Digital techniques have greatly sped up the rate at which animation is produced. South Park can turn out a full episode in a week, and some topical YouTube videos can be cranked out even faster. But the producers of The Simpsons have opted to keep things slow, spacing our production over nearly a year to ensure that every little background detail and facial tic has been revised and remastered. For maybe the first time, The Verge offers a look behind-the-scenes, telling the story of how an idea for a Simpsons script grows into a full episode.
Despite the lengthy turnaround, it sounds like this process still often comes down to the last day, and the staff certainly never gets a break. Of particular interest is the work of the “timer,” a production member who breaks down every action and detail frame-by-frame as a blueprint for contracted animators. Ongoing quality issues aside, you’ll develop a lot more respect for the show’s craftsmanship when you see how every single detail – even character fidgets and mouth movements – have to be spelled out for an entire 22-minute episode.
If you want a practical example of why all the revision matters, check out our DVD copy of “Some Enchanted Evening,” the last episode of The Simpsons‘s first season (HU DVD 14324, disc 3). That episode had a famously troubled production cycle, eventually produced twice and resulting in the quality control process described by The Verge. The DVD includes commentary explaining the process as well as a few select clips of the doomed original episode. It’s a great complement to the article to prove why the show needs a longer production cycle.