THE SIMPSONS NEWS - Simpsons Traffic Cops.
Burns: Get me Steven Spielberg!
Smithers: He’s unavailable.
Burns: Then get me his non-union Mexican equivalent!
Directing an episode of The Simpsons has been described, by one of our veteran Directors as, “being a traffic cop.”
Now, this is an over simplified description of the position but it’s not very far off. Especially, if you realize that the analogy implies that director is making sure that no accidents happen, that everyone is getting where they need to go, everyone gets their turn to move,..etc.
It’s time to show you a Simpsons episode, from a bird’s eye view.
Up to this point, I’ve covered the creation of the show (in Part 1), Storyboarding (in Part 2), the design process (in Part 3), the story reel (Part 4), the viewing of the story reel (in Part 5), Storyboard Revisions (in Part 6), Character Layout (in Part 7), and Timing (in Part 8).
You should be familiar with most of the process by now. This time I’ll talk about the job that oversees most of these positions. The Simpsons Director.
- The Director is Offered an Episode
- He Receives the Script
- He oversees the Storyboarding and Designs
- Directs the Story Reel and presents it to Fox
- Guides the Storyboarding Revisions, the Layout Process and Timing
- Consults the Color Department
- Helps Edit the Director’s Cut
- Watches the Color Screening Fox
The Director is Offered an Episode
Unlike most of the other positions I’ve written about, Directors aren’t assigned an episode, they are offered an episode. The episode they are offered is based on a lot of mysterious factors that the directors themselves aren’t very clear about. One thing is clear though, Al Jean has the final say on what episode is offered to each director.
The reasons they are offered, rather than simply assigned a show, is because they may very well be busy with other work on other shows. Or maybe there are family or personal things that need to get taken care of that production doesn’t know about. In any case, production needs to know if they are available to direct.
If not, then production talks to them about their schedules and adjusts offering the episodes to other directors. Sometimes, directors swap episode to fit their schedule.
This takes place Months in advance of the show actually going into production.
He receives the Script
As soon as the Table Read script is done, the Director gets a copy. This is the first time he sees what he’s in for. He notes how many new locations, backgrounds and characters are in the show.
How complicated is this episode? Are there any large set pieces? This is the part where the director begins to get a the vision for the episode in his head. The vision that will help him guide “the traffic”, in the right direction, later on.
If there’s anything specific that comes to mind when reading the board, he makes a note of it.
He oversees the Storyboarding and Designs
The vision of the show clearly in mind, the director has a meeting with the Storyboard artists. Here he has one goal and one goal only: to make sure he communicates his vision clearly to the board artists.
If there’s specific things he want to see, he makes sure the board artists understand. They talk, swap ideas, and sketch. If there are things that he isn’t sure about, he talks them over with them.
Since the director is the only one with the vision of the whole show in mind, he makes sure that everyone of the storyboard artists are headed in the same direction and are telling a unified story. Any potential problems the episode has are brought up and solved at this stage. Thus avoiding any “traffic jams”.
He also makes sure that any designs in the episode, fits his established vision.
When looking at the rough boards, the Director judges the presentation with eyes focused on the future. How will this be Lay-ed Out? Is this the most economical way of doing this? Is this the clearest way? Will this spoil the joke? How can we make this better?
To this end, he also listens to what the Head Director and David Silverman have to say. Making sure to note it down, since they’re seeing the show with a fresh pair of eyes.
Notes are given to the board artist based on these factors.
And so, those “cars” are guided through.
Directs the Story Reel and presents it to Fox
Each Story Reel artist is given their assignment and instructions. Once again he’s guiding the artists in the direction they need to go.
Every morning, during this three week process, he goes and sees the “dailies” the artists have been turning in and makes notes on each scene. He bases these, once again, on the vision he has for the show. Any notes given are handed to the Story Reel artist to fix that day.
It’s tough because, by this point, the director has seen the show so many times, and knows it so well, he can’t even tell if it’s funny anymore.
This is also a nerve wracking time. This is when the director truly sees if his decisions up to this point are working. If his interpretation of the script was what was expected. This is when the director presents his baby to be judged.
Guides the Storyboarding Revisions, the Layout Process and Timing
Notes from the Story Reel meeting in hand, the revised script is given to the director. Depending on how long it takes for the script to be revised, the Director may have a break of a day or two.
Once the script is in hand, it’s back to “directing traffic,” but this time, it’s rush hour.
Just because the storyboards are getting revised, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have to hand out scenes to his Layout artists. He also has to tell, second unit, what they need to be doing.
On top of that, once some of the easier Layout Scenes are turned in, he has to check them and if approved, send them off to the background artist. Anything finished then needs to be sent to the timer.
Meanwhile he still needs to make sure that the storyboards revisions get done so he can hand out any new sections. And the revised board.
Lot’s of things going on at once at this point. Traffic can be hell.
Two weeks in, the boards get revised and it’s all about making sure that the vision for the show comes through. Checking Layouts, checking Backgrounds, making sure new designs get approved. Making sure the timing on scenes is what was envisioned.
Trying to make sure to communicated the vision to everyone else. Making sure the deadline is met. Solving unforeseen problems.
Lot’s of traffic control.
Consults the Color Department
A taste of things to come. That’s what the color department gives the director.
I’ll be writing about the Color Department soon. To be honest I forgot all about them.
The color department is where the director goes and sees what his show will look like once it’s in color. Though the color department is pretty autonomous, the director is necessary here, because he’s the only one with the blueprint of the entire episode in his head. Here, he can catch any inconsistencies or gags that require just the right colors in order to work.
Once the colors are shipped. The episode is done and it’s up to Korea to do the rest.
Helps Edit the Director’s Cut
Once the rough color version of the show comes back from Korea, it’s time to go look at the final edit.
The editor, in this case, has been working on the show for years and knows what he’s doing.
The director’s job here is to check the show to see if it looks like what he wanted the show to look like. He’s the only one who know what the original vision for the show was and whether or not it was met.
Anything he finds that is wrong is made a note of. The Korean studio will get these notes so the problems can be fixed.
Small adjustments are made here to the timing and the editing so it all works according to the director’s vision.
A final director’s cut is then, put together.
Watches the Color Screening at Fox
Similar to the Story Reel screening, the Color Screening is seen by the producers at the Fox studios. Only this time, not only is the director present but the Retake Director is also there.
Once again, notes are given on the episode. Yes, even at this stage of the game. Only thing is, any fixes will not be done by the director at this point. The Retake Director takes the show and executes all the fixes.
In other words, after this screening, the baton is passed to the Retake Director. He will take over the traffic from this point on and make sure the fixes are done before the show airs.
The original director can now go off into the sunset, or get back to work on whatever other episode he had agreed to direct.
What do you think? Is the job, what you thought it would be?
If you want to go in depth on any of the process that was discussed, I’ve written about most of them in earlier posts.
Want to get just a little bit more insight? Sign up to get an e-mail from me. I send it the same day I post on my blog and I like to add info in it that I couldn’t fit into my blog post.
This time around, I’m writing about the favorite part of the process the director I got my info from, likes the most. And which director it was that said that directors where like traffic cops.
Don’t miss out next time.
ART – Refining the designs as I go.
Action, action and more action.
Enter the Zombie Winged Ape.
I’m very happy with how exiting these shots look. I also like the shapes I’m giving Rob at this point. If you look at earlier roughs of the character, he seems different.
I think after doing these rough boards, I’ll have a much better feel for what I want the characters to look.
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