Archive for the 'Pies Are Easier to Draw' Category

12
Jun
14

Zombie Simpsons Should Go and Die With a Heated Coathanger In Its Bum

By Connor Dunphy 

Yo, it’s Dead Homer Society. You know how it is, you ain’t here if you don’t. Let’s get straight to it, because I got something to rant about.

Charlie and his accomplices have done a real fine job of utterly deconstructing Zombie Simpsons. And it deserves every single bit of it, because watching it is like seeing your beloved Grandma contract dementia and then proceed to start being really mean and horrible for no reason. Everything they’ve mentioned: the dialogue, the storylines, the characterization, lack thereof of all three, it’s all grade A, 100%, farmer’s dream bullshit. Today, though, I’m here to properly shed some light on something else. I’m gonna scoop some of that bullshit from a corner of the bottom of the barrel which I don’t think has been properly examined: the animation of Zombie Simpsons.

Ever since I started thinking about how this show has declined other than “eh it’s not as good, I guess”, since I read the very first word of this site’s manifesto, what’s pissed me off the most, got me to pause whatever platform I’m watching the show from, made me draw characters on my toilet paper to properly represent where their shenanigans can go, was the way the animation has gone.

Think back to all the classic Simpsons episodes that you know. You got your “You are Lisa Simpson”s, your “Do it for her”s, just all the amazing seasons you see people on Tumblr, Twitter, anything quote. They had amazing animation. Everything felt human. If I could refer to a specific example, it would be the scene where you can pinpoint the exact moment Ralph’s heart breaks in half.

1

 

You can sense, just from how this specific frame is drawn, what the characters are feeling. Lisa feels regret, sorrow, sadness of some kind, and Bart, in his amused indifference, is rubbing it in. You don’t need to watch the entire episode to sense that. You don’t need overwhelming [SOMBER TRUMPET NOISES] to know that they’re feeling that, because you know who the characters are, what their personalities are. If someone came up to me and said “hey dude, I never seen the Simpsons can you show me a quick sum up of the characters”, then I’d take pity on them for being denied a right as entitled to him/her as freedom of speech, and show them this picture. Everyone knows the barest thing about the Simpsons. Hell, I used to listen to this square-ass radio station where middle-aged people would get asked “who is the mischievous person in the Simpsons” and they’d just instantly say Bart.

You look at this picture, and you have the 0.003333333% of Simpsons knowledge that everyone who’s never watched it does, you know what’s going on. This is the beauty of old Simpsons animation, it fit the characters and the storyline. A truly great producer has their music fit the vocalist, whether it’s a rapper or a folk singer, they use the right sounds, samples and all of that to make sure that it all comes together. They may have created them, but the people behind the Simpsons managed to perfectly encapsulate the essence of the characters in every frame.

Sadly, this is the end of the good. The good that makes the bad just a little bit badder. Now we move onto my grievances. The Simpsons died in an unspecified date between 1997 – 1998, and it happened too slowly for us to properly evacuate the premises before being revealed to it’s rotting form, so we could only stiffen our bodies in shock as it began spewing acidic vomit piles such as “Saddlesore Galctica”, “The Principal and the Pauper”, and “Lisa the Skeptic”, just awful episode after awful episode as we stood in front of this now monstrous, decaying creature, our forearms eroding off of our bodies from the acid, nervously thinking “It’s only a little burn, it’s still good! It’s still good!”. Speaking of “Saddlesore Galactica”, I might as well use it as Exhibit A.

2

Does anyone care how this is drawn?
Zombie Simpsons animators: No!

I want you to look real closely at the above picture. If possible, line it up with the previous picture that I so affectionately praised. Remember the whole thing about being able to see what the characters are feeling, having some rudimentary look into their motivations? If you can honestly look at that picture, especially in comparison to the previous one, and see that, then I will personally come over to your house and let you make me watch Season 21, Clockwork Orange style.

Anyways, my point is that you can’t. You can’t see what the characters are feeling, you can’t have an idea of what the story is. Probably the only thing that I can say about this type of animation is that it’s consistent with everything else in the episode.

