Shira Inbar is the guest designer for Eye on Design’s “Psych” issue. She also happens to be a prolific (and self-taught) motion designer. Here, we dive into the moving side of her graphic work, including the video she created for Eye on Design’s issue launch party at House of Yes.
On your website you describe yourself as a “graphic designer with an edge in motion.” What exactly does that mean?
Well, I think that the definition is quite confusing, and it’s always something that designers think about a lot when we describe what we do, because graphic design is so broad and it can mean almost anything.
In my first job after school at MTV, my title was animator, but funny enough all the people on my team were all graphic designers who experimented with animation a little bit. I think if you work in graphic design nowadays, you’ve definitely opened After Effects at least once. I never took an animation class or motion graphics class; I played around with the medium as part of my work and my studies in design in general. It’s less about thinking, “I want to be a motion graphics designer, or I want to learn motion graphics.” It’s more like I have this idea I’m working in different mediums and exploring it from different perspectives, so how can I experiment with that medium as well?
Do you start from a different place with motion design versus static graphic design?
If it’s client work, it’s first about having a conversation and then proposing different treatments. But when it’s not client work—when it’s something I do for fun or something that doesn’t need to communicate in a more utilitarian way—the process is really different. It’s much more intuitive. It’s a lot more like painting or drawing in that you’re starting out and not really knowing where you will arrive. It’s always good for me to have those two things going on at the same time because that’s when I learn new things and connect to ideas that interest me. That’s how I give an outlet to the things that are in my head.
It’s a lot more like painting or drawing in that you’re starting out and not really knowing where you will arrive.
I’m curious to hear where an idea starts when you’re thinking about motion. Does it begin with a sketch, or does it start with you playing around in After Effects?
It really depends, and I know that’s not a good answer. Where do ideas come from? I think that sometimes they can come from a thought about a movement. Here is an example: Before the deadline to register to vote, I wanted to create a series of videos with the message, “Register Now.” I was concentrating on the word “now,” and I wanted it to be reoccurring or fragmented that comes together over time.
Behaviors are things that happen over time, so it’s easy to translate them into motion. From there, I found a way to move shapes or words to make them behave in a way that I was envisioning.
Behaviors are things that happen over time, so it’s easy to translate them into motion.
So does a shape or a word impact the behavior that you associate with it?
Both my parents are linguists, and they explore the way words behave in conversation. For example, if I say, “Well,” it can mean, “Well what’s going on?” But if I say, “Well,” it can mean, “Well, that was interesting.” So the same word can take on different meanings depending on the behavior of the person who said the word. It’s very, very similar when you translate that visually. If the word “now” appears flashing, it can reflect urgency. Whereas, if it fades away or grows very slowly, it will give us a different feeling because it behaves differently.
Do you feel like motion graphics are a richer form of communication in some ways?
Not at all. I think that behavior is definitely something that can be static, as well. The word or the shape just gets different qualities. It could be bigger, or it could have a color, or it could do a variety of different things. If you see a word printed tiny on a page, the message is different than when you see it blown up. Typefaces can also give meaning. Things that don’t move have their own richness, but I think things that do move can take things to another level. Not necessarily a better level; just a different level. I think they connect to us in a different place.
You teach motion graphics at Parsons. How do you position motion graphics in comparison to “traditional graphic design?”
I start from a place that might seem a little strange, but it’s a very similar to other design studies. I look at the connection to art and modern art, in particular. Not too long ago, there was an exhibition at the Jewish Museum called Modern Art and the Birth of American Television. It really showed how television and network branding emerged in the United States in the same steps as modern art and contemporary art. Because modern art at the time was so cutting edge, the corporate television networks wanted to associate themselves with the progressiveness of it. That exhibition really showed how the works of Dali, for example, were almost one-to-one translated into the corporate identity of CBS, with the eye and the surrealist sky background.
Behavior is definitely something that can be static as well
If you look at the backdrop to talk shows of the time, they all have pop art or op-art circles and colors. The way art was adopted into corporate American television really influenced the way the graphics were made for screens at the time. I think when you nourish the students with that information, they see that motion graphics is actually not too far away from their other studies in design, and that they both originate from the same visual traditions from the same culture and even the same people.
