School of Art

Assistant Professor Nicole Antebi’s animations help explain viruses, vaccines and COVID, working on an animation team for the American Museum of Natural History’s recent video series. 

The series was made available on the American Museum of Natural History website to provide people with the science and history behind pandemics.

Antebi teaches in the Illustration & Design program at the University of Arizona School of Art. She received her MFA in Visual Art from the California Institute of the Arts and her BFA in Sculpture at the University of Texas at El Paso, but her animation skills were self-taught.

One of the things that made Antebi eager to learn the art of animation was her interest in its connection to the world of nonfiction. Because she has an immense interest in the natural world, Antebi wanted to make art that illustrated the history of it. That’s why the COVID-19 series was an appealing project for her to take on.

“Animation can bring together all these historic moments and all these disparate occurrences into one space,” says Antebi.

>> Virus & Vaccine Science in the COVID era
>> Nicole Antebi’s website

Antebi's animations help explain viruses

Antebi’s animations help explain viruses, vaccines and COVID

With support from the City of New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Antebi and her team members Erin Chapman and Hannah Snell created videos that would accurately inform the public about what a virus is, what vaccines are, and what scientific tools we have to study them. The team wanted to make the series interesting to all generations, which is why they pulled inspiration from programs like Schoolhouse Rock and from artist Niki de Saint Phalle.

“We really wanted to break the mold of what you think of when it comes to a PSA. When I was growing up, PSA’s were a little dull…and a little scary,” Antebi laughs.

Antebi jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the project when Chapman, who is a long-time friend from New York, asked her to join. She is grateful for the experience to work with Chapman since she is a big fan of her prior work and respects her “incredible sense for storytelling.”

Despite the fact that Antebi had to work remotely for the entire project, she and her team were able to work effectively with Chapman heading the storytelling aspect. Antebi created most of the illustration and animations, while Snell created all the animated transitions and motion design. The team continues to meet weekly and are currently working on Spanish and Mandarin translations for the videos.

Not only does Antebi animate for projects like this, but she teaches it to students at the University. As a teacher, one of Antebi’s guiding principles is collaboration. When it comes to collaboration, Antebi enjoys teaching her students teamwork skills through collaborative projects across the university.

Antebi's animations help explain viruses
Nicole Antebi

Notably, her motion class is currently working with Biosphere 2 on a project that is part of a Research, Innovation, and Impact Grant with Kevin Bonine, Biosphere 2 and Arizona Institutes for Resilience. The project is titled: Science in Motion. Students are responding to an array of research projects they have seen firsthand by visualizing and strategizing storytelling through the medium of animation. 

Her illustration class is also collaborating with the Florence Project to bring the first person testimonies of former ICE detainees to life through small vignettes in the way of looping animated gifs. 

Antebi’s other significant guiding principle as a teacher — and in her own work — is experimentation. Through her own experiences, Antebi has learned that success comes from saying, “Why not?” and she hopes to encourage her students to become style-fluid artists through experimentation.

“It’s important to grow. Always. I’m a firm believer in experimentation. It shouldn’t ever end; you should always be curious and learning and trying out different things,” says Antebi.

To many young artists, the pressure to find a unique style in order to stand out and succeed can feel overwhelming. To Antebi, the process of finding that style through experimentation with mediums and ideas is what makes someone successful. 

“This is a process of becoming yourself … you should enjoy the process, because it’s going to surprise you, it’s gonna change you, and it’s going to lead you in all different ways,” says Antebi.

And how can one start this process?

“You should totally follow all of your obsessions.”

>> Student animator brings ‘Wonder’ video to life