A Lesson, Indirectly Learned from Brad Bird.

September 27, 2012 in THE SIMPSONS NEWS, WEBSITES

THE SIMPSONS NEWS – A Lesson, Indirectly Learned from Brad Bird.


Simpsons quote (…sort of):

“When in doubt, lower the horizon line” – Brad Bird

The quote above was taped to Simpson Director Steve Moore’s office door.

It had a self-caricature of Brad Bird happily pushing down a line while he stared straight at you. It was obviously an enlarged copy of a doodle/note that Brad Bird had written Steve at some point.

That thing was taped to Steve’s door for YEARS. The only reason it isn’t anymore, is because we moved to a new studio and I think Steve forgot to post it up.

I’ve worked for Steve more than any other Director on the show.  He’s been really good to me, and he even championed me to have the current position I have now. For which I’m truly grateful.

Going in and out of his office for all those years and seeing that note posted on his door, insured that I would have that quote embedded into my brain forever.

So, what does that DO to a person?

What it Did to Me

Just because I had a studio job didn’t mean that “I had arrived”. Through out my years on the show, I’ve also taken years of drawing class. Almost all of which where taught by industry professionals. And none of them gave me a grade nor college credit.

I took them, NOT to have a sheet of paper TELLING people I was TAUGHT to draw. I took them so I could SHOW people I CAN draw (and I still try to go figure drawing every week).

One of the classes I took was an animation development class. It was like what would probably be called a “Concept Art” class only for animation. Part of what was taught in that class was how to create well designed and composed environments.

The reason I bring this up is because of the enormous influence that class had on me and my work from that point on.  That class, combined with Brad Bird’s quote made me hyper aware of how I could improve the layouts of the scenes I had to work on.

The Result

Sometime in 1996, I worked on the episode BART AFTER DARK.

I believe this was around the time I was taking my development classes. My mind was reeling with the theories of dynamic compositions.

So what happens when you learn something new? Well, you can’t WAIT to try it out, of course.

Director Dominic Polcino, handed me a VERY involved section of the show. Lot’s of crowds and destruction. I couldn’t WAIT to apply what I had learned in my classes. So I took one look at the storyboards that were given to me of the scenes I was to layout and I did what Brad Bird had brainwashed me to do.

I lowered the horizon line.

In case you don’t know what that means, to put it simply, I lowered the camera in just about every single shot.

Behold, the sequence that is almost all up shot:

Okay, so the sequence begins with the scene above of some of the characters walking to the gate.  The board had the shot composed with the camera at about eye level. I lowered it.  The result was a much more dynamic angle on the characters and a more interesting size comparison.

As I was working on these scene, the biggest challenge I faced was the character designs.  The Simpsons just aren’t really designed to look good in any other angle besides 3/4 view.  When you lower the camera, you really have to solve the design so that it looks right.

For example:

The scene above was really difficult. The women had lip stick and needed to still look pretty and “on model” but how far back should I draw the bottom lip? How much should I push the overbite?

Well, I ended up cheating by diminishing the overbite a bit. Then they looked okay. But it took a few tries to get that right.

And then there’s Helen Lovejoy:

She’s got a one of the strangest designs on the show. Drawing from any angle is tough but from a low angle was just painful. I don’t think I got it right but it worked okay for this scene.

Again, I think this shot also had a much more straight forward composition but I lowered the horizon line. I also think the board had the characters in the background much more straight on and flat.  I added two point perspective here and made the crowd more interesting to look at.

In the drawing of Belle above, I really “squared off” her face to work with the perceptive of the drawing. I literally drew her face as a box and put her features on it.

Once again, I lowered the horizon line on this drawing. The version of the shot in the storyboard was a little more straight forward.

OH, and by the way, can you tell I was having a little too much fun drawing the women? Yeah, I was single at the time. Sorry.

That said, drawing women is really really fun. Simply ask, just about any female artist. It’s usually their favorite subject to draw.

BIG pan on this one. A lot going on. This one took a while.

Helen knocking over plants, Maude stomping, Apu on a tree, Frink chopping down the tree, Otto throwing rocks, Jimbo jumping the fence.

And the cop coming toward camera had to work within the perceptive I had established.

Oh, and there goes Ned running in the background with a torch.

Below is yet another two point perspective with a low horizon:

I really posed out the stair climbing by Homer on this one.

You can really see that it was me who did this scenes because it has some of my “stand by acting”.  Belle has her arm in front of her with a “claw” hand.  I tend to draw the “claw” hand a lot.

And if you look at the blond woman in the back, she has her fist up in front of her and her shoulder up.  That’s my “I’m worried” Anime acting.

Low horizon again. Not the best moment to have gotten a screen grab of. Twin hand acting, is bad.

This is one of the few scenes where I didn’t over pose the women in the background.

Above we have, two point perceptive, low horizon and the Background artist didn’t re-draw my fountain. It was drawn fast and rough. I though the Background artist was going to put it on model. I’m not sure why it didn’t happen.

I made up the look of the mermaid on the fountain thinking it would be re-drawn. I made it look a bit like The Little Mermaid. No, I don’t have ANYTHING against the movie or character.

I remember drawing Moleman here, and it was a pain in the neck.

The scene was never meant to be seen like this. It’s cheated quite a bit. The camera move was meant to hide the perceptive cheats.

Above is another bad screen grab. Twinning again. Low horizon and two point perceptive.

Oops! There goes the Little Mermaid.

And above we have the final low horizon line shot of the sequence. A two point perspective AND Anime acting.

The thing about setting the camera down low is that you tend to get an interesting variety of sizes and shape, pretty quickly. It’s almost, instant depth of field. Especially if you have a foreground element like Homer above.

High Horizon Line

The next two scenes below have a high horizon line.

Believe me, I tried to lower the horizon but the director wouldn’t let me.

when it comes to crowd shots, I often try to compose them with a low horizon line, that way you only draw one visible row of people and the rest of the crowd is obscured behind the first group.  It’s less to draw.

Couldn’t get away with that in the shot below:

Yeah, the shot above was time consuming. And there’s Homer with my Anime acting.

OUCH! Yet another screen grab with bad twin hands acting. Don’t try this at home kid.

Had I tried this shot from a low angle, the crowd would have blocked Homer.

This shot was done as one long shot and was broke up into three in editing.

Once again, I have my over posed women in the background.

One thing I will say I’m happy with in this scene, is the acting on Homer’s singing where he sings, “Caaaaare”.  I thought it worked well.

An Open Message to My E-mail Readers

Thank you so much for responding to my question on last week’s e-mail. I wrote this post in direct response to you giving me feedback.

Next time I promise to respond personally to your e-mail. I’ve come up with a way I could do that which I mention in THIS week’s e-mail.

Again, thank you.

Now, if you’re reading this and haven’t opted in to receive some behind the scenes e-mail and other nuttiness, what are you waiting for?

In the e-mail I sent out this week, I wrote about and posted screenshots, of the sexiest scenes I did on this episode. Scenes which made me hope no one walked into my cubicle and caught me drawing. Very embarrassing.

You’ve missed out on this e-mail already but don’t miss out on the next one.

…well, tell you what, if at least ten people or more sign up to my e-mail list BEFORE next week’s post (next Thursday), I’ll send it out just to those new people too.

Sound good?


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