Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Art of South Park

Despite your opinion on the writing and overall content of Comedy Central's longstanding comedy South Park, you have to admit that it looks unlike anything else on television. Inspired by the paper cut-outs that Terry Gilliam made for Monty Python's Flying Circus, the creators of South Park - Trey Parker and Matt Stone - have made a show so distinct that almost anyone can identify it from the animation style alone.

Personally, I had no idea how the show was made. Part of me (not a smart part, I'll admit) still thought that the animation was stop motion, and actually used paper cutouts for each week's episode. Having come to appreciate how long it takes to film something using stop motion, however, I now realize that it's impossible to shoot a full, 22 minute episode in the span of six days. Again, I'm not proud that it took me so long to figure this out.

After the first episode was done entirely using stop motion, the creators switched over to a program called PowerAnimator. After the original cardboard cutouts were scanned and imported, they were animated using a mix of PowerAnimator and SGI workstations. Starting with season 5, the animators actually starting using Maya in lieu of the somewhat outdated PowerAnimator, and they continue to use it to this day. Even though the technology - and, consequently, the animation - has improved from the first few years, they utilize multiple techniques to keep the show looking the like the cheap cutout version that it used to be.

Yes, it's raunchy and super controversial, but you have to praise Stone and Parker for their ability to put together a cohesive, well-animated, and often hilarious show in six days or less. It's amazing to think that we're using the same programs that a professional studio is using to produce TV shows, and it really makes me want to create something cool.

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