According to longtime Simpsons executive producer Al Jean, we almost saw a live appearance by Homer Simpson way back in 2007, as a promotion for The Simpsons Movie.
But, “what we saw the time didn’t seem to have a smooth enough animation so we didn’t use it,” Jean told reporters on a conference call last week. “Now, it’s advanced to the point where we think we can do three minutes of the show.”
Jean is referring to tonight’s episode of The Simpsons, called “Simprovised,” which will indeed have three minutes of live Homer antics. It’s the latest achievement for a series that still manages to surprise and innovate after nearly 30 years on the air (and, it’s also apparently a direct rebuke to the hilarious line from the Itchy & Scratchy & Poochy episode from nearly 20 years ago, where Homer was bluntly told, “Very few cartoons are broadcast live. It’s a terrible strain on the animators’ wrists”).
Clearly, Homer’s live appearance won’t be created by animators’ wrists, at least not in the traditional, hand-drawn manner. What will be in play, according to Jean, is motion-capture.
“Homer is animated live,” said Jean, “and Dan Castellaneta [who voices Homer] will be in a booth where he speaks into a mic and obviously what he says goes out live. He’s not hooked up by electrodes or anything. His motions are captured and translated into Homer’s moves, which will then appear in the animation. It will look like the normal show. We have background animation that’s been pre-animated with several jokes but everything Homer does, the center of it, is live.”
Befitting the title of the episode, this will afford Castellaneta a chance to work his improv talents.
“[He] does improv all the time,” Jean said of the actor. “He’s terrific at improv, and it was just a natural fit. The writer of the episode, John Frink, who had the idea to do the live segment, built an episode around Homer failing to give a good speech and then going and learning improv to try to boost his confidence. Dan played both Homer and the improv teacher in the episode.”
Any time live TV is involved, there is a chance for potential disaster. Jean said that in the event of a worst-case scenario, such as a power outage on Sunday, they will still air a full episode as a failsafe.
But Jean feels confident with the rehearsals they’ve had. East and West Coasts will have distinct versions of the live portion of the episode, which begins at 8:27pm ET and PT. And viewers can also call in during the live segment and ask “Homer” questions at 888-726-6660. The phone lines will be opened a half-hour prior, at 8pm ET and PT, and writers will be monitoring the lines to pick the questions, according to Jean. You also have to be at least 18 to call.
“The question should not be, like, ‘What’s Dan Castellaneta like?'” Jean said. “They’re questions to Homer, Homer the person, and [should be] funny.”
Homer Simpson appears live on the “Simprovised” episode of The Simpsons airing May 15 at 8pm ET/PT on FOX. The live portion of the episode begins at 8:27pm ET/PT. Call 888-726-6660 starting at 8pm ET/PT to ask “Homer” a question.
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