Just glance at everyone in the picture. Homer has the only actual expression, and even without context it’s a disgustingly-OOC face that spits on the personality built up for him in the past 7 seasons. Everyone else, from the formerly three dimensional main characters, to the background characters, all have blank looks like they just got lobotomized. Chief Wiggum is redundantly inserted into the scene, sans purpose. The three people beside him look like that puppet Krusty brought in to compete with Gabbo (you know, the one whose mouth fell off and terrified all in attendance). The three people in the foreground have no eyes. [Ed note: Eww.]  All of them look like they’re in stasis, waiting to be used, to be actually in some semblance of a sensical story. They aren’t, of course, because this episode prioritizes edgy horses and here today, gone tomorrow jokes about Bill Clinton, but I digress.

It really baffles me how the animators, the writers, the network, could look at frames like this, where basically the minimum amount of effort has been put in, and think “Yes, this is as good as the previous episodes, let’s release it.”. What used to be relatable human beings became a bunch of zombies with thumbs stuck up their collective ass, existing only to provide the most masturbatory and dismissive of jokes.

Now, it’s all well and good to curbstomp “Saddlesore Galactica”, and I’d like to do it a bit more (maybe later, if you’re up for it), but that is not the extent of my problems with this style. Let’s take it 10 years forward. Zombie Simpsons has now achieved Lisa Trevor status, and is shuffling around the Earth, surviving all attacks against it whilst desperately calling out for a remnant of it’s past. Homer’s a high-pitched noise machine now used in Guantanamo Bay interrogation sessions, everybody says how they feel a lot, Bob’s your uncle.

By this time, the Simpsons had converted to HD animation. I wanna precede the following fancy version of saying “Fuck this show” by noting that the problem does not lie with the use of HD. Basically everything other than Zombie Simpsons has shown us that HD can be used to create beautiful works of art. It lies with the fact that the format was not only misused, but also had a hand in revealing just how homogenized the show had and has became.

3

You probably saw this in the most recent Compare and Contrast. This is an example of how crap the Simpsons has become. Sterile as the reconditioning dystopia led by Flanders, as awkward-looking as a guy wearing a fedora with a trollface T-shirt, I believe the layman’s term is “awful”.

As you can see from inside the car, the blank expression thing has returned, albeit evolved. Now, the only expressions a character can have when they’re not explicitly the focus of whatever half-baked storyline they’re putting out is either the aforementioned “Stare into the distance blankly, often with mouth slightly agape” or the brand-new “Stare into the distance blankly EXCEPT NOW YOU SMILE WOAAAAH”. Homer looks like he’s in a goddamned Mr. Men book, like he’s about to tell Mr. Greedy that he’s greedy. Because of that, all this is, sans context, is just Homer and some guy driving around with a bunch of weirdly-shaded gunpowder containers. This could be some one-off joke; it could be a pivotal point in the storyline; it could be it’s climax; shit, it could probably pass for those time-consuming couch gags. I wouldn’t put it past them.

Everything is technically sound, but what it misses is the actual substance behind it. A corporate executive who basically is the embodiment of everything Frank Zappa despises can perfectly replicate something, whether it be music, a book, a video game, anything, but it will always lack the appeal that brought it to their attention in the first place. The emotion, the meaning, the life behind it, they will never be able to replicate that. Simpsons gave us emotional, inspiring moments and the criticisms of a system we all hated, Zombie Simpsons gives us coldly-animated, poorly composed frames and a yellow hand holding a can of Axe body spray.

This show was once a living legend. If it had died in 1997, we would be celebrating it like Tupac. Now that it’s still alive, the entirety of it’s viewership is slowly beginning to sour on it like Jay-Z. All of this animation only contributes to the decline in quality of Zombie Simpsons, and it just starts to get sad. I’ve found there are two stages to this life that you, I, Charlie, and others live. First is the catharsis of criticizing this cascade of crud, then comes the disappointment you have in the show, the show you grew up on, the show that taught you about some parts of the world by making you laugh and making you feel. The show that you no longer have. Believe me, man, I wouldn’t be so expansive in my rage if I thought the Simpsons was okay.

