Whether you are a fan of Comedy Channel’s long-running hit show South Park or not, the program has become a poster child for one of technology’s biggest game-changing impacts. It has shown that computer animation can completely change how TV shows are produced.
At yesterday’s Macworld/iWorld show in San Francisco, three of South Park’s top producers appeared in a session and talked about Apple’s impact on their animated show. South Park is (for those who may not have followed the program) a show that revolves around a group of animated teenage boys. The program skewers sacred cows and lampoons many public figures using profanity, satire, and very dark humor. It is also wildly popular and has become Comedy Channel’s highest rated program since it debuted in 1997.
When the program started, it took three months to prepare one half-hour show. Today, each show is fully produced from start to finish in six grueling days. And the South Park staff does it using Apple computers running Maya, a 3D graphics software tool produced by Autodesk. This is ironic because most of the show is actually in 2D, but the animators like the result when they convert the images.
“We are reinventing how you do an animated show,” explained Eric Stough, South Park’s Animation Director. By moving to a six day production window, the show can be much more topical, although the downside is that the creators (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) will frequently make changes in the script just a few hours before airing. “It takes a special breed to produce this show and it’s not for everybody,” Stough admitted.
Apple can be notoriously blasé when it comes to acknowledging the impact of its products on some industries, particularly Hollywood shows. When asked whether Apple cared about South Park as a major Apple installation, David Lenna (the program’s Chief Technology Officer) was quick to reply, “No.” This hasn’t prevented the program from poking their own brand of fun at Apple, as in their “Counsel of Geniuses” episode last year which featured a visit by the characters to an Apple store.
The creators of South Park have had their hands full lately as the producers of their successful Broadway show Book of Mormon. It’s hard to imagine that the time it takes to produce a full-scale Broadway play could be reduced from months to less than a week, but you have to wonder if the South Park team might be gazing right now at their vast array of Apple technology and figuring out how it could be done.