South Park Animator and VFS Grad Pays a Visit to Her Alma Mater

By VFS Web Team, on July 16, 2013

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We've all had that chaotic moment. You know, the one where you're scrambling to finish a school assignment at the last minute. It's okay. You can admit it. We're not judging.
3D Animation & Visual Effects grad Nora Quinn knows this feeling all too well. As an animator on the hit cartoon series South Park, she has to deal with a production schedule that sees them churning out an episode in six days.
"It's like writing a 10 page essay in two hours," she explains to a room full of eager animation students.
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As if summoning the skills of improvisation and adaptability she learned from working on the show, the structure of the talk shifts suddenly from a formal presentation to a friendly Q&A. It feels like a night at the pub with a friend who just got back from a trip abroad. Her career path to South Park was not a straight line, but more of a windy road guided by determination and talent. She even admits bashfully that she didn't know how to use Maya when she was interviewed for the job, a requirement for the position.
Since joining the show in 2008, she's adapted to the grind of producing a cartoon that requires its staff to work a 24 hour day (the final day of each week before the episode is complete). Nora credits the fast pace of VFS and the critical feedback she received from her instructors and peers for preparing her for the work environment she would later face.
VFS Animation student Jay Roxas was at Nora's presentation and provided us with some highlights.
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When someone mentions South Park, I think you get a very strong reaction. To find out an animator from the show was coming to do a talk, I jumped at the chance to be there! Last week, VFS had the pleasure of hosting Nora Quinn, Animator at South Park Studio s.
Nora had a really nice open Q&A session on what it's like to work for South Park Studios. It really sounds like a fly by the seat of your pants kind of job. One week episode turnarounds, one 24 hour on-call shift, Redbull, and pancakes...for 14 weeks. But for all the chaos that is the nature of TV land, Nora made a point that was contrary to what most people imagine - the studio is a well-oiled machine full of normal people who work hard and always want to deliver their best work.
I always had this funny thought that everyone at South Park Studios would have great abs. I imagine that the amount of laughter generated there at any one point in time would be just great for your stomach muscles. I don't think that statement would be too far from the truth but for all the crazy things that happen on screen, there actually is a serious side to cranking out hilarious things.
A few things that really struck me from Nora's presentation are:

  • Good animation, no matter the medium, still applies the 12 principles of Animation and knows when to sometimes break them
  • Companies always hire people who get along and work well with others
  • Passion for what you do will keep you going during tight delivery crunch times, long hours, six day work-weeks, and 24 hour stints to make your deadlines
  • Learn to take breaks - enjoy them to recharge and get ready for the next adventure
  • Be nice to people, you never know who might be the person that recommends you for a job
  • You never stop finding solutions to make your work better

I'd like to thank Nora for being so inspirational and also so open about what they do at South Park Studios.
Thanks to Jay for the recap and thanks to Nora for spending some time with us!