Series Interview: Sean C. Rice

Are you self-taught or university/college/photography school taught?

I went to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, I majored in Photography with the unimaginable attempt at a minor in illustration.


When did you take your first photograph, film, video, art, character, animation, etc.

I struggled through grade school with depression, bullying, and horrible ADD, and I found release in drawing. I had a teacher in 5th grade that saw my potential and that was when the flame for passionate expression was lit, especially after I won the student art show.


Why did you choose your craft, what led you to it?

I tried to get into Art Center as an illustration major, but the technical aspect of my drawings was sub-par.  While in Jr College at PCC, I accidentally signed up (back when you entered course codes over a telephone) for a photography class. I showed up, found out it was a photography class, and just went with it. I was so curious about the magic that happened between pushing a button on a camera and that turning into an image on a piece of paper. All it took was for one image to appear out of nowhere and I was hooked, I gave up illustration because I had zero patience for drawing an idea I had when all I had to do was recreate it in a photograph.


What is your greatest professional achievement?

Having an image I created for Red Bull painted (by 12 people over 2 weeks) as a 185 foot mural on the side of a building in downtown LA. They came to me with an initial idea of soccer player Neymar Jr. was standing on the 4th street bridge, in downtown LA, with 4 transparent players behind him and (an overhead view of) the city of LA rising up completely parallel to his back. It was thought that it couldn’t be done, and with a couple hundred photographs from a drone and hours of retouching we made it happen.


Who is/was your greatest mentor?

My greatest mentor was photographer James Fee, I worked with him at the height of his career when he was the only living photographer that Getty purchased an entire collection from, to his down fall, alcohol induced rages, attempted suicides, and his last days in a bed. He believed in me, he taught me everything he knew, and I wanted to be as good as he was. He’s the first artist whose work I felt I actually understood.


Could you describe how you create your imagery/art? What do you look for?

For me every photograph/commercial/documentary starts with 3 things, Who, Where, Why. That’s what you need to tell the story.

Who is the star and who is your audience? Where does your story take place? and Why does it take place there?

Answering the why provides you with that little extra “hook” you need to separate you from someone else telling that exact same story. I try to get 95% of this accomplished before the image has even been taken. This allows me to get the client exactly what they are looking for as well as leave room for a little magic after their expectations have been met.

Problem-solving in preproduction only leads to a successful outcome. By answering all the questions that may come up before the shoot (controlling all the things you can control) the more likely you are to execute a successful story, and by doing so the tiny little amount of extra time you gain from preparation, you can then explore alternate creative options/solutions you might not have otherwise thought of without actually having been in that situation in person.


What is the ideal relationship for you with your clients?  

Lots of communication and teamwork. Through conversation and dialog, the possibility for a successful outcome only becomes increasingly inevitable. The client is the heart and soul of the entire operation. They give birth to ideas and my job is to bring them to life. When they can comfortably communicate their wants, needs and desires through a free-flowing stream of consciousness supported by vibrant collective teamwork, we can execute creative solutions and unimaginable problem solving that typically leads to a satisfying end product. When they are content with the final outcome… That is where I find nirvana. I’m so grateful that I am afforded the opportunity of generating an income doing this type of work. If I could survive solely on client feedback, and only that alone, it would make the creative process that much more enjoyable.

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What are some obstacles you’ve faced and how have you overcome them?

Last December I was awarded the opportunity to shoot the new 86 for Toyota. They wanted to shoot (car to car) at Mount Wilson, CA to achieve that European Swiss Alps look. On three occasions we had our permits rejected by the State due to wild fires, and no longer had the option to shoot the car there. I went up to Mount Wilson with an assistant and an older model of the same car, I shot the location with the car (FPO) and then shot the HERO car (transparently layered in Capture One for alignment) at an airport in the open shade of an airplane hangar. This gave me more control over lighting the car and I even brought in a bunch of Christmas trees to reflect into the sheet metal to match the environment the car was going to be dropped into.



