Interview with freelance art director & animator Reece Parker

Reece Parker is a freelance art director & animator from Seattle that I’ve had the pleasure of contracting with over the years for several animation projects. His animation work is not only impressive in its complexity and scope, but has a thoughtful quality to its physics and direction that is well beyond his years. He’s created animations for Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Reddit, Samsung, Microsoft, and the Gates Foundation, just to name a few, and I fully expect to see more of his work in the highest levels of public spheres for years to come. For this weeks interview we asked him a few questions about what the life of an animator is like and what motivates him to work the late nights required to be an animator.
Harold: Hey Reece, give our audience your quick wikipedia page intro about how you got into animation and the arts and where you are currently in your career.
Reece: Hey Apples, totally. I'm Reece Parker, animator & illustrator. I've been creatively driven as long as I can remember, painting, skateboarding, drawing, dancing, video editing, the list goes on. I got older and had no money, so I definitely hoped to one day do something I enjoyed as an actual career, but I also never really thought that would be a reality. After many odd jobs, I stumbled onto an unpaid internship at a tech startup. I was basically assigned to all creative aspects of the business, illustration, t-shirt design, logo animation, motion graphics. I worked part-time at a Costco shipping warehouse, and then would go to my internship full time. So that was about 16 hours a day, which I loved because I was just soaking it up. Learning from people that were a lot smarter than me, and that change of scenery was sudden but also really welcome. I just slowly started researching creative fields from there and ran face first into the motion/animation industry. Nowadays I run my own one-man studio, freelancing and working alongside other talented studios part of the time, and taking on my own projects and running them the other part of the time. Pretty happy where things are currently at, and doing a very very small amount of growing currently.
H: I’m a graphic designer and illustrator myself and the idea of concepting visual work out on a timeline, i.e. storyboards, sounds like a daunting and deep process. Could you tell us how you go about storyboarding an initial concept and how you translate that into something that’s tangible?
R: Good question, Its can definitely be difficult but I think like anything the more you do it the more natural the process becomes. Typically it just starts with sketches on paper in a little notebook (client provides a script to go off of 90% of the time), after that feels alright, take it digitally with those little notebook sketches and flesh it out slightly more. Pair that with the script that accommodates the scene, and shoot it to the client. After approval, art direction is explored - which just means picking a scene out of the board and fully illustrating it in a few styles. The client picks one and then its fully into designing the rest of the frames! Lots of work, but the process is straight forward and simple.
H: A lot of your work has an old world animation quality about it but I’m assuming it is all finished digitally in After Effects. Could you give us a little insight into your process, and tell us why you lean towards that specific process, and what excites you about it?
R: Definitely, I think I should start with this wasn't always the case. Lately more and more I'm moving into what I was doing when I was a teenager, just drawing free hand. That translates into my illustration and animation work nowadays. It started very vector based and graphic designy, which I love, but grew out of for lack of a better term. My nature is to be very free and work on intuition, so math and bezier points don't always jive with that ha. But there's always a time and place, and I'm glad I can work both ways. It's funny you mention After effects, because when I made the shift I gradually moved out of doing the intense stuff in AE. Most of my work now is done in Photoshop and Adobe Animate, then taken into After effects for some lite comp work. It probably sounds really complicated, but after getting over the fear of using different applications almost like they're all just one big tool, it's pretty simple and seamless. Hopefully I answered your question, I get excited about making art. Commercial work and 'art' don't always line up, sometimes you'll get a rad project, but most of the time its required to be corporate friendly. My personal style just helps me be free.
H: From what I know of the animation world, it’s an extremely time intensive endeavor. You’ve got a new kiddo as well, is managing your time a problem for you? And if so have you found ways to overcome it and organize your life in a way that works for you as an animator?
R: You've just touched on my biggest issue, effectively managing my time has been really really tough. So far I've managed to pull it off and be okay, but just barely. Its all on me though, and that's kinda whats addicting about this whole thing. I've been blessed to stay really busy, and what comes with that is making more money, doing bigger projects, and so on, which is addicting. There's always this nagging feeling when doing your own thing that randomly work will just stop coming, and so there's some survival instinct that makes it more difficult to say no to projects. I've brought on help recently in an effort to take the work on without me having to be up all night every night. There have been some serious learning curves, but all worth it. I thankfully manage to get in a good amount of family time, which is most important and so necessary for creative sustainability. It's all just a balancing act.

Amazon Smart Home (director's cut) from Reece Parker on Vimeo.

H: From what I remember you’ve worked on staff as an animator at several large companies and have also been out on your own. Would you rather be a company man or do you aspire to be working for yourself full time?
R: I've had a few 'full time-ish' stints at places like Amazon, etc. Great places, just not for me. I had bigger dreams I guess, mostly based on what I was seeing other popular freelancers doing. Now after having lived what I wanted for a little bit, I can say it was so worth it. Leaving cushy high paying jobs with perks is not easy, but I don't do well working for other people. I always say my mom is an artist, and my dad is a businessman - so I'm a perfect mix of both. Cheesy, but true. Honestly I've made more money then I would have anywhere else, and I've had much more freedom as well - so its definitely worked out. Stoked I followed my gut.
H: What artists do you think impacted your current style the most?
R: Oh man, a lot. This changes too. I really really like Gunner and everyone they work with. One of my favorite illustrators is James Noellert, so natural and unique. I will say, I try to avoid references, so as to not just exactly copy others work, or real life. This isn't always easy, but I think its more exciting to start blank and end with something totally out of your head. I still am influenced by whats in my Instagram feed or whatever, but this way I hopefully avoid just blatantly plagiarizing others.

H: What artists or animators are currently inspiring you?
R: I'm rarely inspired animation wise by the motion graphics industry, it can happen and when it does its incredible. But more often then not its full of half baked work from people who only know how to shift shapes. This isn't the case with everyone obviously. The old legends inspire me a lot, because they were so limited with technology but also so incredible despite that. I can't think of one animator in the industry that would even come close to the old school legends, myself included. That's sad maybe, but mostly just a challenge. There's always a next level, and more to learn.

H: What are you listening to right now?
R: I have Netflix on in the background currently, The Office of course. Not recommended if you're looking to have an extremely productive day ha.
H: Have any last words of advice for beginners or anyone looking to get into animation but are struggling to get on their feet?
R: I'm really quick to say I got lucky, which is true, but I also worked and still work really really hard. Because I love it. I usually rant on these types of questions (and always), but to avoid this I will just say make sure you love it, if you do, you'll work it out. I believe that.