‘Simpsons’ Artists Can’t Violate These ‘No-No’ Animation Rules
Remember how weird every member of the Simpsons family looked during the Tracey Ullman Show days?
Yikes! They’re virtually unrecognizable. And yet, it’s not that unusual for the early days of an animated show not to have all of its cartoon ducks in a row. YouTube user Kid Leaves Stoop recently released a video outlining The Simpsons’ “no-no sheets” -- basically, a style guide that helps the show’s artists know exactly what they’re not supposed to draw.
Simpsons style guides can run for hundreds of pages, most of them established by animator David Silverman. How granular does he get? Well, for example, The Simpsons characters “never cross their eyes,” Silverman says in an interview in Simpsons Illustrated. “They look wall-eyed. What's cool about the characters is that their eyes make them look like a couple of neurons aren't quite firing--like they're partly living in the clouds, in their Simpsons universe.”
As you can see in Silverman’s graphic above, “no cross eyes” is just the beginning. Other Simpson No-Nos include:
- No complete circles for eyelids
- No square or pointy teeth
- No ears that creep too far from the eyes and mouth
Artist Wes Archer combined a lot of these No-Nos into one drawing. “Wes and I studied art till our heads practically popped off,” says Silverman, describing how they developed animation rules that both captured Matt Groening’s signature simplicity and differentiated The Simpsons from typical Saturday morning cartoon fare.
Another No-No: Don’t out-Simpson The Simpsons. An ancillary character shouldn’t have hair and head run into one another -- that’s Bart signature look, so let’s not confuse viewers. Homer’s beard line is also off-limits with two exceptions. First, Homer’s relatives, like Grampa Simpson and Homer’s brother Herb, share a similar beard line. It runs in the family.
The other exception is Krusty the Clown because -- trivia! -- he was originally written to be Homer in disguise.
Archive.org has a number of pages that outline more No-Nos if you really want to get specific about how Bart’s teeth work on a weekly basis.
One more big No-No, according to Silverman: No demonic expressions, devil horns, or fangs. “The Simpsons are not deliberately cruel or cunning. They often do cruel and (sometimes) cunning things, but they don’t plan to. They just react … they’re impulsive, reacting to the situation immediately without premeditation.”
So take a good look at this still from an early episode -- you’re never going to see Homer’s pointed incisors ever again.