In 1996, The Simpsons passed The Flintstones together the longest running prime-time man show. In the 30-year interim, the tenor that adult cartoons had actually shifted dramatically: The Simpsons was an ext caustic and puerile than The Flintstones, a shameless stone Age remake of struggle 1950s sitcom The Honeymooners. What had actually hardly adjusted was the an innovative process.

Like The Flintstones, The Simpsons relied on a large Los Angeles-based writer’s room, a coterie the directors, a formation of storyboard and also design artists, and dozens of animators. The biggest change in manufacturing over three decades was merely geography; by 1996, The Simpsons had started outsourcing the final stage of computer animation to a studio in south Korea.

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A year after ~ The Simpsons passed The Flintstones, South Park premiered on Comedy Central. If The Simpsons was a center finger to the establishment, the animation of Trey Parker and also Matt stone was a burning bag that shit. It to be cheap and fast to animate with paper cutouts and computer animation, which permitted the present to discuss recent events. Cartoons in ~ the time, requiring months of i have lot of money animation, required to be comparably timeless in their story and humor, yet South Park target the present.

Thanks to computer animation and also the internet, South Park, the shows of Adult Swim, and countless online-only animated shorts, favor Homestar Runner, have made computer animation faster, rougher, and also looser. However The Simpsons, to this day, embraces the formula of the past. While an illustration of southern Park can now be produced in a solitary week by a skinny team, The Simpsons has actually actually included roles and also failsafes come its an extensive process. In the human being of animated TV, The Simpsons may be the last of the kind, one expensive, high-touch, slow-paced production constructed on formulas dating back to Walt Disney and also Hanna-Barbera.The Simpsons is now in that is 27th season. This is just how an illustration of the regimen is made, a detailed, meticulous look in ~ a process that has actually its bedrock but builds top top it through the tools and lessons that the future.

It begins with a pitch….

A couple of weeks before the warm Christmas of southern California, the writers of The Simpsons — the longest-running sitcom in the US, starring everybody’s favorite family: Homer, Marge, Lisa, infant Maggie, and their boy Bart — take it a retreat. The remainder of the season, the team division scripts in the sterile writers" rooms of the Fox studio lot, yet the an innovative process constantly began in a home or the large conference space of a surrounding hotel.

Each writer brings a fleshed-out minute or so episode pitch, i m sorry they deliver with gusto come a room full of funny people. They laugh, take notes, then co-creator Matt Groening, executive producer James L. Brooks, and also showrunner Al Jean — a portion of the braintrust from the earliest job — carry out feedback.

In an essay on Splitsider about the writing process of periods three with eight, previous Simpsons writer and producer bill Oakley described the satisfied of the retreats:

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

A the majority of times world worked collaboratively, too. We would job-related with Conan, back and forth, and also we’d exchange concepts and help polish them up. And so everybody would generally come through two, occasionally three ideas. You’d take it fifteen minutes and also you’d say her idea in former of anyone — every the writers, Jim Brooks, Matt Groening, Sam Simon once he was still there, and also the writers aides who would certainly be there taking notes on every this stuff."

Writing a draft

After receiving notes and some creative direction, one episode’s writer takes 2 weeks come pen a an initial draft. "Almost all of the writing is done right here at the Fox in among two rewrite rooms," claims Al Jean, who at the moment of the interview is deep into production the the show’s upcoming 27th season. "The 2 rooms was a change that came about around season nine. We split since we had enough writers, and also we can get much more done."

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

Getting more done with more tools and more hands is the throughline of the modern-day Simpsons production process. There are more people doing much more jobs with more failsafes in ~ a greater cost ~ above The Simpsons than the majority of — if not all — animated television shows.

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

In those late night tv commercials that promise to make everyone a screenwriter, the manuscript is often dubbed the blueprint of ours favorite television shows and films, a term that indicates an exacting, blessed, optimal level instruction i m sorry the rest of the dozens if no hundreds if not countless artists associated obey. That notion — as anyone who has seen a summer blockbuster or network sitcom have the right to tell — is false. The script is vulnerable, malleable, and subject to continuous scrutiny. There"s a blueprint for animated shows, but it come later. The completed draft is like a overview through the woods, prepared to be supplemented, revised, or outright redrawn if need be.