That’s about it. I don’t have anything to plug, I’m just a young Scottish boy on the grind. Shoutout to Charlie for giving me the opportunity to write this. One love. [Ed Note: Aww.]

08
Dec
11

It’s Not a Real Hallway, But an Incredible Simulation!

“Good thing this alley got so narrow in the middle.” – Lou

Since I don’t know much about animation, I submit this with my usual caution.  But can anyone tell me what the fuck is going on with the hallway through which temporarily crazy Joan Rivers drives a golf cart?  First image:

Crooked Hallway1

Right here this already doesn’t scan.  I think they’re trying to go for some kind of fisheye type shot, except that the scale is all out of whack.  The door on the right is bowed like it would be, but the closer door on the left is only a little distorted, and the one in the back appears to be straight.  On top of that, if the perspective is supposed to be warped, then the Squeaky Voiced Teen has got to be roughly double the size of the woman on the right holding the glass.  There’s more:

Crooked Hallway2

This is one second after the first image.  Note that the woman on the right and the water cooler are totally static from the previous image.  Now, if the perspective of the first image is to be believed, the cart has to be well past the water cooler and all but past the woman.  Here’s a couple of frames later:

Crooked Hallway3

Despite the fact that it was well behind the cart and that the two never even overlap in the image, the water cooler is now falling.  You’ll also note that the camera is pulling back to reveal the turn in the hallway to the left side of the image.  The problem is that the warped not-quite-fisheye angle doesn’t track:

Crooked Hallway4

The hallway to the left is curving up at an angle that makes it look like that space station from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it completely doesn’t match the cart or the original hallway.  Also, please note that the teenager she was chasing is nowhere to be seen.  Until:

Crooked Hallway5

Oh, there he is; but how the hell did he get there?  From the angle he’s running he would’ve had to run deep into the corner below where the camera would be, except he wasn’t running that way when we last saw him.  If he’d kept going the way he was going in the first image, he’d be way up that distorted left hallway by now.  Speaking of the distorted hallway, what the hell?  The not-quite-fisheye effect seems to fade in and out at random, and there’s no way that the teenager is standing on the same floor as that panicked looking guy holding the papers.  The right side and the left side of the image have two wildly different depths, and all the angles and lines in between are fudged to make them kinda, sorta meet in the middle.  Because the two hallways are drawn so incongruously, the effect worsens as the shot moves down the left hall:

Crooked Hallway6

Blah!  Now the right hall appears to be sliding down and shrinking.  You can see the difference in the two perspectives if you look at the top of the line that marks the corner of the wall (running straight up from the filing cabinet).  See how the ceiling-wall line from the first hallway changes its angle radically when it makes the turn?  Look at what happens next:

Crooked Hallway7

Whoops, this is what happens when you animate things that can’t possible exist.  In the above shot you can see all the tricks that had been used to minimize the impossibility of this hallway fail at once.  Look at that wall on the right, it goes up, and up, and up, except it’s not supposed to do that.  That at least is away from the action, but see how the hallway narrows near the top?  The chase continues into an unfortunate clash of optical illusions:

Crooked Hallway8

The cart, which just a second prior looked like it was at most half the width of the hallway, now basically fills it.  And, based on the way it’s drawn, the cart is clearly going to come to a screeching halt in just a few more feet when the hall becomes even narrower.  They’ve kinda restored the ceiling, except that the not-quite-fisheye perspective means that the ceiling is lopsided.  And not only do the walls not match each other, they look like they change height.  Look at the guy on the left, now look at the door on the same side of the wall.  He looks like he’s standing under a ceiling that’s twice as high as the one by the door. 

Even as just a single image instead of one in a sequence these frames look weird.  When you actually watch the thing at full speed all of these clashing elements give the hallways a crooked, billowing impression that’s both distracting and disorienting. 

I suppose we should commend them for trying something interesting here, but wow did it not turn out well.  The shifting angles, the warped perspective, the variable sizes of things, the entire sequence is nothing but elements that don’t match.

