In 1996, The Simpsons happen The Flintstones as the longest running prime-time man show. In the 30-year interim, the tenor that adult cartoons had shifted dramatically: The Simpsons was much more caustic and also puerile 보다 The Flintstones, a shameless rock Age remake of struggle 1950s sitcom The Honeymooners. What had hardly adjusted was the an imaginative process.

Like The Flintstones, The Simpsons relied ~ above a huge Los Angeles-based writer’s room, a coterie of directors, a squad of storyboard and design artists, and also dozens of animators. The biggest adjust in manufacturing over three decades was merely geography; by 1996, The Simpsons had begun outsourcing the final stage of animation to a studio in southern Korea.

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A year ~ The Simpsons pass The Flintstones, South Park premiered top top Comedy Central. If The Simpsons was a middle finger to the establishment, the animation of Trey Parker and Matt stone was a burn bag that shit. It to be cheap and also fast come animate with document cutouts and computer animation, which permitted the present to discuss recent events. Cartoons in ~ the time, requiring month of i have lot of money animation, essential to be comparably timeless in your story and humor, however South Park targeted the present.

Thanks to computer system animation and also the internet, South Park, the mirrors of Adult Swim, and also countless online-only animated shorts, prefer Homestar Runner, have actually made computer animation faster, rougher, and looser. But The Simpsons, come this day, embraces the formula of the past. When an episode of southern Park deserve to now be produced in a solitary week through a lean team, The Simpsons has actually actually included roles and also failsafes to its lengthy process. In the civilization of animated TV, The Simpsons might be the last of its kind, one expensive, high-touch, slow-paced production built on recipe dating back to Walt Disney and Hanna-Barbera.The Simpsons is currently in that 27th season. This is exactly how an illustration of the routine is made, a detailed, meticulous look in ~ a process that has its bedrock however builds upon it v the tools and lessons that the future.

It begins with a pitch….

A couple of weeks before the warm Christmas of southerly California, the writers of The Simpsons — the longest-running sitcom in the US, certification everybody’s favourite family: Homer, Marge, Lisa, baby Maggie, and their boy Bart — take it a retreat. The remainder of the season, the team breaks scripts in the sterile writers" rooms of the Fox studio lot, but the an imaginative process constantly began in a home or the big conference room of a nearby hotel.

Each writer bring a fleshed-out minute or so illustration pitch, i beg your pardon they supply with gusto come a room full of funny people. Lock laugh, take it notes, then co-creator Matt Groening, executive, management producer James L. Brooks, and showrunner Al Jean — a part of the braintrust from the earliest work — administer feedback.

In an essay on Splitsider about the writing process of seasons three through eight, former Simpsons writer and producer bill Oakley described the satisfied of the retreats:

"It was constantly a huge treat to see. You had no idea what George Meyer (for instance) to be going come say, and also suddenly it was choose this great Simpsons episode putting out that his mouth that you never dreamed of. And also it to be like, wow, this is whereby this stuff comes from.

A most times human being worked collaboratively, too. We would work with Conan, ago and forth, and also we’d exchange concepts and assist polish them up. And also so everyone would commonly come with two, occasionally three ideas. You’d take fifteen minutes and also you’d say her idea in prior of anyone — all the writers, Jim Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon when he was still there, and likewise the writers aides who would be there taking notes on every this stuff."

Writing a draft

After receiving notes and also some an imaginative direction, one episode’s writer takes two weeks come pen a an initial draft. "Almost all of the composing is done right here at the Fox in among two rewrite rooms," claims Al Jean, who at the time of the interview is deep right into production of the show’s upcoming 27th season. "The two rooms to be a change that came around around season nine. We split due to the fact that we had enough writers, and we might get more done."

The writers" retreat has evolved, but the objective remains the same

Getting much more done with an ext tools and more hands is the throughline the the modern-day Simpsons manufacturing process. Over there are an ext people doing much more jobs with an ext failsafes in ~ a greater cost top top The Simpsons than the bulk of — if no all — animated tv shows.

A writer has 4 to 6 weeks to finish rewrites. "We’ll proceed to rework six or 7 times prior to the table read," claims Al Jean. "Jim and also I will give notes. Us rewrite it."

In those late night tv commercials the promise to do everyone a screenwriter, the script is often called the blueprint of our favorite tv shows and films, a term that suggests an exacting, blessed, height level instruction i m sorry the rest of the dozens if no hundreds if not countless artists associated obey. That concept — as anyone who has actually seen a summer blockbuster or network sitcom have the right to tell — is false. The manuscript is vulnerable, malleable, and subject to constant scrutiny. There"s a blueprint for animated shows, but it comes later. The completed draft is favor a guide through the woods, all set to it is in supplemented, revised, or outright redrawn if require be.

