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12 Animated Facts About Family Guy

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past 17 years, it’s likely you have heard one thing or another about the hit animated TV series Family Guy. For example, most fans know the story of the show’s early cancellation and subsequent revival after massive DVD sales and re-run ratings convinced Fox to give it another shot. This comes as no surprise as, for 14 seasons now, Family Guy has been the center of much talk—from the show’s many controversies, to its five Emmy Awards, to its undeniable influence over today’s pop culture.

Having said that, here are 12 facts about Family Guy and its creator, Seth MacFarlane, that you might not already know.

1. SETH MACFARLANE BEGAN HIS ANIMATION CAREER AT HANNA-BARBERA.

Two weeks before graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Seth MacFarlane received a surprise job offer: famed animation studio Hanna-Barbera wanted him to move to Los Angeles and join their team. As it turns out, unbeknownst to MacFarlane, a professor at RISD had submitted MacFarlane’s thesis film, The Life Of Larry, to a student film competition orchestrated by the company. As the winner of the competition, MacFarlane’s wit and storytelling ability caught Hanna-Barbera’s attention, so much so that they offered him a writer’s position. With Hanna-Barbera, MacFarlane would go on to contribute to several classic ‘90s animated TV shows including Johnny Bravo, Dexter’s Laboratory, and Cow and Chicken.

2. A PRECURSOR TO FAMILY GUY AIRED ON CARTOON NETWORK IN THE LATE 1990S.

While working at Hanna-Barbera, MacFarlane followed up his The Life of Larry short with a second: Larry & Steve. Utilizing the same characters as before, Larry & Steve takes the story back to the beginning, revealing how Larry (whose voice is reminiscent of Family Guy’s Peter) adopted his talking dog Steve (a la Brian from Family Guy) from the pound. The short aired on Cartoon Network in 1997 as part of its “What A Cartoon!” series.

3. FAMILY GUY WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO BE A SERIES OF SHORTS FOR MADTV.

Riding on the wave of success from Larry & Steve, MacFarlane next turned his attention to where any budding animator would naturally look: primetime. A Saturday night sketch comedy show with occasional animated segments, MADtv seemed like the perfect home for MacFarlane’s next project, yet it never came to fruition. “Family Guy was supposed to be a series of shorts on MADtv, in the way that The Simpsons began on Tracey Ullman,” MacFarlane told IGN. “It just came down to a budgetary thing. They didn't really have the budget to do any kind of animation at that point.”

4. FAMILY GUY OWES SOME THANKS TO KING OF THE HILL.

MacFarlane first pitched Family Guy to Fox around the same time that Mike Judge was signing a deal for King of the Hill. Uncertain of how King of the Hill would fare with viewers, Fox executives were hesitant to add another new animated comedy to their lineup. Because of this, they decided to pass on Family Guy.

One year later, MacFarlane followed up with Fox to see if Family Guy was still dead in the water. As it turns out, the success of King of the Hill was a key factor in Fox’s decision to take on another new animated comedy. They gave MacFarlane $50,000 to create a pilot; he spent six months creating the seven-minute pilot, which was enough to convince Fox to order Family Guy to series.

5. SOUTH PARK’S CREATORS (AND OTHERS) HAVE A BIG BEEF WITH FAMILY GUY’S COMEDIC STYLE.

In its tenth season, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone decided to vocalize their disdain for Family Guy’s humor in the form of a two-part South Park episode. In “Cartoon Wars,” it is revealed to the characters in South Park that the writing staff of Family Guy is actually a group of manatees, and their ideas for cutaway jokes are generated by randomly pairing “idea” balls.

As Business Insider reported on the feud,

South Park co-creator Trey Parker explained in the DVD commentary that he and co-creator Matt Stone "don't respect [Family Guy] in terms of writing." He added that much of Hollywood felt the same way, with producers from The Simpsons sending them flowers after the episode and people at King of the Hill expressing thanks (despite both shows being on Fox). "There was this animation solidarity moment, where everyone did come together over their hatred of Family Guy," said [Parker].

MacFarlane defended Family Guy’s cutaway gags, claiming they are the hardest parts of the show to write. “When you’re dealing with story-based comedy it’s almost easier. With the cutaways, you need to develop a brand new premise, storyline, arc, all in just a few seconds.”

