Making of The Simpsons

Transcript by Benjamin Robinson

When "The Simpsons" first aired as a regular series on Fox, the network kept most of the behind-the-scenes information under its corporate hat. To reveal too much, they felt, would take away some of the magic of the show.

Of course, the entertainment press quickly ferreted out and published many of these secrets. The show somehow survived. So, in (roughly) early April of 1993, Fox decided to air an official backstage look at "The Simpsons." Below, you'll find a transcript of this short film. After that, I've added a few observations of my own.

% Quick-cutting shots show the animators and actors hard at work at 
% various aspects of creating a "Simpsons" episode. An upbeat 
& announcer introduces the special.

Announcer: The "Simpsons" phenomenon began when twelve-time Emmy and 
four-time Academy Award winner James L. Brooks got together 
with "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening and executive 
producer Sam Simon to bring animation back to prime time.

% Our tour begins where the Simpsons themselves began -- with Matt 
% Groening. We catch him at a desk in his slightly cluttered office.

Groening: My drawing style definitely comes from school. Um, it's a, 
it's a drawing style, it's based on being able to draw while 
... not ... looking at what you're doing [demonstrates on a 
sketch pad] so the teacher thinks you're paying attention to 
the class. There [holds up picture of (I think) Binky from 
"Life in Hell"] you see, pretty good.

% Cut to some shots of writers in their native habitat.

Announcer: But before the animation begins, a brilliant team of 
writers and producers develop the scripts for each episode. 
Mike Reiss: The time we put into a script is, is probably two or 
three times what you would put into a standard script 
even on a very good sitcom. 
James L. Brooks: We have these retreats that we do where we try to, uh, 
crack the season. We lock ourselves into a hotel room 
for around ten or twelve hours. We work out maybe, 
you know, a lot of the stories we're going to do in a 

% We see a micro-clip from the show, with Bart in Sunday school.

Bart: Ooo, baby!

% Al Jean, in an office with a Bart doll, takes up the explanation.

Al Jean: ... and over the next few months, we develop those into a 
script, [shot of Homer on Dimoxinil] then the whole staff 
will re-write it to get it in shape for the table reading.

% The table reading takes place in a wood-paneled room with a window 
% that looks out over the city. The table itself is huge -- big enough 
% to seat at least thirty people. Crowded around it are the actors, 
% writers, plus probably a few interns and hangers-on. The camera 
% lingers long enough for us to see Harry Shearer, Dan Castellaneta, 
% Yeardley Smith, and Nancy Cartwright.

Castellaneta: [in Homer voice] ... aw, stupid roller skates. [the 
people assembled around the table laugh heartily] 
Cartwright: [in Bart voice] Dad, I know I didn't hold up my end of he 
bargain, but can I go to Kamp Krusty? 
Castellaneta: Yeah, sure. I didn't want you hanging around all summer 

% The actors reflect on their roles on the show. As each actor is 
% shown, a head shot of their primary character appears on the screen 
% as a visual reminder. First up is the voice of Homer, Dan 
% Castellaneta, who explains one of the deepest mysteries of our age: 
% why Homer's voice changed.

Castellaneta: Ah, it started out with kind of a Walter Matthau voice -- 
[switches to "old" Homer voice] like this [switches back 
to normal voice] and, uh, but it was too hard for me to 
yell and, and do some of the things that Homer goes up 
and down so quickly. [makes "up and down" gestures with 
his hand] 
Homer: Yes! Alright! Woo! 
Castellaneta: I [switches to "new, improved" Homer voice] went down to 
a deeper register which was easier for me. 
Homer: D'oh!

% For the rest of Dan's characters, the shot changes to split screen. 
% The right side shows Dan; the left, the character.

Krusty: ...and hey, kids! [laughs] 
Castellaneta: [in Quimby voice] ...and of course Mayor Quimby who is, 
uh, based of course, uh, loosely on, uh, the, uh, 
Barney: Hey Homer, how you doin'. 
[cut to a full-screen clip of Barney talking to Homer at 
You should only drink to enhance your social skills. 