(An excerpt indigenous Judd Apatow"s The Simpsons script, The daily Beast)

The table read

Each Thursday the production, the cast, producers, and writers accomplish for a table read of the recent script. Some of the actors attends the table read, rather phone into the room. Occasionally, voice actor kris Edgerly, who has actually handled "additional voices" because that the show since 2011, will certainly fill in for among the leads. "It’s an extremely unusual that they’re every at the table at the same time now," says Jean. "People’s schedules acquired busier, human being actually moved out that Los Angeles. It’s the normal kind of entropy the life, you know."

Despite being to thousands of table reads, Al Jean still can’t get comfortable. He defines a an essential setting in i m sorry the manuscript is judged top top its an imaginative value, but also under the duress of exterior forces. A cell phone might go turn off or an actor might be fighting a cold, and the read"s vibe shifts. "Last week," states Jean, "there to be a van backing up, that came in the middle, and also that to be distracting people. The table check out is my number one unpleasant experience."

Voice recording

" except our director has actually to create everything."

On the Monday adhering to a table read, the actors performs the voice recording, frequently at the studio in LA. The actors and actresses document on separate tracks, quite than together — a common technique for recording voice-over. "It’s funny," states Jean. "I read a testimonial in The AV Club whereby they said about a particular show over there was good interaction between two people, and also they never ever met. They didn’t document in the same place. I’m glad it worked, but there to be no physics connection."


As work transitions from manuscript to animation, the episode is available to a director, who, if lock accept, is offered ownership of production and also animation responsibilities. " sort of akin to a TV director that takes the manuscript of a show and turns it into an episode," states Jean. "Except our director has actually to create everything. <... The director> bring away the audio track, supervises the design, the motions, and also what we call the acting of the animation, and the whole visual facet of ."

Both Jean, who serves together story liaison throughout production of the collection as a whole, and each episode’s director work-related in tandem to shepherd the manuscript through the computer animation process.

(The Simpsons storyboard)


According come veteran Simpsons storyboard artist louis Escobar, the computer animation phase of a brand-new season will begin between February and April, depending on the condition of scripts and other manufacturing variables. Some animators have actually a hiatus in between seasons; rather periodically transition directly native one season come the next.

An episode’s computer animation begins through storyboarding, a process that consists of multiple steps, and also ultimately produces the materials a south Korean animation studio called Akom will use to complete the episode.

" is just a blueprint of the episode."

"Our job," says Escobar, "is to perform all the thinking, planning, and of the show. This is what it"s going to at some point look like. It is what a storyboard is: simply a blueprint of the episode."

An episode is assigned to a small group of early storyboard artist at The Simpsons" work space in southern California. According to an extensive series of posts on Escobar’s blog about the animation of the show, the board is reviewed, revised, and then sent out to Fox for another round that notes. Alongside the storyboard, second squad of developers is assigned props, characters, and also backgrounds distinctive to the episode, every one of which undergo a similar series of internal and also external drafts and also reviews.

In early seasons, storyboarding was done totally on paper. In mid-season, the present switched come animatics — a series of photos paired v the voice track — that would be edited on tapes. Relatively recently, storyboards transitioned come digital, in which every one of the art and audio is uploaded to an virtual hub accessible anywhere native computers and also smart devices.

Jean states he deserve to now modify audio native his phone instead of visiting an editing and enhancing bay, and video clip effects can be made through a few digital tweaks, instead of requiring sections of the board to be completely redrawn.

(The Simpsons storyboard)

Story reel

Update: The story reel role was freshly removed from The Simpsons production process. Today, story reel and storyboard processes are combined, leading straight to storyboard revisions. What adheres to is a action that previously existed in ~ the an innovative process.

The storyboard — revised indigenous Fox’s notes and accompanied through the voice monitor — is screened to story reel artists, who room each assigned a portion of the episode. The work-related of the story reel artists, a mix that character and also background animators, can selection from polish to triage, relying on the storyboard"s quality upon arrival. As Escobar explains, the reel artists include additional characters" poses, clean backgrounds, and incorporate notes from the director, that at this stage is refining the ingredient of the shots.

As work is completed, the artists when again upload come a server, and the editor inserts the fleshed-out segment in place of their respective parts of the storyboard till the entire storyboard is changed with a completed story reel.

The 2 phases sound rather similar, but they serve various functions. Wherein the storyboard is somewhere between a picture book and also the flip book, the story reel visualization ideally plays prefer a barebones, black-and-white variation of the yes, really episode.

"Oh no! Homer demands to it is in on the other side of the room."

Once the reel is ready, shareholder — Al Jean and also the producers, writers, and episode manager — fulfill at Fox for a screening. "It’s an amazing situation," writes Escobar, "because anyone in the room potentially knows every the jokes and also how they should play out."

