05
Oct
10

Wanted: Background Artist

Very late in “Loan-a-Lisa”, Lisa and Nelson go to an entrepreneur’s convention.  There’s no real plot reason for this to happen, but they had to cram the Facebook guy into this episode somehow.  And so was born one of the most pathetic scenes in a pathetic episode. 

In the credit where credit is due department, they did have some creative signs in the interior establishing shot of the convention, but that’s all they had.  Once that was over, all that happened was crappy animation, lame exposition, and the laziest and worst kind of guest voice: the celebrity cameo.  Mark Zuckerberg, one of the richest and most famous people on the planet, is sitting there, talking to no one, and patiently waiting for two kids he has never met to speak with him.  He has a few desultory lines, and then vanishes.  His part could’ve been played by a houseplant. 

Before they get to that, though, comes further proof of just how half assed Zombie Simpsons really is.  Take a look at the backgrounds as Lisa and Nelson are walking through the convention:

Static Background1

Note the generic man and woman doing generic convention stuff.  There is not a single piece of text in the shot, even on the equally generic storefront in the painting.  Now, let’s advance a few frames and see what happens:

Static Background2

The generic woman in the background has not moved, not one pixel.  Her hands are in the same place, her expression has not changed, she doesn’t even blink.  The same is true of every other background character, even as they change shots.  See the new generic man to the left of Lisa in the shot above?  There he is again in the close up:

Static Background3

The camera has zoomed in to frame Lisa at the exclusion of Nelson, but the background remains completely unchanged.  The guy in the blue suit is now slightly more visible from behind the table, but nothing else about him has moved.  His position, posture and expression are all identical.  He is not talking, gesturing, or doing anything else. 

None of the people in the background move.  At all.  They’re there to add life and depth to the shot.  But their presence ends up subtracting rather than adding from the atmosphere because they are utterly lifeless. 

Yet even those completely static people were apparently too taxing to animate, because for the rest of Lisa’s expository monologue, she and Nelson walk in front of a blank gray slate of background.  Here we have the perfect combination of lazy writing and lazy animating coming together to provide something with no entertainment value whatsoever:

Static Background4

The only element added to these backgrounds is a few splotches of slightly less dark gray.  There’s no text, no jokes, no attempt to be creative at all.  It’s just straight lines, right angles, and liberal use of the “Fill” command in Photoshop while Lisa drones on about staying in school.  After that trek through the comedy desert, they finally reach their destination:

Static Background5

There’s no attempt to make fun of Facebook, no slogan about trusting them with your private information, no disclaimer about them taking over the internet, nothing.  They didn’t even give it a funny name.  Nor does it make any sense for Zuckerberg to be there.  This is basically an advertisement for Facebook and a public relations boost for Zuckerberg, on the same weekend a less than flattering movie about him came out.  However, it does provide the one moment of levity in this entire sequence, albeit unintentionally. 

See Zuckerberg’s Facebook page in the background there?  The next shot has a tighter view of part of it, and therein we get a tacit admission of just how creatively bankrupt this show has been for so very, very long.  Below is a screen grab of the page.  In case it’s hard to read, here’s the text:

Facebook Hates Zombie SimpsonsMark commented on Cookie Kwan’s status
Mark wrote on Hank Scorpio’s wall.
Mark and Lucius Sweet are now friends.
Mark likes Dr. Hibbert’s photo.
Mark commented on Moe Szyslak’s status
Mark likes Hollis Hurlbut’s link.
Mark commented on Tattoo Annie’s status

Zuckerberg apparently only likes or knows characters from Season 9 and earlier.  Granted, Moe and Dr. Hibbert are long time regulars, but the rest of those are all one time characters who made their single appearances long, long ago.  I guess none of the Zombie Simpsons one timers since then rate a mention, even according to Zombie Simpsons. 

[Edited to fix a small mistake, see comments for details.]