6. FAMILY GUY CAUSED QUITE A CONTROVERSY BY KILLING OFF A FAN-FAVORITE CHARACTER.

In the 2013 episode “The Life of Brian,” Family Guy decided to shake things up a bit by killing off Brian, the Griffins' outspoken, talking dog. To add insult to injury, Brian was immediately replaced by a new dog, Vinny, in the very same episode. While many fans cried that it was a ratings grab, others feared that Brian’s removal from the opening credits signified a permanent change. The more distraught fans quickly flocked to a change.org petition, calling for Brian to be brought back to the show. In the end, Brian returned to his rightful place in the Griffin home only two episodes later, not due to public outcry but by design of the publicity stunt.

“We were all very surprised, in a good way, that people still cared enough about that character to be that angry,” said MacFarlane. “We thought it would create a little bit of a stir, but the rage wasn’t something we counted on."

7. PETER GRIFFIN WAS INSPIRED BY A REAL PERSON.

In countless interviews, MacFarlane has claimed that the basis for Family Guy’s patriarch, Peter Griffin, was a security guard he once knew while attending RISD. MacFarlane described the man as having a “big thick Rhode Island accent, everything was said at this volume, absolutely no self editing whatsoever.” As it turns out, in 2013, ABC 6 news was able to identify Paul Timmins, the former director of public safety at RISD, as MacFarlane’s inspiration for the character. “I'm very proud of it," Timmins joked, still wearing his signature white button-up and glasses. "I am clearly the visual of Peter because the character of Peter is an idiot."

8. WILLIAM H. MACY AUDITIONED FOR THE ROLE OF BRIAN.

“It was the fact that they had heard Brian that way [MacFarlane’s voicing] in the initial pilot, and at that point they were used to hearing him that way,” MacFarlane explained of why Fox executives decided to go with his voice instead of Macy’s. “I think they just didn't want to mess with it.”

9. FOUR DIFFERENT ACTRESSES HAVE BEEN HIRED THROUGHOUT THE SHOW’S HISTORY TO PLAY MEG.

While most immediately recognize Mila Kunis as the definitive voice of Meg, she wasn’t the first to portray the Griffins’ outcast daughter. During the first season, the voice of Meg was provided by Lacey Chabert, best known for playing Claudia Salinger on Party of Five and Gretchen Wieners in Mean Girls. So why didn’t Chabert come back for the second season? While rumors of being fired or having a falling out with the show’s producers over religious beliefs have circulated widely around the Internet, Chabert set the record straight: “I actually left the show of my own accord. And only because I was in school and doing Party of Five at the time.”

“I think there was a mistake in her contract,” MacFarlane further clarified, “and I guess she had not intended to be involved for, like, the full run of the show."

As for the other two Megs? Cree Summer, best known as the voice of Elmyra in Tiny Toon Adventures, was originally hired to voice Meg in the pilot. But before she recorded her lines, Summer was fired by producers for unexplained reasons (according to whatculture.com, Summer stated that, “Seth MacFarlane didn’t think a black actress would be right for Meg’s voice”). As a last resort, MacFarlane turned to his sister Rachael to provide Meg’s voice for the pilot.

10. ALEX BORSTEIN WAS ALMOST REPLACED IN THE BEGINNING OF THE SERIES.

Alex Borstein, who provides the iconic voice of Lois, had to fight to keep her role after portraying the family’s matriarch in the pilot. After ordering a 13-episode first season, Fox decided that they wanted to take her character’s voice in a different direction. “The network wanted to get rid of me,” said Borstein. “So I had to fight to keep my job. I had to re-audition for it, along with every female that ever stepped off a bus in Hollywood. And I got very lucky and I got to keep it and I was thrilled, because it was some of the funniest stuff that I had ever read.”

11. CARRIE FISHER VOICES A RECURRING CHARACTER.

Fisher, best known for her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise, plays Angela, Peter’s hard-nosed boss at the Pawtucket Brewery. She also provided the voice of Mon Mothma in Family Guy’s Star Wars parody, “It’s a Trap!”

12. GEORGE LUCAS GAVE HIS BLESSING FOR THE FAMILY GUY STAR WARS PARODY TRILOGY.

As the story goes, MacFarlane quickly realized that with each new episode of Family Guy, they were creating more and more Star Wars jokes. Fearing a lawsuit, Fox’s legal team decided to clear the jokes with Lucasfilm first. Much to MacFarlane’s surprise, Lucas approved of the gags. But he had one condition: the characters had to look exactly like they did in the movies. This spawned the idea for the Family Guy Star Wars trilogy. After the completion of “Blue Harvest,” the first in the trilogy, Lucas actually invited MacFarlane and the Family Guy team to watch the film with him and his son at their ranch.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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iStock
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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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iStock

In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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