Interview with host Zach Parrish (“Us Again”, Netflix animation director)
One of the most memorable animated pieces of 2021 was the animated short Us again. This beautiful movie tells the story of a grumpy old man named Art who gets a second chance to be young and dance again with his wife Dot. Recently, we had the chance to chat with director and animator Zach Parrish about the short film and his animation career at Disney and Netflix:
Why don’t you show up and how you got started as an animator?
My name is Zach Parrish. I’m currently the animation director at Netflix. I entered the animation industry in 2007. I went to school at Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia and then took online training at Animation Mentor while I worked in the visual effects industry,
I started on Alvin and the Chipmunks then went to Sony Imageworks and worked on Cloudy with a chance of meatballs, then I finally ended up at Disney in 2010. I was at Disney for 11 and a half years as an animator, animation supervisor, animation manager, workflow supervisor, and director. I made a short film called Flasks of waterthen I realized more recently We again, which was one of the last things I did before making the switch.
You now work for Netflix, and I’m so excited about Netflix. So many things like Esoteric was so amazing, and seeing their work with Aardman, I’m super thrilled.
it’s an opportunity for so many people to tell their stories, and there’s been a shift, and I don’t know if it’s the pandemic or if it’s streaming services or whatever, but there’s an appetite for more and for different and for specific and personal reasons and having all these different platforms all trying to get those voices heard. It’s amazing, because then you get something like Esoteric maybe it didn’t exist five years ago because it’s such a specific audience.
That’s the kind of interesting thing about Netflix is that there’s no branding at all. It’s anything and everything, and it’s going to find its audience, and so it becomes these unique things that explode. Esoteric is huge and is, for good reason: It’s amazing.
So how did you come up with the idea? We again? How? ‘Or’ What did it come to you?
So that was probably 2017. I was in my thirties and starting to feel the aches and pains that come with crossing that threshold…. I had this desire to want to be young again (even though I was only in my thirties) but I had this rather cynical view on it. However, my mom was in her 60s and she was talking about all those things she was going to do when she grew up.
And I realized that by my definition I’m old, and by her definition she’s young, and that totally got me thinking and kind of broke my head, what the age ? The truth is, everything is relative, everything is a state of mind, and that led to those conversations I always have with my wife about being present and living in the moment and appreciating where you are and the people around you…
So that’s what I came up with: this idea of this elderly couple having this magical night and this dance world…
The music and choreography were so essential and added so much to the short. How did it all come together, both the choreography and the music?
It was hard…. Even in my original pitch, I had a playlist of music that I… I knew I wanted to be in the soul funk musical lineup, because I wanted something that the characters I imagined in my head would listen to, but also something that I felt like it could be on the radio today. I wanted everything in the film to feel like yesterday and today.
And then I was a big fan of Keone & Mari, who ended up being our choreographers. I had been following them on social media for years, and I was talking to a friend, and he reminded me of this video of them dancing as an older couple to Bob Marley, to a Bob Marley song. And so I use that and a bunch of clips of Keone & Mari dancing and doing different performances as examples of how we could build a world where they have conversations with dance. It was really difficult because it’s a chicken and egg problem. You never have any until you have everything.
And so we were working on the story a bit. Pinar was writing, (Pinar Toprak was our composer, who was amazing). She was writing temporary themes and scores for the story artists and for Keone & Mari to try and imagine what this movie was going to be like. Keone & Mari would have ideas for the dance and things like that, which might inspire the storyboard artist. Then Pinar did kind of a final pass to the music, and we had a final pass to the choreography, and finally we got to do the movie. Once we had the music, the choreography and the story, all we had to do was make the film. LOL.
Well, one last question, what advice would you give to someone who wants to get into animation?
Oh my God. Practice patience… What I tend to tell people when I talk to students or something like that is don’t forget to live. That’s kind of the point, that’s kind of the message of the movie, but I think it’s also… It’s something that I really needed to learn when I was going to school, I was so focused, I need to learn Maya. I need to understand this principle of animation. And I closed myself off a bit, I became so focused that I closed off the world and didn’t experience… And so much of what art is, film is an interpretation, it’s a vision of the world.
Doing experiments, going to museums and drawing, going to the park and watching people, movies and television and observing life is the key… It will always end up being useful. It’s gonna be better for your soul, but it’s also… It’s gonna be that thing you go to when you need inspiration. I remember one time, I was in this park and I saw this couple and this guy doing this thing, and it became a character-specific moment in my animation. So I think people can learn different software packages (and you have to learn how to do those things or do a job), but I think to get perspective as an artist living life is probably the biggest secret.
To listen to the full interview click here or watch on youtube: