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Animation: Slicker isn’t Better


 

Amid Amidi of Cartoon Brew put up this animated GIF that compares two shots from the opening of The Simpsons: the first from the opening that was used from 1990 through most of the ’00s, and the second from the new opening that was created when the show switched to high-def. The new opening is one of the better parts of the current show, but the earlier version was better-animated. Not necessarily because of any inherent difference between traditional cel animation and digital, but just the amount of personality and acting that goes into it. Part of this is a directorial choice, since in the second version it was decided to have Marge not react to Maggie popping out of the bag. But it’s also just a question of animation style; the first version has more flair and “bounce” to all the movements — Marge’s, Maggie’s, even the bag — while the second version is pretty standardized even on the one bit of physical acting (Maggie shaking her fist at the one-eyebrowed baby). The older version has the obvious drawbacks of cel animation, particularly the fact that perspective is hard to do; the ceiling doesn’t exactly look like a ceiling. But Marge and Maggie have physical personalities in the 1990 version that they just don’t have in the later version.

The opening, of course, is the part they spend the most money on, so the animation of Marge in the 1990 opening is “full animation” in a way that the regular episodes couldn’t afford. Still, the animation on The Simpsons through much of the ’90s was generally better in that important respect — physical acting — than it became. This has nothing to do with digital, because the animation was getting stiffer toward the end of the ’90s. It’s just a question of the number of unusual or character-revealing poses. The show can’t be too cartoony (the original pilot was sent back for retakes because the animation was too broad), but within the more subdued style it can still have lots of great cartoon acting. As this post on “Homer Goes To College” highlights, as late as season 5 there were episodes where the drawing enhanced the humour or revealed character. Even in the movie, which was certainly well-animated, it’s hard to find that kind of funny drawing.


 
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Animation: Slicker isn’t Better

  1. Jaime, thanks for the look at the animation of the Simpsons. As someone who is not knowledgeable on the technical aspects of drawing it was interesting to read.

    One thing I would state is that because the lines and colours are much sharper with the new digital style, to the untrained eye it seems "better."

    I would also like to add that last night's Treehouse of Horror was terrible.

    • Last night's episode was beyond terrible. WTF is wrong with the writers?

  2. I'd like to add that the one-eyebrowed baby's name is Gerald Samson. He's Maggie's nemesis.

  3. I wonder how much of this has to do with Brad Bird, animation supervisor for roughly the period you describe, leaving the show to make movies? His three features have all had very expressive physical acting (and he did stuff in this regard using computers in Ratatouille that I didn't think was even possibe).

    • Some of it is probably Bird, who advised the animators on how to get expressive acting on a TV budget, though he was more of a consultant than supervisor — David Silverman was supervising director, and he and Bird both left after the eighth season. (Though Silverman has been back on and off since then, and he directed the movie.) Bird did a lot of the drawings for Krusty for many years, and in scenes he animated like Krusty singing "Send In the Clowns" you can definitely see a cartooniness and physicality that the show has not had for a long time.

  4. Not to turn this into a Family Guy vs. The Simpsons thing, but I've noted this exact thing about The Simpsons only because the standardization of the animation happened about twice as quickly to Family Guy:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldGXrCvbEUA&fe

    The Simpsons Movie was a nice relief, and I'm happy The Simpsons hasn't gotten as bad, but any time I watch a Seth MacFarlane production, I can't help but think of this video and get annoyed.

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