissimilar.

  7. 9 Andrew
    15 November 2010 at 3:20 pm

    This is a really wonderful analysis. I grew up watching the Simpsons, watching these episodes when they were new. It’s great rediscovering all the artistry that went behind everything, the animation being something I’d somewhat overlooked.

  8. 10 Shaun
    15 November 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Couldn’t agree more with the article. The majority of digital animation is lazy now days unfortunately. I guess that’s just due to the animation studio cutting corners or a low budget.

    I absolutely adore the old Simpsons episodes for their insane animation and unique quality you have shown in this article. Especially in the earlier episodes when Bart does the twisty-mouth “tic” when emphasizing certain words.

    An absolute favourite scene of animation of mine from The Simpsons is actually WAY back in Season 1 – Some Enchanted Evening. Watch about 11 minutes and 50 seconds in when Ms. Botz is handing Bart the tape and telling him to do what she says. It’s a fantastically expressive, and most of all – LONG piece of animation that you just don’t see in this new digital era.

  9. 11 urbaninja
    15 November 2010 at 7:33 pm

    That was fantastic.

  10. 12 Anonymous
    16 November 2010 at 1:58 am

    I just spend 30 minutes in China tracking down “Homer Goes to College” because of your awesome post.

    Thanks man! You’re great.

  11. 13 Blobbloblah
    16 November 2010 at 9:28 am

    This was such a great breakdown. It really makes me appreciate the heyday on a different kind of level, as well as feed my apathy for the current iteration.

    Please do more; I’d follow religiously.

  12. 14 fudge
    19 July 2011 at 8:47 am

    AMAZING post.

    Completely unrelated, but one of the “rules” of animating REN AND STIMPY was that no two drawings of the characters (poses/facial expressions/everything else) should EVER be the same. I like that.


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