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'Simpsons' animator draws from his heart

July 29, 2011|By Joyce Rudolph
(Cheryl A. Guerrero )

Paul Wee has a penchant for patience.

A key animator on FOX TV’s “The Simpsons,” he says it takes roughly six months to create one episode from script to screen — and thousands of drawings an episode.

In his Burbank office at Film Roman, a Starz Media Company, he uses the Wacom Cintiq tablet that works like a sketch pad. He draws the actors and the acting by pressing the pen to the tablet and the image transfers onto the computer screen.

Wee has worked on the show for 22 of its 23 seasons.

“I love the show, so it’s not hard to stay on as long as I have,” he said. “I love being a part of classic television history.”

His favorite characters to draw are Bart Simpson, the family’s fourth-grade son, and Mr. Burns, who oversees the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant.

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“I love them all, but I have a particular fondness for drawing Bart and love drawing Mr. Burns,” Wee said. “Bart kind of represents the kid in all of us and acts on his impulses —that’s very liberating. Mr. Burns, by the same token, he is so completely evil that it’s really fun to draw him.”

Wee believes the popularity of the show has more to do with the family and how they deal with the world.

“I think everybody can relate to at least one aspect of the Simpsons,” he said. “After so many years, we have a lot of facets to our universe, so there is something for everybody.”

Wee studied illustration at Otis College of Art and Design (then known as Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design).

He credits his life drawing teacher, Glenn Vilppu, an independent educator, with demystifying for him a clear method drawing. Under his instruction, Wee said, the light bulb went on.

Later, Wee fell into a group of animation friends already working in the industry and was able to study animation on the job.

“I was an animation fan already, so it wasn’t a hard transition,” he said.

But it was the camaraderie between the animators that really drew him in.

“I got a lot out of the people I worked with more than anything,” he said. “I wouldn’t be half the artist I am without the influences I’ve worked with.”

Wee gained most of his animation skills from his friend, Richard Chavez, who has worked in TV and feature films at DreamWorks, Disney and Sony. Observing Chavez’s techniques has given Wee an appreciation for how to draw things, he said.

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