07
Apr
11

Cutting Digital Corners

“Don’t worry, baby, the tube’ll know what to do.” – Homer Simpson

I’ve never worked as an animator, nor even been able to draw decently, so feel free to take the following with a grain of salt.  Having said that, I’ve sat through every single one of the HD episodes of Zombie Simpsons, and I think all their digital tools have made it increasingly easy for them to cut corners.  Take the image below from “Love Is a Many Strangled Thing”:

Generic School

There’s nothing terribly remarkable, it’s just an establishing shot of the school.  (You can see Bart’s stupid tractor ride starting in the lower left corner.)  Compare it to basically the same shot from “The Last Temptation of Homer”:

The Last Temptation of Homer3

The things I’m about to point out aren’t a big deal, and my ignorance of the working trade of animation may make the next few dozen sentences completely worthless, but to my eye the hand drawn one looks like it had a lot more care put into it.  Specifically, there are three items I noticed upon close inspection: the windows, the flag pole, and the sidewalks.

In the Season 22 image, the little bend marks in the windows are barely visible, but the ones you can make out all look the same: two parallel lines of slightly lighter blue to give the glass panes a little more substance than if they were monochrome.  In the one from Season 5, the lines in the windows are black (making them much more visible), and no two are the same.  The different windows give the drawing a less generic feel, making it easier for you to imagine that each window conceals an actual room.  After all, real window panes aren’t perfectly uniform; from the day they’re cut they get scuffed and scratched in different ways. The Zombie Simpsons windows are so perfectly alike that it subtracts the feeling of life from the image, whereas the windows in The Simpsons were all clearly done one by one, giving them a unique feel that makes the whole thing look more like a real building, even if the lines aren’t aligned down to the millimeter.

Now look at the flag poles.  On the digital one, the flag pole is utterly boring.  It’s just two precisely parallel lines that someone has used a fill command to make grey.  The hand drawn one has a lot more personality.  It doesn’t just disappear into a tuft of grass; it has a base so you can actually see what’s holding it steady.  Moreover, the pole itself appears to taper toward the top the way real flag poles do.  Someone took the time to draw and inspect it, instead of just plopping it down with a couple of clicks. 

It’s the sidewalks are where you can really see the difference though.  Because while both sidewalks contain mistakes, they are of a vastly different character.

Sidewalks

I’ve circled portions of each above.  First, consider the one from Zombie Simpsons and note the perpendicular lines in the grass.  These are clearly the outlines of sidewalk slabs and they don’t belong on a lawn.  You can see a line between the two sections as well as a line where the grey is supposed to meet the green.  Those lines wouldn’t be there if it had been originally drawn as grass, but this is self evidently an existing image that was modified.  And while the original had concrete where someone wanted chlorophyll, whoever made the change never bothered to remove the lines after clicking the paint bucket icon.  Nor is this some unnoticeable thing, the existence of the line where the sidewalk pieces meet indicates that “fill” had to be clicked twice.  They may have been careless, they may have been rushed, but whoever grabbed the existing template image couldn’t be bothered to take six seconds to correct an obvious (albeit minor) problem.

The same cannot be said for the image from The Simpsons.  The sidewalk leading to the school is filled in to the right of the stairs but not to the left.  Whether the sidewalk or the building was done first is irrelevant, someone drew both from scratch and then realized that they made a mistake lining them up.  Lacking a six second option, they covered for it as best they could.  Nobody’s expecting perfection, and not a single viewer decided to love or hate either of these episodes based on such trivial goofs.  But where Zombie Simpsons ignored an easily corrected mistake, The Simpsons took the time to carefully camouflage one that was as harmless as it was difficult to correct.

Again, all this may just be my lack of knowledge about animation processes talking.  But the impression a close viewer gets is that the convenience of digital tools makes it so easy for Zombie Simpsons to get things like windows and flag poles to “acceptable” that they don’t take the time (or aren’t budgeted for the time) to push them past that.  When The Simpsons drew by hand, they had to put enormous care into every little detail because not doing so would make the entire thing look slipshod.  And while we can’t fault the show for technological changes in the entire industry, we can say with great confidence that minute attention to detail is no longer one of their concerns.

