The Simpsons has been around for so long people may forget or never even know that it began as a series of shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show. It was popular enough that they had their own Christmas special, now referred to as “Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire”, a pilot that led to the first animated prime time series since I think either The Flintstones or Jonny Quest. It started a trend where other studios and networks tried to do their own but so far Fox is the only one to have really pulled it off, and even then there have been more failures than successes. As time, technology, and techniques have adapted over the years so to has the animation and general art style, plus you have to figure some of the older animators left for one reason or another and others came in.
Jazza, of the YouTube channel formerly known as Draws With Jazza until he opted to focus on numerous art styles, has done animation over the years, including the recent Saturday Night Showcase entry The Tale Teller, and decided to follow the evolution of the art style and animation of the show. While at some points the quality improved it came at the cost of quality elsewhere, as he demonstrates in this examination. Then I did a little checking of my own that may offer some explanations as to what happened to the animation.
Catch Jazza’s art experiments and content on his YouTube channel.
I’ve also gone over the Apu controversy Jazza mentioned in the past if you haven’t heard about it.
I wonder if the change between season one and two has more to do with budget than anything else. Remember that this started out as a series of shorts from a different show, and I’m kind of disappointed that Jazza didn’t look those up as those were even rougher if memory serves.
It did get better.
In fact some of the other performers on The Tracey Ullman Show were portraying the characters. Each story was spread out around the show, serving as a transition to the ad breaks. While looking up those two clips I also found this short segment from the show discussing the shorts.
My theory is that season one and the Christmas special was still coming off of The Tracey Ullman Show and may have had a slightly larger budget but this is how they’d been doing it up to that point. Season one was something of an experiment but by season two they knew what they had to do and got better from there. While I can’t comment on the writing for the later seasons, the art could be learning new technologies and trying to adapt old techniques (or at least their looks) and not quite succeeding, or as Jazza noted some of the charm was lost in an art style that wasn’t designed for digital animation.
Compare it to my own transition to digital drawing for my comic work. Different tools but the charm remained because there was no other change in how I did things. With this show there is a change in technique and it seems to affect the style positively in some ways and negatively in others. Analog and digital have their advantages and disadvantages so maybe the artists and animators will eventually figure out how to make it work. Remember, season one wasn’t the first time they made the cartoon. While trying to check the dates I found this bit of information on the Simpsons wiki that if accurate may also account for the transition.
The shorts were written by Matt Groening and animated at Klasky-Csupo by a team consisting of David Silverman, Bill Kopp and Wes Archer (in the later seasons, the shorts were animated by Silverman and Archer) Dan Castellaneta, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith and Julie Kavner provided the voices of characters Homer Simpson, Bart Simpson, Lisa Simpson, and Marge Simpson.
The characters were crudely drawn because Matt Groening assumed that the animators would clean them up after he submitted the rough sketches to them. Instead, the animators simply traced over the sketches.
The first short, Good Night, was aired on April 19, 1987. Later, the shorts were given their own segment on the show before the cartoon was developed into a 30 minute TV animated spin-off in 1989.
Further research suggests that Groening, who made a last-minute creation because he didn’t want to give the rights to the Life Is Hell comic he had been working on, wasn’t responsible for the yellow skin but a colorist at Klasky-Csupo, which you probably know for shows like Rugrats rather than this show. All this may also account for the changes between seasons one and two. Will they ever get a handle on it? Will the writing every be funny again? Since Fox still refuses to stop ordering seasons (although what Disney will call for now that they own the network has yet to be determined) only time will tell.