(An excerpt native Judd Apatow"s The Simpsons script, The everyday Beast)

The table read

Each Thursday that production, the cast, producers, and also writers fulfill for a table review of the recent script. Some of the cast attends the table read, others phone right into the room. Occasionally, voice actor kris Edgerly, who has handled "additional voices" because that the show since 2011, will fill in for one of the leads. "It’s very unusual that they’re all at the table in ~ the same time now," claims Jean. "People’s schedules obtained busier, human being actually moved out of Los Angeles. The the normal type of entropy of life, you know."

Despite being to thousands of table reads, Al Jean tho can’t get comfortable. He describes a critical setting in i beg your pardon the manuscript is judged ~ above its an imaginative value, but likewise under the duress of external forces. A cell phone can go turn off or an actor can be fighting a cold, and the read"s vibe shifts. "Last week," says Jean, "there was a truck backing up, that come in the middle, and that was distracting people. The table read is mine number one unpleasant experience."

Voice recording

" other than our director has to produce everything."

On the Monday complying with a table read, the cast performs the voice recording, typically at the studio in LA. The actors and actresses record on different tracks, quite than with each other — a common technique for catching voice-over. "It’s funny," claims Jean. "I review a evaluation in The AV Club whereby they said around a certain show there was good interaction between two people, and they never ever met. Castle didn’t record in the same place. Ns glad it worked, but there was no physical connection."


As occupational transitions from manuscript to animation, the illustration is offered to a director, who, if castle accept, is provided ownership that production and animation responsibilities. " type of akin to a TV director that takes the manuscript of a show and turns it right into an episode," states Jean. "Except ours director has to produce everything. <... The director> bring away the audio track, supervises the design, the motions, and what we contact the exhilaration of the animation, and the whole visual aspect of ."

Both Jean, that serves together story liaison throughout manufacturing of the series as a whole, and also each episode’s director occupational in tandem come shepherd the script through the animation process.

(The Simpsons storyboard)


According to veteran Simpsons storyboard artist louis Escobar, the animation phase of a new season will begin between February and also April, depending on the condition of scripts and other production variables. Part animators have a hiatus between seasons; rather periodically change directly native one season to the next.

An episode’s computer animation begins through storyboarding, a procedure that includes multiple steps, and ultimately produce the materials a southern Korean computer animation studio named Akom will use to complete the episode.

" is simply a blueprint of the episode."

"Our job," states Escobar, "is to perform all the thinking, planning, and of the show. This is what it"s walk to eventually look like. It is what a storyboard is: simply a blueprint of the episode."

An episode is assigned come a little group of initial storyboard artists at The Simpsons" work space in southerly California. According to an extensive collection of write-ups on Escobar’s blog about the animation of the show, the plank is reviewed, revised, and also then sent to Fox for another round of notes. Together the storyboard, an additional squad of developers is assigned props, characters, and also backgrounds unique to the episode, all of which experience a similar collection of internal and also external drafts and also reviews.

In early on seasons, storyboarding was done entirely on paper. In mid-season, the present switched come animatics — a series of pictures paired with the voice monitor — that would be edited ~ above tapes. Fairly recently, storyboards transitioned come digital, in which all of the art and audio is uploaded come an virtual hub easily accessible anywhere from computers and smart devices.

Jean claims he deserve to now modify audio from his phone instead of visiting an editing and enhancing bay, and video effects deserve to be made with a couple of digital tweaks, instead of requiring portions of the plank to be completely redrawn.

(The Simpsons storyboard)

Story reel

Update: The story reel duty was newly removed from The Simpsons production process. Today, story reel and also storyboard processes are combined, leading directly to storyboard revisions. What complies with is a action that previously existed in ~ the an imaginative process.

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

As occupational is completed, the artists once again upload to a server, and also the editor inserts the fleshed-out segments in ar of their respective parts of the storyboard till the entire storyboard is changed with a completed story reel.

The 2 phases sound fairly similar, however they serve different functions. Where the storyboard is somewhere between a snapshot book and also the flip book, the story reel image ideally plays prefer a barebones, black-and-white variation of the actual episode.

"Oh no! Homer needs to be on the other side the the room."

Once the reel is ready, shareholders — Al Jean and also the producers, writers, and also episode director — meet at Fox because that a screening. "It’s an exciting situation," to write Escobar, "because anyone in the room possibly knows every the jokes and how they should play out."

