Talking Cause and FX with Herron Alum Jon Parker

Jon Parker

From rogue ice storms to mind-blowing visualizations of outer space, visual effects artist Jon Parker (B.F.A. Painting ’00) has helped bring to life both real and imagined stories for the past 18 years.

A New York City resident, Parker has created animations for Hayden Planetarium shows at American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) and worked behind the scenes on television commercials for Toys “R” Us, Gillette, and M&Ms. He’s also contributed to a number of feature films including “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” (2004), “Salt” (2010), “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (2013), and “Everest” (2015).

To discover what led Parker to this career path, read the following Q&A as we discuss how his Herron training came into play and the skills needed for visual effects and animation work at the professional level.

HERRON: What exactly does your job entail as a freelance computer graphics (“CG&”) generalist?

JON PARKER: There is a continuum of skills possessed by people who work in animation, which ranges from the very technical to the purely creative and intuitive. I often end up in more general roles where I help “glue” both sides of the production together. That could mean knowing how to instruct a programmer to help the team achieve a certain visual look, or helping the creative crew work more efficiently and fixing some of their technical workflow problems.

HERRON: Tell us a little about your computer art background. Did you start exploring the discipline before, during, or after attending Herron?

PARKER: Sometime around 1990 or 1991 I saw a video playing at RadioShack called “The Mind’s Eye: A Computer Animation Odyssey.” I became obsessed with it. Around the same time, I was exploring pre-Internet online bulletin board systems and I discovered some free programs that let me program and create my own computer images.

Later in high school, I convinced my art teacher to allow me to submit some of my images as homework assignments. She really didn’t know what to make of it; nobody had ever created anything in her class like that before. When I entered Herron, there were no classes yet that taught computer animation, so I focused on fine art and traditional skills.

HERRON: How did you begin a career in this field after you graduated?

A still from “Dark Universe” of NASA’s Galileo probe entering Jupiter’s atmosphere. American Museum of Natural History

PARKER: I got a break early on. When I was 19, my dad knew someone who knew about a company creating “graphics” that was then called Phillips Design Group, owned by Greg and Gary Phillips. (Greg is now an owner of Plow Digital in Indianapolis.) I got the company’s address and one day showed up there with a 3.5-inch floppy disk with a few images I’d made in my free time. Somehow that worked and I ended up working for them through most of my time at Herron. By the time I graduated, I already had a small but professional portfolio of CG work.