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‘Simpsons’ gets local flair from hometown animators
November 07, 2004 By TOM MORAN, Newsminer

Charles Ragins and Eddie Rosas may live in Los Angeles now, but they really just traded one small town for another. That’s because the two natives of Fairbanks spend their workdays drawing the characters and places that make up Springfield, the warped-yet-wholesome slice of Americana that’s the setting of Fox TV’s “The Simpsons.” The two animators had never met before they landed jobs with the seminal cartoon sitcom–which starts its 16th season tonight–but they’ve since bonded in the studio over their own small-town roots.

“It’s not only great to work with such a talented artist as Eddie, but we also share a lot of stories about Fairbanks,” Ragins wrote in an e-mail. “Who we both know up there, what is going on now, who’s beating who in hockey, when we plan to visit, and how lucky we both are having grown up in such a great place, a community that supported our artistic interests.”

Ragins, 35, has spent more than eight years on the show as a background artist, drawing and sometimes designing the backgrounds behind Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie Simpson and the biggest supporting cast on TV. He and another artist lay out about 350 scenes for every episode they work on.

“On ‘The Simpsons,’ they go so many different places,” he said. “We’re always drawing new things.”

Some of those places may look vaguely familiar to Alaska residents. He’s taken the opportunity to throw in a few nods to his home state, basing a biker bar in one episode on the Howling Dog Saloon in Fox and a ski chalet in another episode on the Alyeska ski resort. Ragins got to have his own brush with fame in the latter episode when a fellow animator drew him in as a ski lift operator.

Rosas, 30, works as a character layout artist, taking the completed cast recordings for the episodes and doing the “acting,” sketching in the characters to match the words and directions.

“We get the audio tracks, and basically give it the image and draw in the characters and make it look like the show looks,” he explained.

He’s one of seven such artists that draw up each single episode. In tonight’s episode–the 15th in the series of “Treehouse of Horror” Halloween entries–he drew all the characters for the episode’s introduction sequence, as well as for selected scenes from the rest of the show. Ragins did about half the show’s backgrounds.

The two Fairbanksans took different routes to Film Roman, the small studio in North Hollywood that does the animation for “The Simpsons” as well as “King of the Hill” and “Family Guy.” Rosas settled on animation as a career while still in high school at Lathrop and studied at both the University of Alaska Fairbanks and California Institute of the Arts.

He’s beginning his second year on “The Simpsons” after spending time working on the Warner Brothers movies “Osmosis Jones” and “The Iron Giant” and three years as an animator for “Futurama,” the now-canceled Fox series by “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening.

After graduating from West Valley High School, Ragins studied illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design. He was back in Fairbanks studying at UAF for a teaching degree and freelancing as an illustrator for children’s books and other publications when he visited “The Simpsons” studio while in the Los Angeles area for a book conference.

“When I arrived, I instantly felt the creative energy of the place and the camaraderie of the talented artists who worked there,” he wrote. “Before the end of the tour, I asked how one gets hired to work on ‘The Simpsons.'”

Despite their shared background, Rosas and Ragins never crossed paths in Fairbanks, mostly due to their five-year age difference. “We didn’t know of each other in Fairbanks, but we’d heard of each other,” Ragins said. “It wasn’t until (Rosas) showed up on ‘The Simpsons’ that I actually met him.”

The two still have connections with their hometown. Rosas’ sister and parents still live here so he makes regular visits. Ragins doesn’t have family in town anymore, but still paid a visit last spring for the first time in seven years.

“It’s still got the same charm, it always has,” he said.

But neither has any plans to leave L.A., where they’ve built lives for themselves far beyond ‘The Simpsons.’ Rosas, who is single, works as an assistant professor of animation at Woodbury University in Burbank, and the former Malemute hockey player also plays on two men’s league teams. Ragins, who got married last year–the wedding invitations featured the happy couple as Simpsons characters–recently purchased a cabin at a ski area where he plans to open a fine art and book illustration studio.

And both of them love their jobs. For starters, there are the perks, like tonight’s premiere party at Hollywood’s historic Roosevelt Theatre. Also, both call Film Roman a great place to work.

“It’s a really fun and creative environment, there’s a lot of playfulness in the workplace,” Ragins said. “It’s not corporate at all.”

There’s also the quality they see in the show itself–“It’s the best gig in town in terms of consistency and good writing,” Ragins noted–and its prestige.

“You can work for all the other shows in the industry, and people could care less,” Rosas said. “But you say you work on ‘The Simpsons,’ and everybody’s really impressed.”