animation

Animation lessons from ‘The Simpsons’: Make it appear simple but keep it hard to implement

The stylised construction of the characters are not actually that easy to draw consistently.

With an impressive 28 seasons under its belt, and a 29th and 30th run recently commissioned, The Simpsons is an incredible example of primetime television show longevity. It will leave Gunsmoke holstering its weapon as it takes the record for the most episodes of a scripted television series.

The Simpsons’ appeal lies in the affectionate mockery of its characters’ “everyman” qualities. Most of us can identify with elements of this family set-up – the dysfunction, the flaws and the character traits, whether that’s Marge’s warm moral centre, or Homer’s weak, venal, selfish immaturity, which exists to some degree in all of us. Watching Homer gives us a chance to acknowledge this crappy, least admirable version of ourselves, and creates myriad opportunities for humour and in-jokes that remind us that we are all only human.

Life in Hell comic book illustrator Matt Groening created The Simpsons back in 1987 for James L Brook’s The Tracey Ullman Show. It started life as a run of short cartoon stings between the live action sketches, before graduating to its own full series in 1989.

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The Simpsons, circa 1987.

The early animation work was crude, but the premise was intriguing enough to be developed further by Groening and Brooks. They were later joined by the late Sam Simon, who brought on board the initial team of writers and encouraged the voice artists to record the dialogue tracks together, rather than remotely. Simon’s influence and development of the show was significant, even though he would later leave due to creative differences.

The early episodes are tonally and visually different from the show now, although its heart prevails. Initially, the focus was on Bart Simpson, who seemed like the most bankable “star”. However, as time went on, Homer Simpson, superbly voiced by Dan Castellaneta, a jobbing actor from Illinois, became the main focus of attention. The casting of the voice talent on this show cannot be underestimated.

The animation style is unique, and heavily influenced by Matt Groening’s technique. This was honed on his self-published comic Life in Hell, which depicted life in Los Angeles to his friends, and was first published in the late 1970s. Again, although quite simple in their execution, the character designs in the strip shone through. The rather deceptive low-fi look and framing of the comic clearly had a major influence on the early animation work of The Simpsons.

Life in Hell by Matt Groening.
Life in Hell by Matt Groening.

In the comic, his characters are distinctive, but are constructed from basic inked open-line or “ligne claire” illustrations such as those pioneered by Hergé, creator of Tintin. The lettering dominates Groening’s early strips, showing how important the dialogue is in his work. The stories are snappy, gag-based, observational vignettes on life. The “camera angles” employed in the comic are set at a three-quarter viewpoint for the characters and the environments, something which is common in The Simpsons TV series, too.

People may be surprised to learn that there is now a very strict style guide for animators on The Simpsons, based on some of the rules Groening set out in Life in Hell and the early Simpsons episodes. The stylised construction of the characters from geometric shapes betrays the actual complexities of the characters. They are not actually that easy to draw consistently.

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Bart & Homer’s Excellent Adventure.

When teaching animation, I often refer to Storyboarding The Simpsons Way by former Simpsons animator and storyboard artist Chris Roman. This practical guide was given to the artists working on the show. Even though it is aimed at the production team of The Simpsons, some of the rules created for the show are just as relevant to other animation production work.

Again, these guidelines are deceptively simple, but much harder to implement. Roman goes into great detail of the type of shots to use, the transitions, continuity and staying on the good side of the camera line. What is fantastic about this how-to guide is that it is delivered through the visual medium; it reads like a comic strip itself. The storytelling and message is clear, much like the television show. It is a guide every young animator or filmmaker should read.

So why has the show lasted for so long? The key factor is the quality of the writing. As with any long-running show, some complain that it is “not as good as it used to be”. But sometimes familiarity breeds contempt. Because the show is now ubiquitous, viewers and critics alike can become complacent, spoiled even. When you average 22 episodes per season, there will always be dips in the quality.

But over the years the references to pop culture, the characterisation and the quickfire gags have maintained the interest of the mainstream audience. The show can still surprise even the most cynical viewer and it does not look like it is going to disappear from our screens any time soon. What other show could have predicted a world where Donald Trump was President of the United States, 16 years before it actually happened? Long may The Simpsons continue.