Shareholders take it notes, comment on what works and also doesn’t, then pitch enhancements or transforms they’d like made. After a quick break, the team reconvenes and also watches the episode again, this time preventing and starting the reel to talk about how those transforms will be incorporated, map out rough stills that what the transforms should watch like, and also nail down any kind of other tweaks to be made by the storyboard revisionist.

Storyboard revisions

Storyboard revisionists get roughly two mainly to review or bald create brand-new scenes, adhering to notes from the vault screening. Due to the fact that hundreds of hours of animation and design have already gone right into the storyboard, revisionists try to salvage components from scenes that have actually been reduced by repurposing them within the revisions.

The revisionist must also make certain the alters flow with the rest of the story reel. On his blog, Escobar provides an example:

"Oh no! Homer needs to be on the other side that the room by the end of the sequence, however he no longer has actually that line that made that walk over there to begin with! exactly how in blazes is he intend to get to the various other side to supply his joke? reduced to a fast reaction shooting of Bart or Marge. CUT back to Homer that is magically in the various other side the the room. He need to of walked over there if he was off screen. Problem solved."




According to Escobar, couple of American animated reflects still do the layout process, permit alone perform so in house.

Layout, he says, is the closest step to what the layperson imagines animation to be — that standard image the a Disney cartoonist fanning file back and forth, sketching personalities into motion. At The Simpsons, layout is a digitized version of the method. Every animator — split into character and also background artist — supplies Pencil check Pro to animate around 15 scenes because that an episode, making as precise a explicate of the last product as possible. When storyboards are rough, layout is refined.

The layout artist is, at once, performer and also cameraperson

Characters are attracted to match a version sheet (above) — a guide of established poses and also expressions because that the show’s characters. At any time Homer shouts through joy, the style sheet explains, his mouth opens up in just this way.

Arguably the many important role of the layout artist is imbuing the static storyboard pictures with performance. Once Homer crack a beer, Lisa theatre the saxophone, or Sideshow Bob steps on a rake, the layout artist decides specifically how that will look. In some capacity, they twin as actors, making use of the storyboard and voiceover as direction, then emoting with the occupants of Springfield together they feel fit.

The acting, the poses, the backgrounds, props, emotions — whatever the story layout artists attract will be straight incorporated in the last "clean line" variation of the episode animated by the studio in southern Korea.

Along with performance, layout is when shots room framed, together they would be v a camera in the actual world, precisely as they will appear in the perfect episode.

Story layout is the longest and also most in-depth step, and can take anywhere from a month come a month and a half, relying on the complexity of the episode and also whether or not other episodes space in production. " the most control over what happens," states Escobar. " i hear the native ‘I’ll take treatment of that in layout’ a lot from directors."

(The Simpsons exposure sheet)

The timer

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


The function is dubbed "timer," because in the past, the timer damaged down all dialogue and animation, assigning tiny piece to details frames — or times — of the episode. Each line on the exposure sheet represents a structure or group of frames the film. Come the appropriate of each frame number, the timer write what demands to it is in animated and how.

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

The timer would likewise include referrals to Homer’s character version sheet, and also any details accents or flourishes that needed to be made come his confront or body. And also the timers, of i m sorry there are two ~ above The Simpsons" team, perform this because that every personality in every scene.

(For those fascinated by the many unusual and overlooked position, former Simpsons director lining Sheetz created a indict on how to write classic exposure sheet, i m sorry should help you photo the timing in action.)

Escobar says that v the move to digital, personality layout artists frequently "rough time" your scenes by producing a digital animatic, utilizing the frames they"ve drawn to develop a very rough animation of a scene. The timer takes that animatic and also documents the visuals top top the exposure sheet, adding any touch the animatic doesn’t include. Eye blinks, finger twiddles, fidgeting — yes sir no information too little for the timer to include to the exposure sheet, ensuring the team in LA maximum regulate over what the south Korean computer animation studio delivers.

Scene planning

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


"There’s a certain position organized by a production guy referred to as Peter Gave," states Escobar. "His job is to take every one of the digital character layout scenes, along with the timing and everything , and also he prints them the end on file and those are shipped come Korea." Escobar laughs. "When we execute character layouts, us are limited to the field sizes of really paper."