02
Dec
10

Compare & Contrast: Disney, The Simpsons, & Zombie Simpsons

“Yeah, I used to be rich.  I owned Mickey Mouse Massage Parlors, then those Disney sleazeballs shut me down.  I said, ‘Look, I’ll change the logo, put Mickey’s pants back on!’  Pfft, some guys you just can’t reason with.” – Railroad Bridge Bum

Walter Elias Disney is an inescapable presence in American animation.  Whether or not you like him, his work, or the giant company he spawned, when it comes to animation you are living in a world he did a great deal to shape.  The Simpsons always had some fun with this, enough that SNPP has an entire page dedicated to the show’s various Disney references and parodies.  Zombie Simpsons occasionally attempts to do this as well and, as with so much of Zombie Simpsons, falls haplessly short.

In “How Munched Is That Birdie in the Window”, Zombie Simpsons had what passed for an Itchy & Scratchy segment that was loosely based off of an old Disney cartoon called “Pluto’s Judgement Day”.  I mentioned this in Crazy Noises, but the animation here is really peculiar and I wanted to highlight it with examples.  Look at the startling contrast between Itchy and the background here:

Zombie Simpsons Judge

The two things that jump out are the coloring and the crispness.  The cave walls in the background and the podium in the foreground are both colored in various hues and shades.  The background especially gets darker to give the impression of a deep recess in the cave.  By contrast, Itchy is flat and monochromatic.  Every part of his face is the same color; his gavel, clothes and gloves also remain the exact same color and shade no matter what he does:

Zombie Simpsons Judge2

Itchy has gone from far away from the camera to right into the lens, and yet the only thing that changes is the shape of his various parts and objects, nothing in the coloring gives any hint that he’s moved at all.  The dramatic lighting of the background is similarly ignored.  Itchy got bigger, but there’s nothing other than size to indicate that he’s actually gestured forward. 

The precision of the lines on Itchy compared with the background is even more jarring.  Look at the awkward juxtaposition of his sharp hand against the fuzzy podium.  Now compare that to the gavel and the background behind it.  The two are identical – sharp lines vs fuzzy ones – which makes the overall image even more awkward because his hand is supposed to be physically on the podium and the gavel is supposed to be far in front of the cave walls.  The entire image is muddled because all of the tricks that give depth to the podium and the walls are ignored for Itchy. 

Now take a look at the Disney original (please forgive the lower resolution, I had to grab this from YouTube):

Disney Judge

The backgrounds are very similar in that they’re a little fuzzy and make a lot of use of color to both make the podium look tall and the walls look deep.  Now watch what happens when the Disney judge leans forward:

Disney Judge2

The lighting on every part of him, from his robe to his gavel to his mortar board, has shifted to give the impression that he has moved.  And there are touches beyond those as well.  The lines on his forehead are thicker since they are closer to the camera, the fur on his arm is standing up, the claw on his thumb is visible.  And look at where his robe meets the podium.  There’s no incongruous clashing of styles.  Despite the fact that he’s moving and the background is not, the judge looks for all the world as though he really is behind that podium.  Itchy, on the other hand, looks clumsily superimposed. 

Now let’s take a look at how something similar was handled by The Simpsons.  Way back in Season 4, in “Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie”, the animation is almost a direct copy of its famous predecessor:

Steamboats

Itchy, like Mickey in the original, is animated in the same style as the background.  The same shades are being used, and the lines are all in the same layer of focus.  Both Itchy and Mickey look like they are standing on a boat.  This similarity in style is necessary for the parody to work.  The gag is the gruesome violence presented in that wriggly, wholesome 1920s style.  (Not that “Steamboat Willie” is exactly pacific.  Mickey tortures the fuck out of a bunch of animals in his lust for the perfect rendition of “Turkey in the Straw”.)  When we see Scratchy’s knees shot away to reveal naked bone underneath, it fits in with the animation style.  Ditto for when Scratchy’s head is locked into the furnace and his body writhes uncontrollably as he’s roasted alive.  Even the blood is cute. 

