We thought that our visitors might enjoy a little look behind the screens at the process involved in updating the World of Springfield Phrase Database when a new series of figures and playsets are released.
The first step, obviously, is to obtain the figures and sets from the new series. Once that is done, the basic information about the packaging is recorded, including the UPC code, the assortment number and the stock number. This is done either before or slightly after removing the figures from their packages, or is sometimes obtained from someone else who already has the figures, before the main update is begun.
Then all of the existing figures are removed from the playsets and organized by character and wave. Variants of the same character are all grouped, and then each series of figures is grouped together as well. The figures are placed in front of the older playsets, it looks a bit like they are soldiers in formation.
The playsets are then moved as necessary to ensure that each can be easily accessed and removed from the display. Information and phrases for the new figures will be recorded last, so those are set aside for later - even variants of existing characters like a new Homer or Bart.
Each figure is measured with 5" vernier calipers and/or a ruler with 0.1" increments - if the figure is taller than 5", I will have to measure it with the ruler only. Playset heights and widths are measured with a ruler, and depth measured with the 5" vernier calipers.
New figures and playsets are taken to the mailroom and weighed on a postal scale. The weights are noted on a Post-It note and when they're done, the figures and sets brought back to my desk.
The information measured up to this point is entered in the database, through a Microsoft Access front end, along with more information. For environments, the information recorded is:
Much of this information may already have been added as details about the set became available, but each environment record is checked for accuracy and completeness at this point.
For figures, the information recorded is:
For any variants, the phrase information from the most likely match (probably the most recent other variant of the figure, or the one with the exact same resistor value) is copied to the new figure. If the new variant has the exact same resistor values, I will not need to check it's lines. They're the same - they have to be. However, if the resistor values aren't identical to an existing figure, I have to verify each line as I update the database.
Starting with the Living Room playset and moving through each wave of sets, move one playset onto the working area and try each new figure for compatibility. In this manner, I work through the previously released sets, one playset at a time.
I note that the figure is or is not compatible with the set, and type in the first phrase (and subphrase if applicable). A record is entered no matter whether the figure is compatible, to indicate that the figure has been checked and verified incompatible.
If a phrase was entered, I then check SNPP.com episode capsules and other resources to try to find out which episode the phrase comes from. To search SNPP.com, I use Google with the search parameters of "site:snpp.com" and a portion of the phrase. If I can't find it on SNPP, I replace "site:snpp.com" with "simpsons" and try for another source. If the episode is found, I enter the episode code (like "9F18"), otherwise, I enter "UNKNOWN".
To find more phrases, I keep pushing the button again and again until I are fairly sure that there are no more. This is easy with characters with one or two lines but with some of them it is easy to miss a line or two.
Once the phrases for the new characters on the old playsets are recorded, it's on to the new playsets, starting with series 1 figures (and related variants, including variants from the new series) and moving through to the newest series one wave at a time. I try the figure on the first new set, then the second, being very careful to record phrases and compatibility for the correct set. For each variant, the "original" figure's information is copied and then checked for accuracy.
As before, I note that the figure is or is not compatible with the set, and type in the first phrase (and subphrase if applicable) and episode code. To find more phrases, I keep pushing the button again and again until I are fairly sure that there are no more.
... SEVERAL HOURS LATER ...
Once the phrase information has been recorded, each new figure and playset is photographed with a digital camera several times, from one or two different angles. The figures are placed below a flourescent light, against a white paper or cardboard backdrop.
In batches of two or three, the photos are digitally process to clean them up, remove the background and resize them for use on the website. Three sizes are saved. The largest,for larger adult figures, is an image 500 pixels in height. For smaller "kid" figures, an image between 250 pixels (Maggie) and 400 pixels (most kids) is saved. Then, the image is resized to 200 pixels in height and saved and resized to 100 pixels in height and saved. The 200 pixel high image is the image you see as you browse through the database, the 500/400 pixel high image is the "larger" image and the 100 pixel image is used as a thumbnail within entries in the Merchandise Release Guide.
The database is then updated with the filenames of the images with the new images. There is a record in the database of which image belongs to each figure, which allows the correct image to be dynamically displayed as you look through the entries.
Finally the "character circles" from the packaging are scanned and shrunk to the proper size for their addition to the "figure map" which appears at the top of each WoS Phrase Database page. Member Mikehouse often helps out with this step, by providing the character circle art for exclusive figures or for regular series pre-processed and resized.
Once the character circles have been created, they must be added to the existing figure map (often necessitating a shifting of other circles and links added to that image map so that you can click on the new circle and see the information for the appropriate figure.
The working version of the database is then copied into the live data area for testing. Once the new additions have been checked over, the figure and environment lists and the figure map are updated and a news item posted letting visitors know that there is new information posted on the World of Springfield Phrase Database.
All told, the process takes between six and eight hours and is usually done over the course of a weekend. It is an enjoyable process which helps me get to know the new figures and sets quite well, but when it is over it's always a relief -- it can get pretty exhausting after three or four hours!
I hope you've enjoyed this look Behind the Screens and will appreciate the complexity, effort and fun that goes into each WoS Phrase Database update just a little bit more for having learned more about it!
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