DMA Tech Watch: ‘The Simpsons’ Goes Interactive

By Phill Powell

Welcome to DMA Tech Watch, where we review the biggest news and tech trends on our radar. This week, a special look at last night’s interactive episode of The Simpsons.

Last night, millions of Simpsons viewers observed a cool animation experiment, and a first in broadcast history.

Homer_Simprovised
Homer sat in a comically run-down office and fielded viewer questions during “Simprovised”‘s Q&A.

The episode was called “Simprovised” and true to its title, the final part was actually created live, on the spot, as the show was airing.

Simpsons viewers were encouraged during the show to call in with questions for Homer.

CALL NOW! HOMER IS STANDING BY!

Viewer questions weren’t limited in subject, and had no relation to last night’s plot, which saw Homer bombing an important speech and attempting to bounce back from the humiliation by trying his hand at stand-up comedy.

About seven minutes into the episode, text running at the bottom of the screen flashed, “Call Now for Homer Live.” A similar message appeared about 20 minutes into the show.

This is the last episode of The Simpsons. It’s been a great run. Just kidding. The Simpsons will never end.
– Homer Simpson

Then came the episode’s interactive finale. After the segment was introduced by the entire Simpsons family, Homer got down to business, sitting behind a desk in a run-down office and responding to (and sometimes talking over) the recorded viewer calls, while different Fox animated characters (like the Futurama robot!) walked in and out of the frame, making fast cameos.

Homer_Simpson_standup_comedian
The episode began with Homer bombing on stage and then taking to stand-up comedy!

“LIVE” HOMER Q&A

Homer started by assuring the audience that he was indeed “live.” “Just to prove we’re live, on Saturday Night Live last night, Drake was terrible,” he said.

One viewer then asked about the best strategy for sleeping at work. “Always wear glasses with eyes glued on them,” Homer wisely answered.

When another viewer enquired about what kind of car he drives, Homer replied, “I drive a hybrid, which is a combination of old and terrible.”

Then, in tribute to show’s amazing longevity, Homer reassured faithful viewers that the series has no foreseeable end. “This is the last episode of The Simpsons. It’s been a great run,” he said, before adding, “Just kidding. The Simpsons will never end.”

He finished the segment in true Simpsons’ chain-yanking style, with instructions for any callers still waiting: “If your call hasn’t been taken yet, please continue to hold. The cast of Empire will be answering questions Wednesday night. Someone will let them know.”

THREE MINUTES OF ANIMATION HISTORY

During the “live” segment, Homer simply sat at a desk and spoke to the camera, like a reporter during the early days of TV. This feeling was echoed in Lisa Simpson’s introductory comment: “It only took us 27 years to do what they did in 1954.”

Well, yes and no. While TV broadcasting was live in 1954, animated shows were not, due to the time-consuming animated process. That makes the The Simpsons’ feat last night all the more impressive.

Here’s how it worked: The show’s writing staff and actor Dan Castellaneta, who voices Homer, were gathered together. The producers (quickly) picked a few calls and fed those questions to the writers, who (quickly) dashed out funny replies for Homer to say.

Those one-liners were given to Castellaneta, who (quickly) spoke the answers. Then the show’s animators went to work, using motion-capture technology to (quickly) assign some simple animation to Homer’s on-air replies. It was all executed like clockwork, and it couldn’t have happened without today’s amazing animation software.

Homer_and_boom_mic
TV star Homer Simpson relaxes between takes on the set of The Simpsons, boom mic at the ready.

ANIMATE YOUR FUTURE

The Simpsons has racked up an astounding record: 27 consecutive years on TV, a feat no other animated program can even approach.

It’s a lot of programming. If you wanted to experience the show’s entire run, it would take you nearly 13 days – almost two weeks – to watch every episode of The Simpsons.

The Simpsons’ longevity shows that animation not only has a great past, but also a strong future. Just look at all the different animated series now on TV or online or at movie theaters.

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