How a Simpsons episode is made Part 6: Fixing Humpty Dumpty, the task of a Storyboard Revisionist.

THE SIMPSONS NEWS – Fixing Humpty Dumpty, the task of a Simpsons Storyboard Revisionist

Simpsons Quote:

Bart: “And why did Humpty Dumpty have a great fall?”
Navajo Kid: “Because he took his eyes off the prize?”
Bart: “That’s right – you stay on the ball, you stay on the wall.”

“All the king’s horses and all the kings men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again”…that’s only because they didn’t have a Simpsons Storyboard Revisionist around.

Our job is to patch things up, puzzle things out and put things back together.

In Part 1, I wrote about what happens at the Fox studios before the animation studio gets involved.

I wrote about the process of Storyboarding, in Part 2,

I wrote about the design process in Part 3.

Part 4, was about how a story reel is put together.

In Part 5, we got a sneak peek at what goes on, when that story reel is seen by Fox.

This week, it gets personal. This week I talk about what I do for a living.

It looks something like this:

  • We receive the revised script from Fox
  • The board artists are assigned an act
  • We put the puzzle together
  • We present the roughs
  • We finish up the boards

We Receive the Revised Script from Fox

I apologize for not being more specific about how the script is revised.  It’s a mysterious process that happens “off screen” for me.  Needless to say, between the time after the story reel screening and the time I receive the script, the writers fix it all up so I can start my work.

There are two board revisionists on the show. My partner and myself.

We’re given two weeks to revise our assignments before moving on to another episode and beginning again. Each one of us is generally assigned an Act a week, and when we have the time, one of us is given the Couch Gag to board.

When I get a revised script, I can expect a broken show.  I don’t know exactly know how broken, I just know it’s broken. By broken, I don’t mean it’s a bad show, I simply mean, it’s been rewritten and is now different from what it was.

A quick flip through the script will tell me how heavy the rewrite is. There are Astrix placed anywhere on the script that has been modified or rewritten. Sometimes it’s a heavy rewrite and sometimes it’s lite.

The first thing I’ve got to do before I even read the revised script, is familiarize myself with the show. I go on the server, download and watch the story reel. The same one that was seen at Fox.

Once that’s done, I still don’t read the script. I usually wait for my assignment to be given to me.

The Board Artists are Assigned an Act

Getting an assignment is as simple as the director telling me, “You’ve got Act 1″.

Depending on the director, he may want to go over the section before I start working on it, or he may not.

This is the point where I finally start reading the revised script.  I’ve found that I can get a better idea of the changes I’m going to be applying to the Act once I start the Act itself.

What I usually do is start putting in the new dialogue, notes, and descriptions into the scene as I read through the Act.  I also delete scenes that are cut and put blank panels in areas that are completely new.

Once that’s done, that when I know how easy or tough my job will be for the week.

Every rewrite is different.  Some rewrites are lite, and some are really heavy.  It’s during the heavy rewrites that the familiar storyboard artist death clock starts Tic, Tic, Ticking away. Luckily, it doesn’t happen every time.

We Put the Puzzle Together

The real work of the board revisionist begins here.

Board revisionist are in the unique position of being able to build on what has gone before. This means that we’re not coming up with too many things from scratch.  We often look at the board and see if there are shots or set ups that we might be able to re-use for newly written sections.

This makes the job a lot easier than doing the first pass of the board.  That said, this very advantage also makes the job that much more difficult.  The problem is that we’re often asked to preserve what’s already there while putting in the new stuff without breaking the flow of the episode.

We have to make sure what ever new work we put in, seems to flow, as if it was part of the original draft.

This is not so difficult to do when it’s a brand new sequence that doesn’t directly link to the sequences that bookend it.  But when it’s a big fix of an existing sequence, that’s when it get really tricky.

The fix can be as minor as a character no longer having a line, or as big as a whole new action taking place midway through the sequence. It doesn’t matter, what matters is, whatever the change was “breaks” the sequence in such a way that it no longer works anymore.

Suddenly, I’ve got two parts of a puzzle that no longer fit together. My job is to figure out a way to make it fit so that it seem like it’s has always been that way.  Easier said than done.

As as board revisionist, we have to bring out every trick, cheat, and slight of hand in film vocabulary to make things work.