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


Two checkers review everything — all of the personality layout artwork, the exposure sheet, and the printed materials — and they make certain that every piece of art and also line the direction matches on the exposure sheet.

"They’re usually the spell checkers," states Escobar. "They’re checking the grammar . Castle making certain that there aren’t any mistakes." If they find an inconsistency or a missing part for artwork, they return to the director and also get the error fixed.

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



The role of Akom, a southern Korean computer animation studio located west of Seoul, is to animate all of the frames between the drawings in the final reel ceded by the layout artists. Speak the layout artists animated 20 frames for a 3-second scene. At 24 frames every second, the sequence is 72 frames long. The animation studio would must do a clean line version of the original 20 frames and the 52 frames of animation between them. The procedure is dubbed overseas export market work; Akom is one of numerous OEM studios in the nation.

According to a 2005 report by China Daily, Akom has handled the an ext or much less final and also unquestionably far-reaching phase of computer animation on The Simpsons for nearly 25 years. At the moment of China Daily’s report, approximately 120 animators and technicians interpreted the storyboard and also layouts into the perfect rough modify of one episode, a process that takes around three months, relying on the episode’s complexity and also position in ~ the season. The report cites OEM animators do a third of us counterparts, though it"s unclear exactly how pay has changed over the past decade.

Akom has actually helped animate The Simpsons for almost 25 years

Despite Akom"s position in the animation wing of the show, Escobar couldn’t really speak to any other details around the work done in ~ the computer animation studio. Escobar contrasted the abovementioned layout procedure in Los Angeles to the masculine animators the Disney’s gold era, however a i in the China day-to-day report echoes Disney’s previous band of ladies inkers and painters that placed the finishing touches on the studio’s classics: "On one floor, a staff of mostly young females sit at computer systems as they scan animation cells, add colours and also put the final technical touches to the show." Akom is the magic; the all-but-invisible twist that brings whatever together.

Final review, retakes, and final edit

Akom pearls a completed, full color version the the episode from southern Korea ago to the studio in Los Angeles, whereby it’s edited, then presented to the shareholders, who when again give notes because that revisions. Through the show approaching air date, this is whereby a few topical jokes are periodically added.

If yes time, the notes are handled by Akom. If there isn’t time, the revisions room handled through 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 yes, really hectic," claims Escobar, "because to attend to the actual wait dates. There have been instances or scenarios where the retakes end up the work or the night prior to airs, that type of thing where they’re choose at work, in reality cleaning the stuff up and coloring it."

Finally, an editor works with Al Jean to combine the retakes into the episode, go a last pass top top the show’s colors, music is included — a process so substantive and distinct, the warrants an explainer unto its very own — sound is mixed, the illustration is wrapped, and also it"s sent out to Fox wherein the new episodes waiting on Sunday nights.

The process doesn"t so lot start again, as it continues. Together the manufacturing ramps, lot of episodes room in advance at once, v every action of the procedure constantly overlapping. You recognize why the writers — and also everyone else connected — would need a retreat.

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Looking back

When walk Al Jean understand an episode will certainly make that safely through the process?

"Usually in ~ the mix," he says, "when everything’s every set. It is pretty pleasant. The thing is, there’s constantly the potential that things are not coming with each other the way you expected. They can loss apart in ~ the very first audio assembly. Castle can fall apart at the animatic. Lock can fall apart in the shade screening. You’re never really turn off the hook."

"The very first episode ever before done," Jean says, "was by someone who didn’t quite gain the show. It needed a many rework. It to be held back "til possibly the last episode of the first season. It’s pretty famed it was very disappointing come everybody. Happily the second episode, "Bart the Genius," directed by David Silverman, was an extremely good. The show was initially going to debut in the autumn of ‘89, but since the very first didn’t work, we decided to wait "til Christmas therefore the episode directed through Silverman can be the very first .

We never, various other than that, have actually taken a color and not aired it. We’ve done hefty rewrites periodically at colors. We’ve never also thrown a manuscript out after a read. Probably a couple of times us should’ve, yet we never ever have."

Update October 28th, 1:00AM ET: Originally the acronym OEM was explained as "original tools manufacturing" based upon reporting native China Daily. That has because been corrected to "overseas fiddle market."