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Today's episodes of The Simpsons are bleak, washed-out, standardized and soulless. But for the first several seasons, possibly even roughly up until the late 1990s, they clearly used a completely different, "organic" technique to produce them.

In particular, all of the many lighting effects seem to really "glow" and stand out in a very appealing manner. They are not just flat colors filled perfectly into areas surrounded by sharp, thin, black lines -- they are actually "glowing" out from the cells/frames somehow. I love that look. It really adds so much visual interest to many scenes.

But how was this effect achieved? And why don't they use the same look now that it's all digital and they could probably easily apply various digital filters to make the episodes resemble the classic Simpsons look?

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I can't speak for how the Simpsons was done, I've never seen it shown, but the 1980s Hitchhiker's Guide TV Series had a lot of similar "glow" effects in the book animations, which are all traditional animation techniques, multiple exposures, etc.

The following interview with Rod Lord runs through how that was done, hopefully it is of interest, in the absence of something more Simpsons specific:

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I do not have direct experience with the Simpsons, but my photographic experience tells me there are a few factors involved. For one, the early episodes appear slightly blurry because of the lower resolution and photographic processes used, compared to today's vector computer graphics. And the objects that appear to be light sources become additionally softened (seem to glow) because they are relatively overexposed compared to the rest of the colors in the scenes. Several techniques can be used with physical, transparent animation paintings ("cells") to spread colors -- brighter backlighting, diffusion lenses, frosted mylar. I suspect the light sources like neon signs and flames were on separate layers from the characters and were photographed using different exposure settings and focus.

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