11 Responses to “Wanted: Background Artist”


  1. 1 Cassidy
    5 October 2010 at 1:19 pm

    Great post. I love these ones that point out the emptiness of the current animation. They’re great rebuttals to the idea that new computerizd/HD animation are automatically “better” than the old style animation.

    And I know as far as switching to computers the creators had little to no choice – all the animation houses were switching to computers and traditional cell animation was becoming prohibitively expensive.

    That doesn’t excuse them from taking the laziest route with the background animation – little detail, nary a funny sign, mannequin extras, etc.

    I know this is a petty nitpick (hey, it keeps me off the streets) but wasn’t Cookie Kwan’s first appearance in season 9’s “Reality Bites”?

    • 5 October 2010 at 5:47 pm

      “Great post. I love these ones that point out the emptiness of the current animation. They’re great rebuttals to the idea that new computerizd/HD animation are automatically “better” than the old style animation.”

      On the No Homer’s Club, there are members who call a static, promo image “Great Animation.” I guess when that’s the audience you’re appealing to, actual effort means nothing.

    • 3 Charlie Sweatpants
      5 October 2010 at 6:23 pm

      “And I know as far as switching to computers the creators had little to no choice – all the animation houses were switching to computers and traditional cell animation was becoming prohibitively expensive.

      That doesn’t excuse them from taking the laziest route with the background animation – little detail, nary a funny sign, mannequin extras, etc.”

      That is exactly it. Maybe it’s easier to cut corners digitally, maybe not. I’m not an animator so I really don’t know. But cut corners they do, the give-a-shit factor has plummeted and I don’t see how you can blame that on the machines.

      “I know this is a petty nitpick (hey, it keeps me off the streets) but wasn’t Cookie Kwan’s first appearance in season 9′s “Reality Bites”?”

      Heh, whoops.

  2. 4 Samsam
    5 October 2010 at 2:52 pm

    Oh man, you couldn’t have missed the shear genius of this scene! The genius of it never gets old and has been used non-stop for the last 12 seasons: celebrities simpsonified are hilarious! Seeing people we recognize from real life with yellow skin and three fingers has me in stitches every time I see it. There’s no need for tacky, boring “word-jokes” when we’ve got Springfield crossing paths with E! Celebrity News.

  3. 5 October 2010 at 4:28 pm

    It’s sad when the scrunched-up Facebook wall is the most interesting part of the scene. Hank Scorpio’s on Facebook?! I’m so sending a friend request to him!

  4. 6 D.N.
    5 October 2010 at 6:07 pm

    They could’ve made a joke implying that Hank Scorpio is the REAL inventor of Facebook. Sounds like a scheme he’d cook up.

  5. 8 Izzy
    6 October 2010 at 3:41 pm

    Not that it really matters but the man in the blue suit’s expression clearly changes from thinking to smiling.

    Didn’t the Simpsons once make a joke about lazy background images? I guess the prophecy has come true.

  6. 9 Mr. Incognito (AKA Landry H)
    7 October 2010 at 1:51 am

    I think that the whole “recent activity” screen-grab is nothing more than nostalgia fumes. Hey, look here…it’s Hank Scorpio, Cookie Kwan, Lucius Sweet, etc.!!

    Just the same way that people cheered when they saw Scratchy on the Movie’s first scene. Well, not exactly the same thing, but it’s down the same road and lacking any implied epicness.

  7. 10 D.N.
    7 October 2010 at 6:25 pm

    Charlie posted this image of Barney’s filthy apartment from “Homer’s Night Out” last March and Derp made a comment about how visually interesting it is compared to the sterile HD animation of Zombie Simpsons:

    It’s so exquisitely rendered, and looking at screengrabs of Zombie Simpson backgrounds makes me wonder how the animators would render Barney’s digs today. I bet they would merely put in one or two slight discolorations on the wall and maybe a few scrunched up beer cans on the floor. Nothing that’s as visually-rich, funny, and true to character as what they did twenty years ago.

  8. 11 linda
    22 October 2010 at 1:28 pm

    i don’t know what to do


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