% We now meet the woman behind Marge, Julie Kavner. Wearing a dark 
% sweater, dark glasses, and a purple ball cap, she looks more like a 
% whistleblower in the Witness Protection Program than a television 
% star.

Kavner: I do Marge's whole family, hu-huh.

% Brief clip from "Principal Charming (7F15)":

Lisa: Do you think you'll ever get married? 
Selma: Oh, I dunno. Why? Do you know somebody? 
Lisa: No.

Kavner: I think that they're able to tell the truth more than, um, on 
a regular television show. 
Marge: I've started a crusade against cartoon violence.

% Yeardley Smith explains the relationship between Lisa and herself.

Smith: Perhaps I am the most like my character of any of us. 
Lisa: I'm going to be eight years old. It's a big number; almost 
double digits. 
Smith: Lisa has great hope for a world of sympathy and compassion.

% Harry Shearer lists the voices he does. As he lists them, we see a 
% brief shot of the corresponding character. An interesting note: 
% with the previous actors, the caption listed the main character they 
% portray. Harry's caption reads, "You-name-it."

Shearer: I do Mr. Burns, Smithers, Otto the school bus driver ... 
Otto: Cool! 
Shearer: ... Mr. Skinner. [switch to shot of Harry Shearer, sporting 
an Abbie Hoffman-esque beard] I've been told I've done as 
many as fifteen in a, in a given show. 
Burns: Revenge is a dish best served cold.

% Hank Azaria is shown outside the studio. As he talks, an inset in 
% the corner of the screen shows what they look like.

Azaria: Whatever Dan and Harry don't take, I kind of get.

% Cut to one of Bart's famous prank calls.

Bart: Is Jacques there? 
Moe: Who? 
Bart: Jacques -- last name strap. 
Moe: Hey guys, I'm looking for a Jacques Strap. 
Bart: [laughs]
Azaria: Just knowing I'm a part of cartoon history like this is 

% The tour of cast members concludes with Nancy Cartwright. Instead 
% of the actress, though, we see a shot of Bart Simpson.

Cartwright: And they showed me a picture of what Bart looked like...

% Finally, we get to see what Ms. Cartwright looks like. In the 
% corner of the screen is a little picture of Bart, waving at us.

Cartwright: ...and then you, you come up with the voice, and I just, 
you know, I said, [in Bart's voice] "Well, this is Bart, 
you know," [back to normal] and it just kind of came out.

% Now that we've met the cast, we get to see them at work: the next 
% shot is of the recording studio. The studio is a big, darkened 
% chamber; the only lights in the room are trained on stands holding 
% copies of the dialog the actors are reading that day.

Announcer: Next, the actors record the voice tracks. 
Smith: [as Lisa] I no longer fear Hell, because I've been to 
Kamp Krusty. 
Castellaneta: [as Homer] [chuckles] Eh, kid's letters from camp. 
Cartwright: [as Bart] Krusty is coming. Krusty is coming. 
Director: Great. Cut!

% At that time, we cut to a drawing of Bart. The "real" Bart, wearing 
% a tux, pops up in front of it.

Bart: I know you've all been wondering where I get my incredible 
[*] good looks. Obviously, not from Homer. 
[* - "Bart twitch" on incredible] 
Homer: D'oh!

% The secret of Bart's incredible good looks lies in the Klasky-Csupo 
% animation studios. [Well, it did when this special was made.] 
% First, we get a look at the Klasky-Csupo building, which looks more 
% like a small apartment building than a studio. The camera slowly 
% zooms in on a cardboard cutout of Marge sitting in one of the 
% windows.

Announcer: Here at Klasky-Csupo in Hollywood, a brilliant team of 
artists create that special "Simpsons" look.

% Finally, we peek inside, first at people doing pen and ink sketches, 
% then at animators working on storyboards. Steve Moore, layout 
% artist, explains the process to us.