Oh no! Homer needs to be on the other side of the room by the end of the sequence, but he no longer has that line that made him walk over there to begin with! How in blazes is he suppose to get to the other side to deliver his joke? CUT to a quick reaction shot of Bart or Marge. CUT back to Homer who is magically in the other side of the room. He must of walked over there while he was off screen. Problem solved.

The job is full of big and small problems like that. Some are easy to fix, others…well, let’s just say, I’ve taken a week and half trying to revise an Act before. This is bad since I’m suppose to revise an Act a week. It happens.

We Present the Roughs

Before I do any kind of finished drawing on a revision, I present the director a rough of every single fix I intend to do.  Sometimes, this is the only time the director and I discuss the show.

He takes a good long look at my proposed solutions and we discuss them. Sometimes he might simply adjust what  I show him, and sometimes he offers brand new solutions.

I have to admit, this is one of the more fun parts for me.  I don’t know why.  Perhaps because it seems so collaborative.

It’s interesting to note that this is similar to the rough meeting you have when presenting a first draft of a storyboard, but somehow, it’s less ego bruising.

We Finish up the Boards

Once all the roughs are approve, it’s all about rushing to the finish line.  Drawing as fast as possible to deliver a finished revised board before the deadline comes crushing down.

I usually do this while listening to podcasts.

It seems I’m barely catching my breath from having turned in a board before it’s time to start puzzling out another episode all over again.

Good times.

So that’s it for this week’ s post. Let me know if anything is unclear or if you have any questions.

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VIDEOS/MOVIES – The Longest Daycare trailer

Remember that “special project” I wrote about months ago? The one that we were killing ourselves over and didn’t know if it was even going to see the light of day? (If you want to read all about it, simply click on anytime the phase  “special project” is highlighted, and it will take you a previous post where it was mentioned).

It is seeing the light right now. Here’s the trailer.

ART – The fight begins, enter the Winged Blade Ape

Here’s a secret for ya. I actually got a LOT done on my rough board this week but I’m only posting five pages. Why?

Because if I posted them all, it would be way too many.  I could have posted more than five but there wasn’t a good cut past the fifth page.

I’m so excited, it feels like the story is coming together, now that I see the action.


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3 Comments

  1. Zartok-35 says:

    Hello again, Mr. Escobar. Your informative series is coming along nicely, I see. It’s nice to have some clarity on exactally what a board revisionist does; the Humpty Dumpty analogy is very clever!

    Do you remember doing any work on the Frank Grimes episode? Thats a great one! I did another post on the forums, but it’s very speculative. Take a look if you want:
    http://www.nohomers.net/showthread.php?97702-NHC-Weekly-Episode-Club-v3-0-This-Week-Homer-s-Enemy/page23&p=2965600#post2965600

    • Luis says:

      I love these things you guys do. I find them fascinating. The Frank Grimes episode is my favorite. I think it’s truly interesting speculation on your part. This show was an interesting case though. Especially since Frank Grimes’ model was changed after the animatic.

      As you know, I was part of Jim’s permanent crew and I was kept on as part of the revision crew, which at the time consisted of three people. Just about all my scenes had Frank in them. I touched most of the Frank Grimes scenes in the episode. Mostly to revise the model.

      I put a lot of my mannerisms into Frank. I honestly consider him “my character”. I really got attached to him. I’m most proud of the Frank Grimes flipping out scenes I did. Especially those in the house and at the end when he dies. I really got into his frustrations.

      I originally did the death scene but after the model change both Mark Ervin and I revised the Frank Grimes drawings in those scenes.

      Frank Grimes was one of two characters I killed for Jim. The other character I killed was Maude.

      I revised some of the “Milhouse and Bart in the factory scenes” but I don’t remember if I was originally assigned them or just revised them. It’s been so long.

      Thanks for the link. Let me know if you want to know anything about specific episodes I’ve worked on. If I remember anything I’d be happy to give you anecdotes.

      Maybe you can suggest something you’d like me to write about when I’m done with this making of series.

      • Zartok-35 says:

        Thank you, thank you very much! I’ll be sure to ask again the next time your name comes up! Simpson anecdotes are always great; I and the others on the forum love hearing about the inner workings of the show in its prime. If you want me to help you with anything, I’ll be glad to do it!

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