You have designers like Saul Bass, who are icons in good old graphic design, but were also pioneers in motion graphics and title sequences and films. Painting a picture for the students of how these two fields are connected helps them understand that motion graphics isn’t this new thing. It might be a new way to think, but it’s a very natural extension of what they’re already doing.
So the conceptual underpinnings are there, but when it comes to actual execution of making motion graphics, is it really just a matter learning it on your own?
I think it’s great that you’re asking that question because there’s almost this expectation in the field to do tutorials. I’m aware of this expectation, and I definitely take care to point out relevant resources for students to learn. I also help them in the early stages to get familiar [with software] because I recognize that it can be intimidating. I used to be intimidated by it when I was an undergrad; I actually dropped out of the After Effects class because it was hard.
I was very young, and at the time I thought that I had all my interests figured out already, if you can believe it. I thought to myself, “Oh, I want to be a book designer,” and in my junior-ness I said, “I will never need that.”
“I had a professor once who said that he doesn’t understand why schools teach software. School should teach us how to learn software. ”
So you ended up teaching yourself?
Yeah, but I also TA’d (teaching assisted) in grad school and just worked in it. I sort of found my own way to relate to motion graphics. I had a professor once who said that he doesn’t understand why schools teach software. School should teach us how to learn software because there’s going to be new software all the time. It’s more useful to know how to approach it and how to learn it, as opposed to just sort of have your set of tools and not seek out anything else.
What are your tips for learning how to learn?
First, learn how to ask what you want to do. For example, if you want to have a shape transition into another shape, you simply need to open a browser and be like, “circle, transition into square, After Effects.” You might think that you’re the only person in the world who has this issue, but when you Google it, you’ll find out that 2 million people had the same exact question and there are 5,000 video tutorials on how to do it.
Knowing how to ask questions is key, as is knowing how to go out and look for those answers—and having the patience to do it.
I also tell my students that I watch those tutorials every day. I learn new things all the time, and it’s okay not to know things. I remember when I was studying I always thought that my professors had all the answers, and I was like, “How do I get there?” But knowing that everyone has questions all the time, including the people who are teaching, really helps.
You did the visuals for our House of Yes “Psych” issue launch party. Did you learn anything new on this project?
I actually did. This might seem really basic, there was this scene that has a grid of eyes and then it transforms into flowers. That was something I wasn’t exactly sure how to do. I was like, “Okay, I have a group of eyes, let me look around the program and press on a button that I don’t know.” And sure enough when I did, I found this tool called “pucker and bloat.” I thought it was probably going to make the eye bulge, but then it did this crazy thing that turned it into a flower. So there you go.
Did you know what you were going for before you started poking around? Or was it just an experiment?
I did know that I wanted to create some sort of transition or morphing, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it or what it was going to end up being. I just started pushing buttons and seeing what happens. It’s not a very intelligent answer, but it ended up doing something really cool.
The videos use a lot of the visuals that you created for print issue, too. How did you translate the static design into motion?
Every title page for the stories in the issue is kind of like a portal, gate, frame, or a mini poster that you can dive into. As a result, I was left with all these visual elements: frames, shapes, eyes, faces, flowers. Animating them was literally like being in a toy store. I was picking up things and just playing with them. I had my big elements file open, going back and forth. I would place [an element] into the motion program and just asking myself, “Okay, what can I do?”
There was a bit of a logic; I wanted to reflect a little of the idea of moving through space and travel, whether it’s traveling scene to scene or traveling back and forth. You have cases where it’s a little more literal where you have the eye tunnel, and then you have others that are in a way more flat, like the gates that we have on the backside of the cover.
Do you have a favorite part of the video?
I would say that my favorite parts are definitely the combinations that I worked on, like when you see “Psych” and “#02.” I also love the eyes transforming and the flowers in the background. It’s almost a cacophony of things. In general, maybe I have a little bit too much of a love for cacophony, but I can keep it under control, so I’m not that worried about it.