How 'The Simpsons' Works

How 'The Simpsons' Is Made
An original animation cel from the show depicts some of Springfield's wacky denizens. Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

"The Simpsons" creators use a complex process to make each episode, which can take months to complete:

  1. The writers pitch episode ideas to each other and the producers. Once an episode gets the green light, the writer has a couple of weeks to create a draft of the script.
  2. The writing staff works on each script in a meeting room. (There are enough writers that there are usually two such meetings going on at the same time.) Each script is heavily revised. Although the original writer gets screen credit for the script, lines, jokes and subplots typically come from a variety of people on the writing team.
  3. The voice cast does a table read, performing the script aloud in a meeting room. A few days later, they record the episode's dialogue in a sound studio. Voice actors perform their lines separately — they almost never interact directly with one another while recording.
  4. Artists create a storyboard and story reel, rough versions of the final episode's animation, under the watch of the episode's director. The story reel establishes the basics of each scene, including character position, expressions and backgrounds.
  5. More artists take this storyboard and refine it into something that looks more closely like the final episode, incorporating any edits determined by the director and production team. The episode is still not fully animated, however. This step is known as layout. "Since every artist has a unique style, a show bible and style guide is created to tell each artist the 'rules' of the show," said Joe Russo II, who worked as a production assistant on early seasons of the show. "This guide has each character's orthographic view, extreme poses and facial expressions included. It serves as a starting point to make sure everyone is on the same page."
  6. A complicated chart known as an exposure sheet is created next. This chart describes in precise detail, frame by frame, everything in the episode. Every word and action is noted and timed, with words broken down into phonemes. This painstaking task is crucial to ensure that the animation matches the recorded dialogue and achieves the desired comedic timing. "I learned how to expose a scene by listening to a recording of the MAG tracks [vocal tracks transferred onto film stock] on an old Moviola and recording the phonemes onto the exposure sheet by cranking the MAG footage back and forth across a magnetic sound head," Russo said. Today, modern software streamlines much of the animation process and allows animatics to be used in conjunction with exposure sheets. Russo described the animatic as "a moving storyboard with sound. We can step through an animatic to view exactly what the director wants to create."
  7. The scenes are printed out, checked for errors and shipped to Akom studio in South Korea, where teams of artists complete the animation, drawing all the necessary frames and adding the correct colors, using the exposure sheet as a strict blueprint.
  8. The final animation is sent to the editor and producers, who add music and edit it all together into the episode you see on TV.

Now that you know the process of creating an episode, let's get to know the town where the show takes place: Springfield.