Just one year after Parham quit freelancing to become a full-time YouTuber, her Let Me Explain Studios is among the most popular animation channels on the platform.
When Rebecca Parham of YouTube channel Let Me Explain Studios posted a collaboration video titled “How to Creep Out Your Fav YouTubers at Cons” in May of 2017, the freelance animator could’ve never anticipated the reaction she’d get — or the life changes that were in store. The video, which featured lines voiced by fellow YouTubers TomSka, Jaiden Animations and Daneboe, sent her subscriber count soaring. Just two months later, the night before she left for VidCon, she hit 100,000 subscribers.
That was only the beginning. In July of 2017 the Ringling College of Art & Design graduate quit her freelancing job and became a full-time YouTuber. With more bandwidth for what she loves, and with the support of the YouTube animation community, Let Me Explain Studios hit 500,000 subscribers in January of 2018 and, as of this writing, has reached over 1.2 million.
What has this meteoric rise to success meant for Rebecca Parham, and what’s in store for the future of Let Me Explain Studios? In an interview for Crixeo, the creator spoke with me about animation inspiration, YouTube content creation, and being an online role model to others with big dreams — and big love for animation.
In the “Draw My Life” video, you mentioned growing up watching Disney movies, Nickelodeon, Pokémon and Powerpuff Girls. Did this help you develop your own signature style?
I guess you could say the overall character design I currently utilize in my videos has been influenced by a range of animated content I grew up on, specifically TV shows and Disney features. Since television animation works with a significantly smaller budget than feature animation does, it’s standard practice with TV shows to simplify character designs in order to cut down on production costs and save time. I work alone with an even smaller budget and production schedule. Because of that, I’ve made certain creative decisions that help streamline the creative process while still retaining the essence of character appeal and performance. A few examples would be eliminating the mouth, strategically using simplified mitten-like hands, and sticking with a simple, round head that offers flexibility in eye expression and perspective. However, there’s still a level of complexity within animated-Rebecca’s body. Because I lose an element of expression by taking out the mouth, I’m more dependent upon body language and strong storytelling poses to give a convincing and entertaining animated performance. So the overall design still retains a feeling of proportion, depth and weight. A fleshiness, as I like to say. It helps solidify complex body language so the performance is more nuanced and covers a wider range of expression and emotions. The technique has been used in feature animation for decades, especially in the Disney movies I grew up on.
You’ve talked about the ways in which art has been therapeutic for you, from drawing cartoons to cope with bullying in school to making YouTube videos after your father unexpectedly passed away. What do you hope other young kids who feel alone or different might take away from your videos?
There’s an adage that I’ve heard floating around in the past few years that really helped fortify the type of message I want to put out into the world: “Be the person you needed when you were a kid.” When I was a kid, I needed a role model to show me I wasn’t alone and that being different from everyone else isn’t a mark of shame. If anything, I’ve grown to learn that seeing and experiencing the world in a different way can be turned into your greatest strength. What I would love for kids to take away from my videos is that they can and should love themselves for who they are, and their identity and worth as a person aren’t defined by what others think of them. I also hope to spark their creativity in the same constructive ways that have helped me. Animation could easily be considered the study of life. When you break life down into 24 meticulously handcrafted frames per second, you gain a new respect and love for it. I hope my work can help inspire the next generation of artists to put more good into the world.
After going to Ringling College of Art & Design for computer animation, you were encouraged to pursue a career at one of the major studios. What do you think your nontraditional path to success says about the flexibility and opportunities offered by digital platforms?
Digital platforms allow artists, inventors and entrepreneurs to digitally present their work and ideas to millions of people across the world. In the Hollywood system, it’s a relentless fight just to get your ideas seen by a studio producer. And even then, the creative direction of a green-lit project is no longer yours alone to decide. The appeal of putting your work online is cutting out the middle man and retaining the creative control an artist desires. Now, of course, presenting digitally has many limitations. There’s never a guarantee that millions of people will see your work, and much of online success comes down to luck, relentlessness and learning how to adapt. It’s not suited for everyone, and most won’t be able to sustain themselves on their work alone. But digital platforms can be a tool. An independently produced animated short that goes viral won’t sustain a living, but it may open doors to opportunities offline. New jobs and industries have been created because of the internet and online culture; ergo, more opportunities. And the internet has even made it easier for professional artists to work remotely in whatever country, state or city that best suits them. The online world is an ever-changing horizon that’s shaping the future. And no matter what way you use digital platforms to your advantage, it’s always best to have your finger on the pulse of innovation and never stop learning.
