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How And Why The Animation In Your Favorite Cartoons Changed Over The Seasons

Updated July 10, 2017 55.7k views12 items

A lot can change during the lifetime of a show. Sometimes, the style of an animation studio takes a while to mature into a particular form. Technology advances, which requires training and mastery, and budgets decrease or increase at the drop of a hat. Too often, a studio contract exchanges hands and leads to an evolution of cartoon character designs. More than half the time, the shifts in animation style are for the better and excite fans with better production quality.  

Sometimes, animation changes in your favorite cartoons happen so steadily, you forget how dramatically different they used to look in the pilot. Other times, shows seems to erratically swing between good and not-so-good quality, as production yo-yos between different studios. Compiled here are famous cartoons that have experienced significant shifts in their animation over the seasons. Check out the side-by-side comparisons of what the style looked like before and after the changes. 

  • As one of America's longest running and most beloved sitcoms, The Simpsons has gone through significant changes in style to roll with the times. However, in its early stages, the show nearly got cut because it was animated so poorly. In fact, the premiere episode, "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire," was actually the eighth produced 30-minute segment. The pilot, "Some Enchanted Evening," featured some of the wackiest animation that was so appalling, the producers refused to air it as the premiere. They seriously considered cutting their losses and not airing the show at all, but subsequent animated episodes showed improvements that quelled their doubts. 

    All the episodes for the first three seasons were produced as shorts for the The Tracy Ullman Show by Klasky Csupo. Later, when The Simpsons became its own show on Fox, they were dropped because the film production company was unhappy with the animation producer assigned to the show by Klasky Csupo. Interestingly, some fans prefer the older, more "fluid" style compared to the crisper, "stiffer" one used later. 

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  • Photo: Paramount

    The Legend of Korra showcased much more fluid action sequences and more detailed, gorgeous scenery than the previous series, Avatar The Last Airbender, but it wasn't always consistent in style. Split into four Books (or seasons), Studio Mir was responsible for the majority of the animation. However, for Book Two, they split the responsibility with Studio Pierrot (BleachNaruto, Tokyo Ghoul). However, chaos ensued. 

    Some fans noticed subtle differences in the Pierrot productions, such as characters suddenly being unable to blink. Face proportions were off, characters would stand still, and mouth movements were awkward. Needless to say, Studio Pierrot was not invited back to work on Book Three or Book Four. 

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  • Archer has one of the most distinctive styles on TV. Its bold 3D rendering of a 2D, '60s comic-book-style world may seem unchanged over the years, but small differences have resulted in big improvements. Watch some this clip from the first episode of Archer and compare it to footage from Season Seven. You'll notice that the action scenes are much more fluid, the lighting is better, and the characters have a greater range of facial movements. 

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  • Though production of Adventure Time has always been handled by the creator-owned Frederator Studios, it got its start through Nickelodeon, rather than Cartoon Network. Premiering as part of the channel's "Random Cartoons!" block, animators tried to make the test pilot "fit" into the Nickelodeon style more.

    That changed when the show was picked up by Cartoon Network and the money started rolling in. As well as becoming far sharper and more detailed, the show had more shifts in perspective that added to the fluidity of scenes. For example, when Me-Mow circles down the tree in Season 3 in "Jakes vs. Me-Mow." 

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