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Predicting the Future of Futurama

by Matt Shumway and Lamont Wayne

Futurama. All images & © 1999 Fox Broadcasting Company.

Who would be better to review a cartoon about the future than future animators? Representing a pool of animation talent at The Savannah College of Art and Design, we have seen the future for our debut review in the form of Matt Groening's new animated series Futurama which previews on Fox, Sunday, March 28 and April 4 (8:30-9:00 PM ET/PT) before moving to its regular timeslot Tuesday, April 6 (8:30-9:00 PM ET/PT).

Getting to Know Them
Futurama stars Fry (voiced by Billy West), a slobbish, slow-witted pizza delivery boy who gets cryogenically frozen on New Year's Eve, 1999. He wakes up one thousand years later to find himself in a totally new world. In the future he meets Leela (voiced by Katey Sagal), a one-eyed alien girl who is a fate assignment officer with bad depth perception. Along the way, he befriends Bender (voiced by John DiMaggio), a beer drinking, cigar smoking, pornography loving robot programmed to bend girders for suicide booths. Fry also meets his 149-year-old great-great-great-great etc. nephew, Professor Hubert Farnsworth, who has a collection of assorted lengths of wire. Together they form the Planet Express Corporation, a delivery service that transports cargo all over the universe.

This move by Groening to introduce a new show reminds us of the Hanna-Barbera of old. The success of The Flintstones as an animated sitcom has been compared to The Simpsons' success many times. It seems that Groening is allowing history to repeat itself, almost mirroring Hanna-Barbera's move with The Jetsons, keeping the same formula but moving it to the future. This could prove to be a smart move. "I'm a big fan of The Simpsons," says college student Seth Grant, "but I've always wished for Matt Groening to create a setting where he could broaden his horizons from the simple setting of Springfield."

The most obvious aspect of Futurama is its similarity to The Simpsons. When one watches the show, it's hard to get over the fact that one isn't watching The Simpsons. The character design is the same. The humor is the same. Blinky the fish made a cameo appearance, and we wouldn't be surprised if other Simpsons characters made there way into the future as well. This is not to say this is a bad thing. The Simpsons continues to be one of the most successful animated programs of all time. The idea of creating another show with the Simpsons' style and witty humor will no doubt prove a smart decision for Fox.

The Production End of It
One of the most intriguing aspects of Futurama is its integration of traditional and computer animation. In the new animated Spider-Man cartoon, when Spidey flies and flips through the computer backgrounds, one can tell that they are computer backgrounds. In Futurama, the backgrounds and animation are so close in their look and style that one hardly notices it's computer. The best way to describe it is to compare it to the animated feature Cats Don't Dance, where the backgrounds and animation match almost seamlessly. As animation students, this is a big issue. We are more interested in the creative ways of using computer animation to assist in storytelling. Flashy and fancy doesn't impress us anymore! "It is a welcome change from the usual synthesis of the two types which is usually gaudy and ugly," says college student Lance Simmons. When done correctly, computer technology can be a great enhancer, but when done incorrectly it takes away far more than what is added to a picture.

We would like to take a moment and congratulate Rough Draft Studios for the wonderful animation in Futurama. While carrying on the torch with the character design and look of The Simpsons, Futurama's character animation works a little bit better. We really liked the overall layout, and the color scheme is more vivid and exciting. It's too early to comment on character personality development, but the potential is there, and we can't wait to see all the extremes that Fry and company will go through.

Overall, as animation students, we enjoyed Futurama. "The first episode was consistently funny and didn't lag pace-wise," says college student Gianina Lopategui. Similar to shows like The Simpsons and Seinfeld, this is the type of show that the guys at work are going to talk about around the water cooler. Simpsons fans definitely have something new and exciting to look forward to. The future is now and more hilarious than ever!

The Classical Animation Society is a student organization at the Savannah College of Art and Design. Devoted to character animation and the animation industry, the Society was founded to unite the animation students at SCAD to promote learning about the art, craft and industry of animation.

The Savannah College of Art and Design exists to prepare talented students for careers in the visual arts, design, and building arts. The college emphasizes individual attention in a positive environment.

Note: Readers may contact any Animation World Magazine contributor by sending an e-mail to editor@awn.com.