Shareholders take it notes, discuss what works and also doesn’t, climate pitch additions or changes they’d favor made. After a short break, the team reconvenes and watches the episode again, this time stopping and starting the reel to discuss how those changes will be incorporated, map out rough stills the what the changes should watch like, and nail down any kind of other tweaks to it is in made by the storyboard revisionist.

Storyboard revisions

Storyboard revisionists get approximately two main to review or outright create new scenes, complying with notes native the vault screening. Since hundreds of hours of animation and also design have currently gone into the storyboard, revisionists shot to salvage components from scene that have actually been cut by repurposing them within the revisions.

The revisionist must likewise make certain the changes flow v the remainder of the story reel. On his blog, Escobar provides an example:

"Oh no! Homer needs to it is in on the other side that the room through the finish of the sequence, but he no longer has actually that line that made the walk over there to start with! how in blazes is he suppose to gain to the various other side to provide his joke? reduced to a quick reaction shot of Bart or Marge. CUT back to Homer who is magically in the various other side of the room. He must of walked end there while he to be off screen. Problem solved."




According to Escobar, couple of American animated mirrors still perform the layout process, permit alone carry out so in house.

Layout, he says, is the closest step to what the layperson imagines computer animation to it is in — that classic image the a Disney cartoonist fanning record back and forth, sketching personalities into motion. In ~ The Simpsons, layout is a digitized version of that method. Each animator — separated into character and background artists — provides Pencil check Pro come animate roughly 15 scenes because that an episode, making as precise a explicate of the final product together possible. While storyboards are rough, layout is refined.

The layout artist is, in ~ once, performer and also cameraperson

Characters are attracted to enhance a model sheet (above) — a overview of developed poses and also expressions for the show’s characters. Whenever Homer shouts through joy, the format sheet explains, his mouth opens up in just this way.

Arguably the many important duty of the layout artist is imbuing the revolution storyboard photos with performance. As soon as Homer crack a beer, Lisa dram the saxophone, or Sideshow Bob measures on a rake, the layout artist decides precisely how that will look. In part capacity, they double as actors, utilizing the storyboard and voiceover together direction, climate emoting v the occupants of Springfield together they feel fit.

The acting, the poses, the backgrounds, props, emotions — every little thing the story layout artists draw will be directly incorporated in the last "clean line" variation of the episode animated by the studio in southern Korea.

Along v performance, layout is as soon as shots are framed, together they would be with a camera in the real world, exactly as they will appear in the finished episode.

Story layout is the longest and also most detailed step, and also can take all over from a month come a month and a half, depending upon the intricacy of the episode and also whether or not various other episodes space in production. " the most manage over what happens," claims Escobar. " i hear the native ‘I’ll take treatment of it in layout’ a lot native directors."

(The Simpsons exposure sheet)

The timer

As soon as a character layout artist finishes a scene, they provide to the timer. A timer’s duty is to compose exposure sheets, the notes because that Akom on exactly how to interpret and apply the work of the story layout artist. If the layout artist"s job-related is the wood for your new bookshelf, the exposure paper is the instruction booklet. And also like any kind of furniture instructions, it"s indecipherable to everyone yet the experts.


The function is referred to as "timer," since in the past, the timer damaged down every dialogue and also animation, assigning tiny piece to particular frames — or times — that the episode. Every line top top the exposure paper represents a frame or team of frames of film. Come the right of each structure number, the timer write what demands to it is in animated and also how.

The Simpsons is animated at 24 frames per second — every second, 24 images show up on the display screen — i beg your pardon is come say thousands of drawings can create a solitary scene. To break down all the those drawings, the timer writes conversation phonetically, and the developed mouth shapes that complement each sound, onto the exposure sheet. For example, Homer saying his very own name would certainly look something choose Hhh-ooh-ohm-me-er-Si-im-ps-suh-hnn, each sound running down the web page alongside your assigned structure numbers.

The timer would also include recommendations to Homer’s character model sheet, and any certain accents or flourishes that necessary to it is in made to his confront or body. And also the timers, of i beg your pardon there room two ~ above The Simpsons" team, execute this for every personality in every scene.

(For those fascinated through the many unusual and overlooked position, previous Simpsons director chuck Sheetz created a accuse on how to write classic exposure sheet, i beg your pardon should assist you photo the timing in action.)

Escobar says that v the relocate to digital, character layout artists often "rough time" your scenes by developing a digital animatic, making use of the frames they"ve attracted to produce a an extremely rough animation of a scene. The timer takes the animatic and also documents the visuals onto the exposure sheet, adding any touches the animatic no include. Eye blinks, finger twiddles, fidgeting — yes no information too tiny for the timer to include to the exposure sheet, ensuring the team in LA maximum manage over what the southern Korean computer animation studio delivers.

Scene planning

If a scene is specifically complicated, it’s sent out to step Planning, an interior team formed after The Simpsons Movie, that digitally animates intricate scenes. The yes, really flashy, fast-moving, large scenes that attribute a bevy of characters: they typically go v here.


