How the look of ‘The Simpsons’ has changed over three decades of 2D animation

On May 23, 2021, the 32nd season finale of “The Simpsons” will air on Fox, finishing off a landmark season where the show celebrated its 700th episode. The series has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a segment on “The Tracey Ullman Show.” On air for 32 years and counting, it’s become the longest-running scripted series on prime time, the longest-running American animated series, and the longest-running American sitcom. And Homer, Marge, Lisa, Bart, and Maggie have evolved a lot over the course of three decades — whether you look at the style of their movement or the details of their character designs, all the way down to pupil size. In this episode of “Movies Insider,” we turned to David Silverman and Al Jean, two of the main minds behind “The Simpsons,” to find out how the show’s animation evolved from the rough-around-the-edges style of Matt Groening’s early sketches to the crisp, clean look of the show in its 32nd season.

David Silverman has been an animator on “The Simpsons” since the days of the “Tracey Ullman” shorts. Serving as a writer, director, and producer on the show since its first season, David directed the first episode of “The Simpsons,” along with 2007’s “The Simpsons Movie” and the 2012 Oscar–nominated “Simpsons” short “The Longest Daycare.” David also designed the show’s iconic opening credits.

Al Jean has worked on “The Simpsons” since its first season, and was part of the show’s original writers’ room. He was co-showrunner on “The Simpsons,” along with Mike Reiss, during its third and fourth seasons, and has been its sole showrunner from season 13 to present. He was a producer and writer on “The Simpsons Movie,” “The Longest Daycare,” and dozens of the “Simpsons”‘ earliest episodes.

We talked to David and Al about how big moments in the history of “The Simpsons” — like ditching hand-painted cel animation for digital painting in season 14 or transitioning into the widescreen HD format in season 20 — affected the show’s look and storytelling style. And we take a look at how the wacky, sometimes crude animation of the early seasons grew into the more sophisticated style seen in the show today.

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