Phillip Vaughan is Director MSc Animation and VFX, University of Dundee.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

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Young Indians now like their traditional food with a twist

Indian food with international influences is here to stay.

With twenty-nine states and over 50 ethnic groups, India’s diversity is mind-boggling to most foreigners. This diversity manifests itself across areas from clothing to art and especially to food. With globalisation, growth of international travel and availability of international ingredients, the culinary diversity of India has become progressively richer.

New trends in food are continuously introduced to the Indian palate and are mainly driven by the demands of generation Y. Take the example of schezwan idlis and dosas. These traditional South Indian snacks have been completely transformed by simply adding schezwan sauce to them – creating a dish that is distinctly Indian, but with an international twist. We also have the traditional thepla transformed into thepla tacos – combining the culinary flavours of India and Mexico! And cous cous and quinoa upma – where niche global ingredients are being used to recreate a beloved local dish. Millennials want a true fusion of foreign flavours and ingredients with Indian dishes to create something both Indian and international.

So, what is driving these changes? Is it just the growing need for versatility in the culinary experiences of millennials? Or is it greater exposure to varied cultures and their food habits? It’s a mix of both. Research points to the rising trend to seek out new cuisines that are not only healthy, but are also different and inspired by international flavours.

The global food trend of ‘deconstruction’ where a food item is broken down into its component flavours and then reconstructed using completely different ingredients is also catching on for Indian food. Restaurants like Masala Library (Mumbai), Farzi Café (Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru) and Pink Poppadum (Bengaluru) are pushing the boundaries of what traditional Indian food means. Things like a kulcha pizza, dal chaawal cutlet and chutney foam are no longer inconceivable. Food outlets that stock exotic ingredients and brands that sell traditional Indian packaged snacks in entirely new flavours are also becoming more common across cities.

When it comes to the flavours themselves, some have been embraced more than others. Schezwan sauce, as we’ve mentioned, is now so popular that it is sometimes even served with traditional chakna at Indian bars. Our fascination with the spicy red sauce is however slowly being challenged by other flavours. Wasabi introduced to Indian foodies in Japanese restaurants has become a hit among spice loving Indians with its unique kick. Peri Peri, known both for its heat and tanginess, on the other hand was popularised by the famous UK chain Nandos. And finally, there is the barbeque flavour – the condiment has been a big part of India’s love for American fast food.

Another Indian snack that has been infused with international flavours is the beloved aloo bhujia. While the traditional gram-flour bhujia was first produced in 1877 in the princely state of Bikaner in Rajasthan, aloo bhujia came into existence once manufacturers started experimenting with different flavours. Future Consumer Limited’s leading food brand Tasty Treat continues to experiment with the standard aloo bhujia to cater to the evolving consumer tastes. Keeping the popularity of international flavours in mind, Tasty Treat’s has come up with a range of Firangi Bhujia, an infusion of traditional aloo bhujia with four of the most craved international flavours – Wasabi, Peri Peri, Barbeque and Schezwan.

Tasty Treat’s range of Firangi Bhujia has increased the versatility of the traditional aloo bhujia. Many foodies are already trying out different ways to use it as a condiment to give their favourite dish an extra kick. Archana’s Kitchen recommends pairing the schezwan flavoured Firangi Bhujia with manchow soup to add some crunch. Kalyan Karmakar sprinkled the peri peri flavoured Firangi Bhujia over freshly made poha to give a unique taste to a regular breakfast item. Many others have picked a favourite amongst the four flavours, some admiring the smoky flavour of barbeque Firangi Bhujia and some enjoying the fiery taste of the peri peri flavour.

Be it the kick of wasabi in the crunch of bhujia, a bhujia sandwich with peri peri zing, maska pav spiced with schezwan bhujia or barbeque bhujia with a refreshing cold beverage - the new range of Firangi Bhujia manages to balance the novelty of exotic flavours with the familiarity of tradition. To try out Tasty Treat’s Firangi Bhujia, find a store near you.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Tasty Treat and not by the Scroll editorial team.