"There’s a specific position held by a production guy dubbed Peter Gave," claims Escobar. "His job is come take all of the digital character layout scenes, along with the timing and also everything , and he prints them out on document and those space shipped to Korea." Escobar laughs. "When we perform character layouts, we are minimal to the field sizes of yes, really paper."

"They"re making certain there aren"t any kind of mistakes."


Two checkers review whatever — every one of the personality layout artwork, the exposure sheet, and the printed products — and they make sure that every item of art and also line the direction matches on the exposure sheet.

"They’re usually the order checkers," states Escobar. "They’re check the grammar . Castle making sure that there aren’t any kind of mistakes." If they uncover an inconsistency or a missing part for artwork, they go back to the director and also get the error fixed.

Once every portion of the illustration is checked and also approved, it’s transport to southern Korea.



The function of Akom, a south Korean animation studio situated west the Seoul, is come animate all of the frames in between the illustrations in the last reel delivered by the layout artists. To speak the layout artists animated 20 frames because that a 3-second scene. In ~ 24 frames per second, the sequence is 72 frames long. The animation studio would have to do a clean line version of the initial 20 frames and the 52 frames of computer animation between them. The process is dubbed overseas export sector work; Akom is one of plenty of OEM studios in that is nation.

According to a 2005 report through China Daily, Akom has handled the more or less final and unquestionably far-reaching phase of computer animation on The Simpsons for nearly 25 years. At the time of China Daily’s report, around 120 animators and also technicians analyzed the storyboard and layouts right into the perfect rough modify of one episode, a procedure that takes about three months, depending upon the episode’s complexity and position in ~ the season. The report cites OEM animators do a 3rd of us counterparts, though it"s unclear just how pay has readjusted over the previous decade.

Akom has helped animate The Simpsons for practically 25 years

Despite Akom"s place in the computer animation wing of the show, Escobar couldn’t really speak to any type of other details around the work done at the animation studio. Escobar compared the abovementioned layout process in Los Angeles to the masculine animators of Disney’s golden era, however a paragraph in the China daily report echoes Disney’s former band of females inkers and also painters that put the finishing touches on the studio’s classics: "On one floor, a staff of greatly young ladies sit at computers as lock scan animation cells, include colours and also put the final technical touch to the show." Akom is the magic; the all-but-invisible twist the brings everything together.

Final review, retakes, and final edit

Akom pearls a completed, full color version that the episode from south Korea earlier to the studio in Los Angeles, whereby it’s edited, then displayed to the shareholders, who as soon as again provide notes for revisions. Through the display approaching waiting date, this is whereby a couple of topical joke are occasionally added.

If there’s time, the notes room handled through Akom. If over there isn’t time, the revisions are handled by the retakes division, a skeleton crew of two or 3 artists who can perform all attributes of the animation process: storyboards, personality layout, clean up, animation, and final timing.

"It gets really hectic," claims Escobar, "because to deal with the actual air dates. There have actually been instances or circumstances where the retakes complete the job or the night before airs, that sort of point where they’re choose at work, actually cleaning the ingredient up and coloring it."

Finally, an editor works v Al Jean to combine the retakes into the episode, walk a final pass ~ above the show’s colors, music is added — a process so substantive and distinct, the warrants one explainer unto its own — sound is mixed, the illustration is wrapped, and it"s sent out to Fox where the new episodes wait on Sunday nights.

The procedure doesn"t so much start again, together it continues. Together the production ramps, lot of episodes room in advancement at once, v every step of the procedure constantly overlapping. You recognize why the authors — and everyone else affiliated — would need a retreat.

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Looking back

When does Al Jean recognize an episode will make it safely with the process?

"Usually at the mix," the says, "when everything’s every set. That’s pretty pleasant. The point is, there’s constantly the potential that things are not coming together the means you expected. Lock can loss apart in ~ the very first audio assembly. They can loss apart at the animatic. They can fall apart in the color screening. You’re never ever really off the hook."

"The first episode ever done," Jean says, "was by someone that didn’t quite obtain the show. It essential a many rework. It to be held back "til maybe the last illustration of the very first season. That pretty famous it was very disappointing to everybody. Fortunately the second episode, "Bart the Genius," command by David Silverman, was very good. The display was initially going come debut in the autumn of ‘89, but because the first no work, we chose to wait "til Christmas so the episode directed through Silverman could be the first .

We never, other than that, have actually taken a color and not aired it. We’ve done heavy rewrites occasionally at colors. We’ve never even thrown a manuscript out after ~ a read. Possibly a couple of times we should’ve, however we never ever have."

Update October 28th, 1:00AM ET: Originally the acronym OEM was explained as "original tools manufacturing" based on reporting native China Daily. It has since been repair to "overseas violin market."