My experience working on the Banksy Couch Gag. Just a little bit of coloring.
THE SIMPSONS NEWS
Wow. As of the time of this writing the Couch Gag written by artist Banksy, has just aired. It seemed to have made quite a stir. I thought I’d write about my experience working on that Couch Gag.
In July, I was put to work on show 6. The show was directed by veteran Director Bob Anderson (at the time, I cryptically wrote a little bit about it HERE and HERE under THE SIMPSONS NEWS. When I refer to the “guest writer” I’m talking about Banksy). Show 6 had gone through the Story Reel stage, which basically means that the writers and producers had seen a rough story reel version of the show and had made changes to the script. My job as a storyboard revisionist is to take those notes and make the changes necessary to the current storyboard to reflect said notes. This is what I expected to do when I went into Bob’s office that Monday. Instead, he told me he wasn’t giving me an Act to fix but rather, he was going to put me on the Couch Gag.
I raised my eye brows,
He smiled and gestured to a chair,
“Here, have a seat. You get to do something special.” I sat. “Do you know who Banksy is?”
“Oh.” He blinked, “He’s this famous artist tagger guy. They made a documentary about him.” Bob proceeded to enlighten me on what he knew about Banksy and what he thought. I listened,
“Yeah I’ve heard there was a special Couch Gag they had gotten from a special artist.”
“Oh yeah? Who told you?”
“I don’t remember actually. Just came up in conversation.”
“Well, this is it. You get to storyboard it.”
He took out sketches papers and notes, “These are yours. I’ve already made the notes so I’m going to go through them with you. These are the notes from Al, and this is the ‘script’. Which really isn’t a script but you’ll see.”
He handed me a bunch of papers and explained what they were. One group of papers where Banksy‘s “storyboards”. Which were actually drawings drawn on letter paper with little squares on the left with a drawing and a description on the right describing what the drawing on the left meant. This was “the script”. The other group of sheets were the same little squares but put into storyboard format. Only, they really weren’t working since the drawings where more story sketches than storyboards. Bob explained that it was my job to take Banksy‘s story sketches and make a functioning storyboard out of them. He had drawn in red Sharpy all over the rough “board” indicating what he thought the camera ought to be doing and making adjustments to the drawings. He explained to me what he wanted done, what shots where the same shots, where the cuts were, what details needed to be on them,…etc. He recomposed shots and gave me suggestions on what I needed to do to make some shots work.
He then showed me the “character designs” of the “Koreans” Banksy wanted. There was a note, from the producers, on one of the sheets that read, “Make sure Korean animators are not ethnically offensive. No Buck teeth, etc.” Ironically they all looked Chinese (straw hats and all).
During this meeting I turned to Bob confused,
“Okay, so this is a commentary about how messed up we treat Koreans but he makes them all look Chinese? How does that make sense? Is that part of the joke?”
“I don’t know, but that’s what they want.” Keep in mind that Bob is married to a Korean woman and he seemed a bit annoyed. Ironically, there was a description of a Mexican worker stuffing the Bart dolls; which I later drew as a Sombrero waring, big mustache toting, poncho using guy (I’m Hispanic and I though it was funny). The note from Fox was that it was too racist and they had me change him into a Korean. It made no sense to me because I drew a Mexican stereotype to represent a Mexican, but Banksy had drawn a Chinese stereotype to represent a Korean.
In the final version, the one that aired, all the Koreans looked Korean. I guess they had enough time to think about it and change their minds.
And then there was this conversation:
“So is the decapitated dolphin head dispensing tape, or is it licking the boxes shut like an envelope?”
“I think it should just come across the top of the box as if it had tape on it.”
“Does the tongue have tape?”
“Not sure yet. You can try making it lick the box as if it was an envelope and we’ll see what they say.”
In the end, they didn’t like it. They had me change it.
And then this conversation happened:
“Yeah this scene where the kid’s arms melts in the toxic waste tank is out. It slows things down.” Bob stares a the sketch, “Why is he dipping cells in the toxic waste anyway? Is it bonding the paint to the cells?”
“I don’t think it matters, does it?”
After the two hours it took to explain what need to be done, I took the work to my office and stared blankly at my computer screen.
“Wow, this going to be a lot of work.” I rolled up my sleeves, read all the notes again. Looked at Banksy‘s story sketches and began trying to make it all make sense.
For two weeks I worked on the Couch Gag. I had to find ways to keep the spirit of Banksy‘s sketches while reinventing the shots. I looked at INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM for some inspiration. I added shadows and atmosphere to the boards in order to try to “sell” the final look of the thing. At one point, I had to reapply the shadows because the grays I had originally used where too dark to be reproduced in the copy machine. This set me back a bit.
Sometime during the process, my old office mate came in and asked me what I was doing. I told him and showed him the boards and sketches. He stared at them and stared at me and was just wide eyed,
“Are you serious?! They’re doing this?! No way,” staring at the sheets, “These are HIS drawings?”
“Yeah, and check these out,” I handed him Banksy’s designs of the Koreans,
“Wow, this is so messed up. Wow. Crazy. Can’t believe they’re doing this.”
I had fun drawing the panda getting beaten, and the unicorn I drew was pretty much used verbatim when they did its final design. Bob’s comment when he saw my unicorn was,
“That’s one sad looking unicorn.”
We sent the board to the head director of the studio who had notes I had to integrate. I was also pressured to hurry up so they could get the board sent to Banksy and Al Jean for their notes, which I also had to revise the board for. There were last minute notes and late nights just trying to get it done. I ended up doing two version of the final board. One for Fox and the other for the studio. The Fox one had less drawings in it so that the producers didn’t think the final version was going to be too slow. The longer version was so that it could be more easily shot and turned into a story reel, since it had more poses per panel.
At one point, I started this conversation with Bob,
“Man, they’re really making a big deal out of this Couch Gag. I mean, It’s just a Couch Gag right?”
“It’s important to them.”
“Yeah but, it’s not like anyone is going to pay attention to it. How will they know it was Banksy that wrote it. I mean people are just gonna look at it and think, ‘That was a weird Couch Gag,’ forget about it and just keep watching the show.”
Boy was I wrong.
There was a LOT of pressure on me those two weeks because I new the producers would be scrutinizing what I did. When it was finally done, I was relieved and proud.
A week or so later, someone coming near my office, asked me if I’d done the Banksy boards. I said I had. She then turned to the coworker behind her and told her I had done the boards. It seems the person that asked, was asking in the other person behalf. That coworker nodded and walked away without looking at me. At first I thought that coworker had wanted to know because they were cool. I took it as a compliment, but then I realized, she was Korean, and I had probably insulted her because I had drawn the Koreans looking Chinese.
I wish I could put up my boards and Banksy‘s drawings here on my site but I’m afraid of getting in trouble so I’ll play it safe. I’ll just link to the Couch Gag:
(For those of you coming in late to these posts, if you want to read what my project is about, CLICK HERE to learn about the general world the story takes place in, and CLICK HERE if you want to know the story itself.)
Started to “model out” the drawings this week. I only got to work on the drawing on Sunday so I didn’t get much done. I only got two out the three Sorcerers started. I still have a bit more to do on them but it’s a start:
I think this is actually what I want. I like the way it look and I’m enjoying myself. I’ll see how much time it takes. If it isn’t too bad, I’ll color the whole cartoon this way. It’s not like I’m going to animate it so I can get away with a more rendered out look.
I’m using my tonal study as a guide and I’m very glad I have it. It’s taking away the guess work so I can concentrate on getting the look and the brushes right. Hopefully next week I’ll have more to write and show.
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