What is it like working on one of the biggest animated shows of all time? Lisa Price catches up with South Park's director of animation, Ryan Quincy.
Irreverent, puerile, award-winning, genius: South Park is one of the best-known animation shows on TV and is now in its 12th series having launched in 1997. Ryan Quincy moved to Los Angeles in the same year, eventually landing his first job working on stop-motion animation for the sketch show MADtv. His big break came when he was hired for the 1999 film South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut and he's remained with the show ever since.
Now animation director, Quincy's in charge of 25 staff. "The creative process on South Park is insane," he reveals. "When we start an episode, we never get a full script. We'll get two to four pages at a time and then it just snowballs from there. It's truly unlike how any other animated show is made. It's very organic and always changing up until the last minute, which is one of the reasons why the show is so topical and brilliant."
"A lot of people think working on an animated show is a lot of fun, like a carnival or something," he adds. "It's not like that. It's challenging and frustrating, but I'm thankful to be a part of something that people have so much admiration for. We work hard, but we play hard too."
The 'working hard' comes over ten weeks of production, then the creative team gets ten weeks off. This is crucial for Quincy, as it enables him to pursue his personal projects: "My job is a lot more managerial. I love it and it's rewarding, but nothing is as fulfilling as doing my own characters and artwork."
South Park's cut-out look has evolved from the early days, but the style is essentially the same. The show is created in Maya, with the colour palette based on scanned-in construction paper. "For my animation I've been using Flash 8 and Photoshop," he says. "I had no previous experience with computer animation when I started on the South Park movie. They taught us the software on the job. As for Flash, my wife and some friends from work introduced it to me."
Quincy's own style uses the cutout effect, but is softer and more illustrative. He has produced rich and evocative videos for the bands Dios (Malos), Leviathan Brothers (both in California) and Brooklyn's Les Savy Fav. His inspiration is as eclectic as the videos suggest: "For the Dios video, the ape riding and looking through the pterodactyl's head came from a dream I had in eighth grade. Les Savy Fav's What Would Wolves Do? was influenced by a lot of things, but I was watching Space Ghost at the time and that carried over. My three-year-old son, Liam, has been an abundant source of inspiration and he actually finger-painted a lot of the backgrounds for the Leviathan Brothers and Les Savy Fav videos."
Quincy has also developed his own set of characters, which appear in the Out There short he released in 2006, and he has plans to expand the project: "I'm looking forward to doing longer pieces with dialogue, and delving deeper into the agony and the ecstasy of life."
He also has another creative outlet he'd like to pursue: "I'd love to start painting more. My girl and I have this fantasy that we'll move to the woods and I'll spend my days painting in a barn, like Pollock - pretension and all!"