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The Simpsons Folder : Scrapbook : Jen Jenkins Interview

Could you tell us about yourself?

My name is Jennifer Kamerman-Jenkins. I am almost 33 years old, I have been married for eight months, and we are expecting our first child in mid-July. We live in Columbia, South Carolina now. (I quit the show last August right after I got married.)

You have been an animator for thirteen years for the Simpsons. How did you end up on the “Simpsons factory”?

Quite by accident. In the summer of 1990, I was twenty years old. I was working in a book warehouse, keeping track of their orders and inventory via computer. I was considering going to school to get a degree in psychology, with a minor in theater. I went to visit a childhood friend who actually had been hired on the show. While we were touring the studio, my friend asked me why I didn’t test for the show, since we’d always drawn together as children. I took their animation test, they liked it. They called asking for my art portfolio. I didn’t have one, so I asked if I could do another test for them. Two months and four tests later, they hired me. No art school, no previous animation experience!

Could you describe animator’s job on process of making full Simpsons episode?

On the Simpsons, the animator’s job is actually what is called a layout job, or a key-pose animation job. The artist takes the storyboard section that they are assigned, and draws the rough animation poses needed to describe the action or acting from the script, to the correct camera angle. Some scenes could require as few as two drawings, others may require many more. The mouth movements, in-betweens, inking and coloring are all done overseas in Korea, to save time and keep budgets realistic. This is just a very basic overview of the process, mind you…

What was your first episode you have been working on?

Oh, God…can I remember? It was thirteen years ago! I think it was show 7F17, called “Old Money”, directed by David Silverman. The second one that I worked on immediately afterwards was 7F19, “Lisa’s Substitute.”

On the episode 7F19, Lisa’s Substitute J. Kamerman lives in the same building than J. Vitti and Mr. Bergstrom. What was that all about? Is it just a joke or a thing taken from real world? Did you really live in same building with J. Vitti?

It was actually just a joke…I animated that scene, so I put my name and the names of some of my friends on the buzzer…I didn’t think so many people would notice and remember…

You have also directed three episodes, Kill the Alligator and Run, Tennis the Menace and Homer the Moe. Could you tell us what is simpsons director part on the process and how is episode actually “directed” when there’s no real actors like on motion pictures?

The animation director directs the visual presentation of the script. The director has approval, in collaboration with the supervising director, over the camera angles and filmmaking chosen, with final approval of course going to Gracie Films. The director also approves new characters and costume designs. The director also supervises their crew of animators, making sure the character’s physical acting is what they want. Directors can also correct or change the actual drawings themselves, making sure they look appealing and fit to the model that the show requires. Another important aspect is the timing of the show. The director has approval of and control over the physical pace of their episode–making sure that the comedic timing stays sharp. Too much or too little time between jokes can take funny writing and make it fall flat. That’s the basic description. I hope I didn’t leave anything out!!!

How much you can influence on the written story itself when directing the episode?

None! The writing is completely up to Gracie Films.

What is your favorite episode and why?

It is still “Lisa’s Substitute.” I just love shows that play off the relationship between Lisa and Homer. They have a rich, realistic, complex relationship. They are so different from one another that sometimes it seems that they come from completely different planets. But despite the differences, the charm is in the fact that they obviously love each other and are always trying to find ways to meet on each other’s level. The ending of that show still makes me cry…

Nowadays the Simpsons are done by digitally. Which part of the process has changed the most?

The Simpsons are still animated on paper and pencil, by hand. The part of the process that has changes is the inking and coloring of the show. The show is no longer hand-painted on cel, but digitally colored on computer. It certainly takes a lot of time out of that part of the process, and seems to make it alot easier to correct camera mistakes.

Back to animating. Could you tell us a scene which is animated fully by you?

Hard question…I have worked on so many scenes over the years that they all blur together. Ask me this again during part two, and I will perhaps have an answer for you!

In thirteen years of making the Simpsons you must have made good friends with the crew. Can you name any people who has influenced on your work most?

David Silverman – brilliant animator, and possessor of one of the craziest senses of comedic timing I have ever witnessed. He draws fearlessly and throws his whole self into what he does. A true mentor. Jim Reardon – He could tell you the same boring knock-knock joke over and over again, and you would laugh every time. Jim could always take any joke and make it better. Flawless sense of what is funny. Mike Anderson – Draws some of the best Simpsons that I have ever seen, excellent actor, and timer. I learned so much while working for him and with him. We always laughed hard while we worked hard. It was hard not to love the show with his total and complete dedication and enthusiasm. Mark Kirkland – A great and patient man. He encouraged and taught me the basics when I hardly knew how to animate, and was on very shaky ground professionally. He was the only director that I ever got to assist. His sense of artistic composition and balance is second to none.