Of course, “Steamboat Willie” is much simpler than “Pluto’s Judgement Day”.  Disney and company were busy between 1928 and 1935: the animation is much more lush, it’s in color, and it makes use of all that implied lighting.  But, of course, “Steamboat Itchy” wasn’t the only classic Disney parody The Simpsons ever did.  For an even more damning comparison to Zombie Simpsons, let’s skip ahead to Season 6’s “Itchy & Scratchy Land”.

Fantasia, Disney’s great contribution to drug culture before there was such a thing, came out in 1940.  To call the animation superb is an understatement, and it would be nuts to try to parody it in all its particulars.  Instead, amidst many digs at Disney himself in the guise of Roger Meyers Sr., The Simpsons showed us “Scratchtasia”, a parody of the famous “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” segment.  They didn’t try to match the original visually, but their parody clearly demonstrates that they understand the elements that made it so iconic. 

Here’s Mickey’s first whack with the ax.  Note the lighting and shading (again, this is from YouTube, so the image quality is very suboptimal):

Fantasia1

We know that the source of the light and the action are in the next room, and we can see the door through which the shadows are being cast.  But leaving the action alone in shadow would lessen the ferocity of Mickey’s attack.  To increase the impact on the audience without directly showing the violence, the Disney gang alter the coloring and the lighting radically (and boy does this YouTube copy not handle red well):

Fantasia2

Mickey’s final swings dice up the straw bristles until nothing remains.  The broom is splintered into tiny pieces and there is no doubt in the audience’s mind that something brutal and violent just took place.  “Scratchtasia” uses the same techniques to convey the same message, but doesn’t try to mimic all the details.  Here we can see the first blow ready to fall:

Scratchtasia1

Just as in the original Fantasia, the gory part of the violence occurs in shadow.  But when the ax does start making contact, it alters the entire scene:

Scratchtasia2

The shapes and outlines are all still there, but the color and lighting have almost inverted themselves.  Without any explicit, on-screen blood and guts, or even a change in perspective, we know exactly what happened.  It’s not as colorful or as detailed as the original, but it doesn’t need to be.  The animation is clearly reminiscent of the source material without being at odds with itself. 

To be sure, there is an obvious technical difference between the classics and Zombie Simpsons: computer animation.  Despite the decades between “Steamboat Willie”, “Fantasia” and The Simpsons, all were drawn by hand with inks and dyes.  “How Munched Is That Birdie in the Window” wasn’t, but that doesn’t forgive the sloppiness on display above.  The soft focus, static background, for example, is rendered pretty well in ones and zeros.  It’s the motion where things fall apart, where characters are flat and monochrome, and no thought is given to lighting them at all.  Instead of doing the whole thing in the Disney style, or the whole thing in their own style, they did a mash of both and the result is off putting and ugly. 

It’s possible they just didn’t have the time to put in lighting and match the focus; it’s also possible that they just didn’t care.  Either way it’s poorly animated, and it’s unworthy of both The Simpsons and of Disney. 

Special thanks to No Homers user zartok-35 and commenter Shane for posting the video of “Pluto’s Judgement Day”.  Even without Zombie Simpsons, that was fun to watch again.  I don’t think I’d seen it since I was about seven years old. 

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.]

19
Sep
10

Storyboarding the Simpsons Way

Bart the Lover4

“Don’t worry, I just drew up a little blueprint, now, lemme walk you through it.  This is the door, he goes through that.  This is the roof.  And this happy character here is the sun.  He shines down on the house, see?” – Homer Simpson

This post of storyboarding resources from Dakota State University contains a link to a sweet PDF from AnimationMeat.com that shows various animation layout techniques and shots with examples from the Simpsons.  Here’s a sample (click to embiggen):

Different Homer Shots

If you’re at all interested in how the show gets animated or presented, this is a really interesting resource.  Even better, most of the example images appear to be from Seasons 7-9, before the show became the stale, digital waste we know today.  I saw sketches from “Summer of 4 Ft. 2”, “A Milhouse Divided”, “The Cartridge Family”, “Grade School Confidential”, “Homer’s Phobia”, and “The Old Man and the Lisa”, among others.

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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