Moore: After the, uh, voice tracks are done, uh, we use, uh, both 
the script and the track to come up with the images that we 
need to tell the story. What we do in storyboard is we try 
to get a blueprint of the show.

% Cut to sketches of Bart in a suit (from "Bart the Murderer (8F03)," 
% most likely).

Announcer: The next step is to design characters and new background 
layouts. Then the exact colors for the characters and 
backgrounds are generated with the help of a computer. 
[shot of a Macintosh showing a picture of the inside of 
Moe's bar] Then the pictures are shot on what is called an 
Animatic, which creates a blueprint of what will later be 
animated overseas.

% The Animatic looks like a big camera pointing down at a table. A 
% technician places a "wire frame" drawing, showing just the outlines 
% of the characters, on the table and prepares to take a picture of it. 
% A nearby television shows the results of this work; another TV above 
% it shows the finished version of the same scene.

Homer: Marge, you're my wife and I love you very much, but you're 
living in a world of make-believe.

% From the world of make-believe, we go to the world of reality, to 
% talk with animation director Wesley Archer.

Archer: This is a cartoon show, but it's a lot less cartoony than a 
lot of animation.

% A brief shot of Lisa on the sax gives way to another animation 
% director, David Silverman.

Silverman: We are left with a great deal of freedom as far as what ... 
how the style of the show is going to be and how the style 
of the camerawork is going to be.

% Next, we see an orchestra playing in a large recording studio.

Announcer: The entire production process for each episode takes six 
months. Then it's ready for the final touches which 
include being scored by a full orchestra. 
Alf Clausen: [billed as the composer in the captions] I think it makes 
the show seem more real. The various emotions take on 
much more meaning and much more depth. Acoustic music 
seems to do that.

% The musicians go to work, playing in sync with monitors showing the 
% action in the episode. 
% The last person to speak is executive produce Sam Simon.

Simon: Just from the moment it was on the air people embraced it and 
appreciated it. So I see it as kind of a triumph of, of 
doing your work from that very pure place of, of just doing 
stuff that you, uh, personally enjoy.

% We leave with a performance of "Lisa's Birthday Song" by Michael 
% Jackson and Bart Simpson.

Bart and Michael: [singing] Lisa, it's your birthday, 
Happy Birthday, Lisa! 
Announcer: The Simpsons, Thursdays on Fox! 
Bart: Yeah!

% [End of Show. Time: 4'52"]

Personal Comments & Observations

  1. Among other things, Mr. Groening's office contains the following:
    • A Bart Simpson stand-up cardboard cutout. He looks as if he is ticked off about something.
    • A Maggie cutout, catching her in mid-suck. (Sam Simon has the same thing in his office.)
    • A Homer doll in a chair.
    • A Macintosh, possibly a Mac IIci. Somehow, didn't you just know he was a Mac user?

  2. Do you suppose that the cutouts in people's offices are there all the time, or just when television crews are filming?

  3. During the summer interlude between "Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part I (2F16)" and "Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part II (2F20)," a journalist asked various cast members Who Did It. (No one told, of course.) When the reporter got to Ms. Kavner, he described her as wearing almost exactly the same outfit shown in this special. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  4. People who track the length of Yeardley Smith's hair may be interested to note that, for this special, it is slightly longer in back that it was during her tenure on "Herman's Head."

  5. At least with respect to voice selection, it sounds as though Dan Castellaneta and Harry Shearer have seniority over Hank Azaria.

  6. As the actors read their lines, the really act, with facial expressions, body gestures, the whole nine yards. It's too bad only a few people actually get to see them.

  7. At the time Fox filmed the special, it appears as though the makers of "The Simpsons" were working on "Kamp Krusty (8F24)." If you knew how long the production process takes, you could probably figure out when the special was made.

  8. Just about everybody associated with the show, even the senior executives, seemed so young and casual! I guess I should have expected that, but it surprised me nonetheless.

"The Simpsons" ™ and copyright © Fox and its related companies.
"Making of the Simpsons" © Fox 1993. All Rights Reserved.

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Last updated on February 26, 1999 by Benjamin Robinson (