The Simpsons' 500th episode is upon us. As tempted as I am to write about my favorite minor characters, couch gags, and guest stars, I suspect you're getting your fill of bloggers' opinions. Instead, I've collected comments from the show's writers, artists, and crew (past and present) about us, the fans and the general public. What are the weirdest questions we've asked them? What are the oddest comments we've made? What strange misconceptions do we have about their jobs? Find out!
What if you were getting a mani-pedi and heard that the person next to you worked for The Simpsons? What would you say? What questions would you ask? As you can imagine, they've heard it all. I've collected a few odd comments and questions, that, should you be in the situation, you might consider keeping to yourself.
David Silverman, an animator, producer, and director with the show since 1987, says occasionally someone will say, “I thought you did the show in a week.” He doesn't seem offended by this misconception so much as bemused. The ridiculously long, painstaking process that goes into making an episode of The Simpsons is mystifying to many of us, and Silverman is fine with that. “If we put no effort into the animation, we wouldn't be having this conversation,” he told me.
Liz Climo, story reel artist, shared this:
I get asked a lot of unusual questions from fans: can I draw him/her into an episode, do I ever get to write the episodes, can he/she do a voice for the show, is everything drawn by computers, etc. (The answer to each of these questions, unfortunately, is no). As much as I'd like to write and episode or do a voice, there are actually people who are much more qualified than myself to do these things, which is why the show is still good! Drawing someone into a scene would probably not go unnoticed, especially after the scene has been in the hands of so many different people. We actually have an entire catalog of incidental characters that we are supposed to use in any given scene, so we're not just making the extra characters up as we go along. Sometimes we can get away with drawing someone into a larger crowd scene, but it's never a guarantee that they will stay in. Finally, although some days it might be nice to come in and sit in front of a computer that is drawing my scenes for me, this is definitely not the case. We work on a Cintiq, which is a large computer screen that we draw on directly. Even though we are working in computer programs, we are still very much drawing and animating in the traditional sense.
Eric Rogers (writer of various Simpsons comics and Futurama) says, “I still get weirded out when (fans) ask me to sign comics for them. I implore with them that all my signature does is make the comic book worthless, but they never listen!”
Nikki Isordia, production coordinator, says,
Well, it's always a little funny when someone asks what I do, when I tell them I work on The Simpsons as a coordinator and also mention that I am a freelance makeup artist, the first response is usually 'How do you do makeup for The Simpsons?!'
I also always get the people who like to mention that they can do great impressions of the Simpsons' voices and let me know that if we ever need a Homer or another character replaced, they would be very happy to take over.
Chris Ledesma, music editor for The Simpsons, says the misconception he hears most often is that Danny Elfman writes the music for the show. (Elfman wrote the original theme, but Alf Clausen has composed the show's music since season two).
Storyboard artist Luis Escobar says he doesn't hear too many odd questions, but he does get his fair share of ones he finds annoying.
They often start with, “remember that episode when . . . ?” wherein they ask me something really obscure about the show while I stare at them blankly not knowing what the heck they're talking about.
However, the most annoying question he gets about the show is when someone realizes he's an artist on the show: “'You're an artist? I thought that was all done with computers.' As if there was a magical 'draw cartoon' button on computers.”
Erika Isabel Vega, scene planner, says,
I usually get two kinds of reaction. They sometimes assume I'm as big a fan as they are and start talking about a wealth of Simpsons trivia that I really don't know; I'm not an encyclopedia of Simpsons knowledge. I know what scenes I've worked on but even they get blurry with time. I feel like I disappoint them.
The other confusion that comes up with fans is that I'm not technically an animator. I don't have to draw these characters every day. My title is Scene Planner and I do camera work and compositing. It's always really complicated to explain to people. This isn't like live action where there is a set built for you to move the camera around. We have to artificially create a sense of space and movement. I basically have to take the art from a scene and plan how it is best to set-up the camera movement.
Former Simpsons writer Dana Gould says, “The oddest comment was from a guy I went to high school with, when I bumped into him back in Massachusetts while visiting my folks. His take on writing for The Simpsons was fairly unique: 'So what do you guys do, just show up in the morning and screw around?'
The odd part is, he pretty much nailed it.
Editor Taylor Allen says, “The weirdest question I ever got asked by a fan is really the weird questions that I wasn't asked by a fan. While on hiatus I've moonlighted in several non-entertainment professions, none more demoralizing than being a tour guide for intentional junior high students (or whatever they call junior high back in the motherland). Riding on the bus for days around the western half of America, I sat in front of the biggest Simpsons fans Whales has ever produced. Literally hours would go by with them speaking only Simpsons quotes while I tried to sleep. Word got around that I worked on the show and one of the girls asked, 'Do you really work on The Simpsons?'
I immediately thought, 'Here it comes . . .'
But the questions never came! I even tried to dangle Simpsons Movie deleted scene trivia in their faces and they were just content to go back to quoting the moments to themselves. Weirdest thing ever.”
Fill Marc Sagadraca, character layout artist, said, “The most common question (that I think is also weird) I get as a character layout artist is which character I draw, as if each artist only specializes in drawing only one character. If that were the case, it would take five different artists to draw the entire Simpson family.”
Bonus! Simpsons trivia not on Wikipedia (yet):
- Josh Weinstein contributed his voice to The Simpsons several times (uncredited). He voiced the sand crab in “Summer of 4 Ft. 2,” the juvenile hall Santa in “Marge Be Not Proud” (if you need your memory refreshed, he's the guy behind glass who says “Merry Christmas and a happy new year”), and also the “Curly” bill who says “whoop, whoop, whoop” at the end of “Amendment To Be” in “The Day the Violence Died.” Weinstein jokes that he's “the best sand crab/Santa-behind-glass guy in the business.”
- The idea to make the menus on The Simpsons kooky and fun Patric Verrone's.
- Ken Keeler wrote the lyrics to the theme song for “Skinner and the Superintendent,” as he did for most songs in that era.
- Marc Wilmore watched The Simpsons in the early days while he was working on In Living Color. “Bart the Daredevil” continues (as of last week) to be his favorite episode. Who doesn't love Homer's parenting in this scene?
- After the first take of “The Garbage Man” (in “Trash of the Titans”), Alf Clausen told Bono that it was good, but that he could “do a better one,” causing a collective, stunned gasp among the 50 or so observers.
- David Silverman plays the tuba with Vaude and the Villains (a 1930s-flavored orchestra and cabaret show) and also takes his flaming tuba on the road to Burning Man (fittingly enough) and elsewhere. Don't believe me? Google “Tubatron.”
- Last year, Chris Ledesma started a blog in honor of the upcoming 500th episode, where he shares memories and gives the inside scoop about the musical goings on at the show.
- A collection of Simpsons-inspired poetry by Tom C. Hunley, entitled Annoyed Grunt (Imaginary Friend Press), is due out this month.
- When Green Day expressed interest in appearing on The Simpsons, they didn't realize the honor in store for them: they were invited instead to provide music for The Simpsons Movie.
- Many Simpsons writers, actors, crew, and artists are on Twitter. A decent list of them can be found here.
- Best 'Simpsons' Moments: Castmembers Share Their Favorite Contributions to Celebrate the 500th Episode