Sunday, 22 January 2017

The Simpsons - rebooted post

Back in 2014 I wrote a blog piece about my involvement as animation director on the Sylvain Chomet-designed opening 'couch gag' for an episode of The Simpsons. Within 24 hours I was asked by the production company to remove the blog piece as they preferred to credit only the directors they represented, and not the hard working crews who toiled behind-the-scenes to bring these short films to life. Personally, I love the talents of the crews I work with, and many of these artists I've worked with again and again so that they've become a kind of 'family' to me - they're people I admire, and learn from, and who I completely trust to deliver great work when the pressure is on. Sadly the production company for this sequence recently went into liquidation, but that does mean now - finally - I can reinstate my post and once again celebrate the great work of this fantastic crew. Time for the back-room boys and girls to come back into the spotlight once again  :-)

Here's the original post:

Look kinda familiar?
Rough animation drawing of French-style Homer,
by Neil Boyle

Toward the end of 2013 Sylvain Chomet was approached to create a special one-off 'couch gag' for the opening titles of The Simpsons. To bring his ideas to life he turned to London-based production company 'th1ng', where he was then represented as a commercials director.

Once Sylvain had written a script and redesigned the Simpsons family in his distinctive style, our small crew in London set to work.

Model sheet by Sylvain Chomet

The shot was designed to work as a single, locked off master shot, with each of the characters having their own moment in the spotlight as the gag progressed. In a long shot like this I think the hardest thing to keep control of is clarity: figuring out what happens, to whom, and when. The 'blocking' of a shot should ensure that your eye is directed around the screen seemingly effortlessly, without everything descending into a confused muddle. Because the blocking needed to be so precise I decided against planning the sequence in static storyboard form and instead opted to draw up animatic drawings, full size onto 15 field paper, plotting the positioning and timing of each character on a line test machine.

Neil Boyle at work on the animatic

Getting everything roughly posed  and working harmoniously took me about a week and a half of sketching and shooting. But it was enormous fun. Figuring out the blocking is one of my favourite parts of the film making process - it's a strange combination of performance, psychology, geometry... and general plate spinning.

The animatic - plotting out out the action in pose form.

In the meantime Kirk Hendry set about creating the colour scheme for the Chomet-style Simpsons living room, as well as the overall lighting scheme: the lights going off, flickering back to life, and the ambient glow of the TV screen bathing the room in a bluish glow. He also created many moving shadow effects, and dozens of subtle optical effects to add extra texture to the shot.

Kirk Hendry, creating lighting and textural atmosphere... well as subtly different colour temperatures for the 'feel' of the shot.

When all this work was sent off to France and the USA for approval by Sylvain Chomet and the Simpsons producers, we got to work on the animation itself. Because we had 'fenceposts' for the timing and positioning of the characters already roughly blocked out in the animatic, it was easy to split the animation between myself and fellow animator Peter Dodd, knowing we wouldn't be obscuring or overlapping each other's work.

Peter Dodd, animating Bart and Lisa locked in combat.

As I've written in many posts here, the animatic system really helps keep things on course, while still allowing a great animator like Peter to improvise with his own creative touches.

Inside the mind of a great animator: Peter Dodd's amazingly labyrinthine workings-out look like a work of art unto themselves. But the end result looks effortless.

As each piece of rough animation was completed, the team of assistant animators leaped in, either doing touch-up and inbetween on the original roughs, or a full clean-up and inbetween, depending on what was required.

Assistant animator Justine Waldie

An emaciated Santa's Little Helper - my favourite part to animate.
Animator Neil Boyle, assistant animator Justine Waldie

Assistant animator Aude Carpentier

Assistant animator Aude Carpentier assisting Peter Dodd's animation of the
goose, escaping its fois gras destiny.

It turned out we created quite a mountain of paperwork: sixty seconds worth of animation, featuring seven characters (including the snail on the TV!) all of which were scanned and painted by Donna Spencer, before being seamlessly composited and lit by Kirk.

Assistant animator Alan Henry

Assistant animator Angeline De Silva

Kirk Hendry at work compositing: at this stage only Homer, Santa's Little Helper, the goose and the foreground snail are in colour and in place.

Gerry Gallego simultaneously assisting and growing a magnificent moustache
for charity.

Assistant animator Jay Wren

Assistant animator Katerina Kremasioti

Danny Atkinson adding the final grading touches at 'th1ng'.

A really lovely job to work on - it's rare you get to create a short piece of commercial animation that is not selling something, but is produced just for its own entertainment value. 

Snail for TV dinner! 

A fantastic treat, and a wonderfully talented crew to work with. Fingers crossed another unexpected treat won't be too far away...