Your channel’s “big break” came after a collaboration video titled “How to Creep Out Your Fav YouTubers at Cons.” What do you think made this video so popular, and what did this teach you in terms of future content creation?
I’m not an expert on how the YouTube algorithm works, but I can safely say “How to Creep Out Your Fav YouTubers at Cons” was the video that finally made the system work for me. In that situation, everything came together at the right moment. The video was funny and well produced, the title was provocative, and it featured some well-known, established creators. At the time the short was made, one of the collaborators, Jaiden Animations, was a prominent member of the newly forming animated-storytelling genre. And given that her participation drove a large portion of her audience to my channel, the YouTube algorithm started associating my content with the animated-storytelling community. Soon my videos were being suggested alongside other animators’, and thus my place in the genre had been established. What that experience taught me is the value of community. The nature of animation is a collaborative one, and that spirit carries through even in our group of independent animators. The genre doesn’t work without the community. Animated content takes a long time to produce, and we as individuals or small teams can’t put out a video every week or every day like other online creators can. But a single viewer in our community is very often a fan of multiple animators. Our audiences overlap all the time. So while I’m making my next video, I count on Jaiden Animations, TheOdd1sOut and so many others to upload their content and keep our audiences happy. We’re very much individuals with our own unique methods of storytelling, but it’s easy to see a lot of our content and jokes circle back to be inclusive of our peers.
The channel hit 100k subscribers last July, and then 500k subscribers in January. You’re at over 1.2 million now. What’s changed for you over the past year, and what do think the rest of 2018 might have in store for Let Me Explain Studios?
The past year has been very eventful, and I’ve seen a lot of changes; the biggest one being I quit my freelancing work to focus on my YouTube channel. The growth of my channel has presented opportunities I never would’ve dreamed of a year ago, and I’ve made many new friends and colleagues in the YouTube community. The sudden burst of popularity took some adjusting, and I still learn new things about this job every day. But the rest of 2018 is looking to be very exciting in its own right. I have collaborations planned with creators I’ve admired for years, I’m open to attending more conventions, and there are a few projects in the works that I never would’ve been able to accomplish until now. I’m definitely looking to the future with ambition and optimism.
Videos on your channel cover a range of topics, including anecdotes (“My Teacher Murdered Someone”), animated versions of real-life characters (“The Curious Disney Security Guard”) and live action videos about animation (“Rebecca Explains”). What inspires you most? What topics do your subscribers respond to best?
Without a doubt, my audience prefers my animated content over my live action videos. And that’s to be expected, because it’s what they subscribed for and where I thrive as an entertainer. I do my best on the occasions I have to appear in front of the camera, but my brain sees the world in animation. I pull a lot of motivation and enthusiasm from other professional artists, particularly when I can hear or read their words in an interview or seminar. Animators like Glen Keane and Eric Goldberg speak about animation in a way that gets me excited about my own work. But the ideas for my videos come from a different place. Very often, animators and creators can get into creative blocks because they’ve buried their heads too long in work or in media. But I find my greatest inspiration comes from going out, experiencing life, letting my mind wander and meditating on the things I’ve absorbed. The point is to limit the constant mental engagement of work, social media and entertainment so my mind is free to drift and come up with something new. An idea for an entire video can come from a single childhood memory or something funny I saw while walking around town. Life keeps me inspired, and I would hope it keeps a feeling of sincerity in my work — because without sincerity, you lose that vital connection with your audience.
Alongside channels like Jaiden Animations and TheOdd1sOut, you were asked to animate bits for the YouTube Rewind 2017 video. What was it like animating for such a visible project? What has your experience been as part of the YouTube community and, specifically, within the niche of animation creators?
Being asked to participate in YouTube Rewind was an exciting prospect, and not just for me and my channel. It was the first time YouTube animators were included — a huge opportunity for our community. It felt like a nod of recognition from YouTube, so the pressure was on to represent ourselves and our friends in the best way. Normally we work with limited animation in our videos for budget and schedule reasons. But with Rewind being so visible, we all put in a lot of time and work to show our full capabilities as animators. The effort paid off in the end, as many people told us our animation was their favorite part of the whole video. It was a validating experience for our niche of YouTube animators, a group that’s just now starting to join the YouTube community as a whole. Animation in Hollywood has always existed in its own little bubble. It has its own culture, a feeling of unity, and it doesn’t always play by the same rules as the rest of entertainment. It’s a similar feeling being a part of the animated storytelling genre. Recently, though, our creators have been branching out a little more and making connections all across the YouTube space. It’s an exciting time to be an animator on YouTube, and we’re hoping to make great strides for ourselves, our peers and our art form in the years to come.