On another occasion, Toyota wanted to shoot a black Prius C at the Neon Sign Museum, at night, in Las Vegas (that was literally all of my direction). Due to rights of the signs and security, it would have cost $2800/hr to shoot there. My budget only allowed for me to shoot for one night. I did a scout and an angle study with the car and pre-comped out all of the ideas I had for the 13 shots and was able to get client approval. We then shot the car by itself in an empty lot nearby (for a $1,000) and then shot the backgrounds of the museum for two hours at dawn. Since only four signs actually lit up, and the only lights were (uncontrollable) LED color changing lights, we had to bracket for the color and brightness of each of the background plates (37 in total). To top it all off there was a thunderstorm two hours into shooting, so in order to make up that time, I set up the backup camera to shoot the 7/8’s shot and while we used the main hero camera, to shoot the 3/4 front. This allowed me to shoot plates for each angle at the exact same time. This would not have even been imaginable if I hadn’t taken the time to comp up the shots before they were even taken. This enabled the entire operation to be “plug & play” – since the final product was predetermined every person in my production crew knew exactly what their job was and when to do it.

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How would you describe your brand?

I’ve always tried to push the limits of what was imaginable. Years ago, I was content with flushing out an idea to where everyone was comfortable with it, and now I come to believe that it’s just the starting point. I literally wanted to start “reinventing imagination”.  I’ve always told clients, “if you can think it, we can make it”, but that was just the beginning. When an idea has evolved as far as you think you can push it, you need to flip it on its head and figure out how you can push that even further. Almost to where it’s uncomfortable. That’s exciting, that’s where the real magic happens. There are no limits to what we can do, our only limit is the walls of our imagination. By utilizing technology and innovation you can revolutionize the entire creative process. Every project is an opportunity to evolve and improve on what you’ve done before. I’m not satisfied by my work, and I don’t think I ever will be. I don’t want to be because then it becomes boring. By trying something different, putting a little spin on an idea, or even approaching it from a completely different perspective while possibly (or accidentally) discovering limits or boundaries that you never knew were there before… That is what it’s all about, risk has its rewards plus you have to keep in mind, some of the most ground-breaking inventions were discovered by accident.


Who are some of your influences?

First and foremost, my WIFE. When I leave for days on end she leaves little notes in my bag that always end with “I Love You More” on one occasion I left without giving her the opportunity to leave a note in my bag, so I immediately went out and had those very words (in her writing) tattooed on the inside of my left wrist. This way when I am shooting and I am holding the lens in my left hand I can see those very words that constantly remind me that she enables me to be the greatest version of myself.

Second, I’m inspired by blood relatives. I’m constantly trying to discover who we are and how we got here. I recently got married in April of 2017 and I have a child on the way in August. Before I got married I was obsessed with figuring out who I was and who I was going to be with my wife… I had nothing to go on.

My mother was born in Zagreb (1953), Croatia. Her father left her mother before her third birthday and her mother remarried and moved to the US when she was 12. My Father (born 1949) was adopted 6 weeks after birth and never knew who his birth parents were.

On January 1st of last year my mother only knew of her step sister (who died 10 years ago), while my father only knew of his adopted parents. I have spent the last 15 months learning Croatian and meeting / discovering my family members all over the US, Croatia, and Slovenia. I’ve meet over 250 people online and almost 100 in person that I am related to by blood.  Research along with DNA testing, revealed that almost half of the city of Šebrelje, Slovenia is somehow a descendant of my great, great, great Grandmother.

Spending all this time rewriting my own story has inspired me to want to tell theirs. Today my Mother now has a half-sister and half-brother, and my father now has his real mother, 5 half-brothers, 3 half-sisters, 2 uncles and 3 aunts. His original birth name was Larry David Wright, he could have lived an entirely different life and never met my mother. I’m in awe. Trying to comprehend this entire tenacious experience is truly awesome.


Where do you seek inspiration?

Nature, I love driving around the world on road trips for hours on end seeing time stamped in places you’d never think you’d find it. As far as other artists –  Sorayama, Mark Ryden, Jack White, Jim Gaffigan, Valentine Lisitsa, Tarsem Singh, & Robin Williams.


What are you passionate about, gets your blood pumping, or gives you joy?

The execution of an idea. When you think of a concept or an idea (albeit by myself or with someone else) and you’re able to take that and make it an image or full circle story. That’s exciting, that’s rewarding, that’s powerful, that makes me feel elated… But it only last for a few seconds, then it’s onto the next one.J_MG_3784_FLAT