Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Annoyed Grunt Work

Hogan's Alley, the cartooning magazine, has posted its long interview with David Silverman. Silverman was one of the two original animators on The Simpsons shorts on the Tracey Ullman Show, and he was supervising director of the spinoff series for many years. While most of the critical attention given to The Simpsons in the early was focused on the writing, in many ways what really set the show apart from other prime-time animated shows was the fact that it looked better. Directors like Silverman, Archer, and Brad Bird came up with a distinctive look for the show, from the trademark poses -- the tongue-wagging screams, and so on -- to camera moves and angles that gave the thing a more "cinematic" feel than most TV cartoons had. Bird, for example, reportedly came up with the idea of having the camera quickly pan up Homer's head when we hear his thoughts, the better to suggest that his brain is "talking" to him as if it's some kind of separate entity.

An argument among people who watch The Simpsons is when the animation was at its best. There are some animation buffs who argue that the animation on the Ullman shorts and the first season is the best; it's cruder and sloppier than what you'd see on the show today, but in terms of animation, of movement, that arguably makes it better, because Homer and co. had more unique and distinctive poses and "acted" with their faces and bodies in more unique ways. As the show went on, the animation became more standardized, with more stock poses being used instead of unique poses for unique situations. But this is true of any animated show -- the first season of King of the Hill, which Brad Bird consulted on, had some poses and camera moves that the show would never have tried even two years later -- and I think it's fair to say that a lot of the poses that look unique and distinctive in the first season are actually mistakes. Still, I prefer the rude and rough animation of the first season to a lot of the very standardized, stock-pose animation that you'll sometimes see in prime-time animation nowadays.

Anyway, it's a good long interview that gives plenty of insight into the show's visuals as well as the show as a whole (including the origins of the ultimate meta-humor episode, "The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show").

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