If you are a man under the age of 50 and have any sense of humour, The Simpsons has probably had a profound impact on your life. Without controversy, it's fair to say that it is the best television show ever, and animator David Silverman was and is a big reason for that.

Silverman has been with The Simpsons since the beginning, animating the very first shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987, and directing the series' first feature film in 2007. Always one to innovate, his work has legitimized animation's place in contemporary culture, perhaps making it the most popular form of television of the last generation. 

Silverman is in Toronto this weekend to deliver the keynote address at the Toronto Animation Arts Festival International at Corus Quay, and a "fireside chat" at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. TORO recently spoke with the animator about his favourite writers, developing the characters' looks, and the saddest moment in Simpsons history.

What kept you artistically motivated as a young animator, given that The Simpsons was an instant smash?

I was motivated by the amount of work I had to do! In the first two years, I was directing five episodes a season. Nobody does more than three now. It was crazy. I was also motivated by the writing. Every show that I got was so great, and I was very inspired by the scripts.

Were there any writers whose scripts you particularly enjoyed directing?

It's hard to say, they were all great. I liked George Meyer's scripts; Conan O’Brien’s scripts. But I really did like working with John Swartzwelder. I miss not having his scripts, how about that?

He was the biggest oddball of the bunch, right?

He was. He really helped set a lot of things in motion on The Simpsons. John Swartzwelder was the only one who would write like John Swartzwelder.

The Simpsons' animation style has changed a lot over the years. Who made those aesthetic decisions?

We were sort of inventing it as we went along. At the end of The Tracey Ullman Show we had kind of developed the look, and it took the entire first season to teach everyone how to get the characters right. We didn't have a long pre-production time and we were designing the town on the spot. Also, the studios overseas would put in really weird ideas during the cleanup. For example, they would make Homer's hair all wobbly. We had to have a chat and say, "We know that you like animating a certain way, but we don’t like it." It took a while to get everyone to agree.

When were you finally satisfied with the design?

In Season 2, I directed an episode called "Bart Gets an F" and I thought that’s when we were starting to get the look right.

Are you happy with how the show looks now?

Yes, I think the show looks great. Things change. We’re trying to get more cinematic. When we went to computer compositing we had more latitude, a bigger colour palette; we could do more inventive camera work and give a greater sense of dimension to the characters.  Being experimental is much more feasible now. We don't have to sweat it like we used to.

You directed "Mother Simpson," one of the funniest but also most heartbreaking episodes in the canon. Can you talk about the construction of its final shot?

It was during the table read when I thought about that shot. I had this image of a big wide shot of Homer waving goodbye as his mother left him, and then of him sitting on his car looking at the stars — that wasn't in the script. As I was drawing it, I almost started tearing up. It really affected me. Everyone can relate to that. Sometimes things happen to us and all we can do is contemplate and look at the stars.

Does the weight of 25 seasons bear any burden on the show's current writers?

I was sitting with the writers the other day and there’s a very liberating feeling among them. They pitch whatever they want. All of the writers have a certain feel of what works and what doesn't. Everyone just wants to write some funny jokes.

Do you plan on directing another Simpsons movie?

There might be something, you never know! By the way, for some reason, I don’t know why, but the Hollywood Reporter misquoted me; they claimed that I said there wouldn’t be another Simpsons feature for 10 to 15 years. I don’t even know what I said! It just happened. The point is, I don't know when another Simpsons movie will happen.

This is an odd question: Do you dream in animation?

I haven't dreamed in animation in a long time. Sometimes I do. I have more dreams about working in animation. I’ve had weird dreams where I find myself writing exposure sheets, but that’s about it.

What are your non-professional artistic pursuits?

I love music. I play the tuba quite a bit. I enjoy that a lot. I've always loved music. And I love drawing instruments. That's why Lisa became a saxophonist.

Finally, what's the best and worst thing your work has given to society?

[Laughs] I think we've given people a lot to think about in terms what's going on in the world; giving people more food for thought. That might be one of the best things we’ve given. And one of the worst things is that we've given people more food for thought.

Related >> Daily TORO: Conan O'Brien Reunites with the Writers of The Simpsons

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