Q & A: South Park Producer Eric Stough
It’s important to me that I use this blog to show young people that there are so many different careers in this industry. Acting gets the most praise online and in magazines, but there’s so much more: Writing, sound design, directing, hair & make up, animation, editing, special effects, etc… With this new Q&A series, I hope to expose different jobs in Hollywood and show you that every one has a different journey to their careers. So keep chugging and don't give up!
I knew I wanted to start an interview series, but had one big problem. Who do I interview? You know that Drake lyric, “I only love my bed and my mama, I’m sorry.” That’s me! I don’t know that many people. Then it hit me. I should interview Eric! Eric has been part of the South Park team as a producer and animator since its very first episode back in 1997.
I met Eric through my day job as a babysitter. Over the past couple years, Eric, his wife Ryann and their daughters have become family to me. He’s super talented and super nice. And no, I’m not just saying that because of the interview. He even helped me build a table for my place. I’ll post a pic of it on instagram, it’s really cute and I kind of think we could open a successful furniture design store—okay, I’m getting off topic. Nonetheless, I’m super excited to have Eric for my very first All Dreams interview.
Without further ado, here it is!
Did you go to film school? What did you study?
I graduated from the University of Colorado with a Bachelor in the fine arts degree.
How did you make the jump from college to South Park?
When I was in college, I had already seen the first Spirit of Christmas (animated shorts that later led to South Park) and it was quite popular on campus. I went to college with Trey and Matt (Creators of South Park) and I saw it on campus, they had done it for a class. Trey asked me to work on it and I didn't want to. He said there was going to be a kid who dies in the short film. I said that it wasn't for me because I wanted to animate cute things and try to hopefully, someday get a job with Disney.
But when they asked me to work on the pilot, I instantly took the opportunity. I knew it was going to lead to something wonderful. It was a struggle, but it was a rush. I had to sleep on Matt and Trey's couch when they lived in Playa Del Rey for a couple months. Every night, we went into the office and worked hard coming up with the style and the characters and the animation. It became a little monotonous just to make it successful before we could get a big crew.
The journey from college to South Park was a big jump moving out from Colorado. It was a little scary. I was lucky because it was a good stepping stone.
How has technology helped the animation of south park?
Technology helped immensely with the style of South Park. When we did the pilot, the characters and sets were cut out of construction paper. It was a lot of problem solving of what pieces needed to be glued together and what pieces need to be loose for the animation. It took time to set each shot up and animate it. If we messed up, we had to start all the way back from Frame 1. It took about 3 months to do the pilot. Now we can do an episode in about 5 days.
We have a crew of 40 people working on production, but everything's stored in the computer. The computer has the look of construction paper, you can see the grain and texture of the paper. That's still the art direction foundation of the show. We use Maya, a 3D program, and a virtual camera stand in the computer that makes everything really efficient.
Do you still use stop motion animation?
No, but the animators give the look of stop motion in the computer. We purposefully go in and add key frames to make the bumps and jiggles that we got in the original pilot. But the way we do it now is cleaner and not as raw as when you're working underneath a camera stand. We use a 3D program to do photorealistic things that make it look like construction paper. We go out of our way to make it look stop motion.
When did you guys switch over to using 3D programs?
After the pilot episode. There was a guy at Lucasfilm that loved the Spirit of Christmas. He showed us how we can use computers to make our show more efficiently.
And the Spirit of Christmas was the VHS that got sent out around Hollywood?
Yea, there were two Spirit of Christmas films. Matt and Trey did the first one in college. Then they got asked to do another one. It was the second one that got spread everywhere. Everyone watched it. Even George Clooney. There was no youtube then, so we had to make duplicates of VHS tapes and send it around.
For those who don't know, can you explain the 6 day South Park turn around?
The 6 day turnaround is strenuous but fun. I can say that now because I've had 6 months off. On other animated TV shows, you have to wait 6 or 7 months to see episodes broadcast. For our show, we start working on an episode on Thursday, it's ready by the following Wednesday. So that's really cool. Obviously, the turnaround is difficult. SNL does the same week long process to stay topical. It's like working on a live show, except we're doing the impossible because it's animated.
What's the 6 day schedule like?
The writers come in on Thursday. Most of the departments have Thursdays off, but some of us go in during the afternoon to see what the writers are talking about and if Trey has any pages written. We can start thinking about production and the storyboard artists start doing storyboard panels and designing assets. Hopefully, by Friday morning, we can look at an animatic, which is the timing of the storyboards with Matt & Trey's voice recordings. It's usually about a minute of material. The crew staggers in Friday afternoon to start production.
After that, it's a "go for it" mentality. Trey starts writing, we get more pages and things to work on. Friday and Saturday we work late until 10. Sunday and Monday we work until midnight. On Tuesday, we work a 24 hr shift. We come in at 9:30 in the morning and we work until the show's done, usually at 10 am on Wednesday. We just have to stay until we get it done because it airs Weds night.
Have you ever missed a deadline?
We only missed a deadline one time. It was the Goth halloween episode a couple years back. Someone hit an electric pole and it caused all the power at South Park Studios to go out for four hours. So they aired a rerun that night. Once Trey found out we missed the deadline and had until Friday to air it, he sweetened that episode even more.
Advice for young animators?
Be inspired and practice, practice, practice. Draw, animate (even if it’s with your phone camera), and learn different techniques and styles!
Who's your favorite character in South Park?
I guess it's Butters because he's based on me. But I love Cartman too. He's such a crazy, funny, manipulative character.
What will Butters be when he grows up?
I think he'll be messed up. No, kidding, he'll be a real rounded individual after all the topics we explore on South Park....he'll be a sweet dad.
What South Park episode do you think shocked fans the most?
I can honestly say its "Terrance and Phillip in Not Without My Anus" (S2Ep1). We pulled a practical joke early on our fans. It was on April Fool's Day. And the fans were shocked, and not like a cool shocked, but like a "fuck you, dude" shocked. There were phone calls to Comedy Central where fans were screaming saying "how dare you make us wait to find out who Cartman's father is and then show an episode like this crap!" By the way, it's still one of Matt and Trey's favorite episodes.
WHAT ARE YOU WATCHING?
What's your guilty pleasure show?
You still watch Survivor?
My family and I still watch Survivor. And they've had like 40 seasons. But I guess we had 21 seasons, so....
Love Actually...I had to go ask my wife.
Half Hr Sit Com or Hr Long Medical Drama
Ugh, both are so hard to sit through. I guess I'll pick half hr sit com only because it would be over in a half hour.
Favorite Cop Procedural?
Star Trek or Star Wars?
For me, it all started with Star Wars.
Last Movie You Saw In Theatres?
Mission Impossible: Fallout
Last Show You Binged Watched?
Stranger Things, Season 2
3 Shows On Your DVR
Who is America, John Oliver and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
**The 22nd Season of South Park airs on Weds, Sept 26th 10/9C. Be sure to watch!
***I’m posting another Q&A next week and if you love action movies and martial arts, you won’t want to miss it. Sign up for the email newsletter below!