Eric Stough, the animation director of "South Park" and inspiration for the character Butters, will be at a special screening of the "South Park" episode A Nightmare on Face Time on Thursday on the University of Colorado campus. This spoof on "The Shining" -- presented by the International Film Series -- includes a presentation and Q&A with Stough, who is a CU alum. The screening will be at 7:30 p.m. in The Visual Arts Complex Basement Auditorium, room 1B20.
How long have you known 'South Park' creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone?
I've known Trey since I was 13. We went to junior high school at West Jeff [Jefferson] Junior High. Then I've known Matt since college. He was in my college thesis film there at the University of Colorado.
You guys tend to make fun of CU in 'South Park,' especially in the Crack Baby Athletic Association episode. What is your favorite episode or moment that pays homage to the university?
I'm trying to think of all the times that we've made fun of the University of Colorado, and that's the main one we've really talked about. To be honest with you it's just because it's so close to where the boys would live, which is up in South Park. That's the reason why we picked that school for the Crack Baby Association ... that would be my favorite one.
How has the production process evolved from the original handmade layout to digital process you use now?
It's evolved for the look. The look has become much more complex. We wanted to keep it really basic for those early seasons just to establish some of the rules of the show. But because computers have gotten faster, our crew has gotten more talented and we know the rules, it's allowed us to become so much more efficient. When we did the original, it took about three months to cut out the construction paper in all the different sizes of the kids, depending on what the shot was. But now we do the show in five days. It's mostly because of technology and the skills of the artists over 16 years.
How has your role in production changed over the years?
I was the first person hired onto "South Park," and that's because I'm really passionate about animation. I was there at CU and thinking about taking art classes. Trey was like, "If you want to do animation, you've got to get over to the film school. Don't waste any time learning to draw, just start animating." I knew Trey's style. I knew what he was going after, since I'd been in school with him for 10 years at that point. So then I got moved up to director of animation, and I was in charge of the look of the show. I would supervise other animators to make sure that their shots matched the way Trey was expecting them. [Now] I'm producing the show. The reason why I bumped up to producer was to give some more people credit, like when we get nominated for Emmys, so that they have a chance of getting an award themselves.
You have five days to make an episode. Have things ever fallen apart and you couldn't finish the show on time?
The best thing about "South Park" is Matt and Trey are so hands-on. They're involved every hour of the production process. We're working through the weekends, so when they're writing they're giving us four pages at a time. If we think a show isn't going to air on a Wednesday, we'll be able to make changes most of the time. We'll change the show just to make sure the schedule works and make sure we can get it done in those five days. There was something that happened earlier on, I think in season three or four, where it was the Columbine shooting, and we had a show lined up that was about kids fighting. At Comedy Central, we decided, let's not air that show for a while. That's really the only time that airtime got changed.
The character Butters is a lampoon of you as a kid. Butters is one of the sweeter, more innocent characters, but he is also naive. How do you feel about him being your representative character?
The guys had called me Butters because I was like their little buddy, because I was two years behind them in school, so I was kind of like their little brother. When I first saw it in the script pages I was like, "Oh God, what are they going to do to me?" Because sometimes Trey would reference things in his life. But people have fallen in love with Butters. The best thing about it that I think works the best is he's such a contrast to Cartman. You've got evil Cartman and you've got this naive Butters, and that contrast works very well. And Trey's right, I did have a cookie-cutter upbringing. I grew up in Evergreen. I had very protective parents who made me really well rounded, so it's actually really cool, and I like it.
So you'll be back at your alma mater, CU on Thursday to screen "A Nightmare on Face Time." Why do you like to do these screenings that break down the making-of process?
I guess International Film Series showed Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" forward and backward overlayed, which sounds pretty trippy. It's a pretty Boulder thing to do. I went to the film program, and it was very rare that someone from the industry would come in and give presentations like this. I would have loved it if someone from "The Simpsons" came in and showed how you make "The Simpsons," or someone from Lucasfilm would come down from Skywalker Ranch and did a making-of of the "StarWars" films. So for me working at "South Park" and being from CU, I think it's one of the best things I can contribute. It's really great to be able to come back and share that with students who are either in the film program, or never get out to California, or have no access besides reading on the internet. I like being able to do a one-on-one with the audience and tell them how we do it.