As part of Explainify’s 10-Year Anniversary celebration, we will be spotlighting a variety of young creatives in a wide range of genres throughout the year. Iliya Pyshnyy is a young science animator from Germany who, through his Instagram name Spaceiac, has caught the attention of space agencies throughout the world. In fact, NASA and SpaceX are among his avid 63K+ followers.
Recently, Explainify partnered with Pyshnyy to create a four-part Instagram story titled SpaceX Journey to Mars, taking audiences on an unforgettable trip from launchpad to Mars landing. This is no easy feat! Each step is chronicled through meticulous research and brought to life through Pyshnyy’s unique animation style.
As of this writing, the series has generated over 250K impressions on Instagram alone and has solidified Pyshnyy as one of the greats in the space animation genre. Here is the exclusive Explainify interview with the 23-year old space science animator :
Explainify: Tell us about yourself and what shaped your fascination with art and science.
Iliya Pyshnyy: I was born in Smolensk, Russia. I lived in Russia for 6 years before my mother and I moved to Germany.
I had a big struggle with learning German. So, for most of my childhood, I was pretty lonely. At the same time, around 6-years old, I started playing tennis and I started climbing further and further up in the rankings and played in the German National League. I had tennis practice four times a week and some days practiced twice a day.
Additionally, my mother introduced me to the violin and added music lessons once a week. So, between all these practices, tennis and violin, then tennis tournaments on the weekends, I didn’t have much time for friends. So, it was a bit lonely.
But in retrospect, it was really beneficial to do all this because it taught me how to be disciplined and how to be competitive. I always tried to push myself to be better and better. You can really see this in my art.
Where did the space interest come in?
When I was in elementary school, my mother bought me a little telescope. I was always in the backyard looking at stars, the Moon, everything. Then she bought me a microscope, so I could take things that I found and examine them. That was really fun.
I think those were the first steps in my fascination with space and science.
Shout out to your mom for opening you up to all these things.
Oh for sure! Then she got me my first laptop when I was 12. I found this open source program where you could draw stick figures and animate them frame by frame and I just started animating.
I was probably 16 when a friend of mine showed me a video game called Cold Space, that basically everybody in the rocket science community plays. That game taught me the mechanics of animation and how rockets work and stuff. That began my obsession with rocket science and engineering.
Then I went on to University and learned more about all these things.
What was your inspiration for creating Spaceiac?
I always wanted to become an inventor, only because I loved Legos. I love learning new things, researching, rocket science, and gaming. Spaceiac came out of that. And I found that Instagram had the best audience for these short videos.
As for my animation style, I’m a really big fan of Matt Stone and Trey Parker of South Park. I like to keep my animation very simple. Telling complex stories with simple animation is my style.
What is your process when creating a Spaceiac post?
I start by picking a topic and then I do a bunch of research until I fully understand it, to the point where I can explain it to my 10-year old brother and he understands it. Because if I can’t explain it simply, then I know that I don’t fully understand it.
Once the topic is chosen and you have a good understanding of it, what’s the next step?
I start Googling! I find as many articles as possible and dive into scientific papers from NASA. I like NASA papers because, besides being publicly available, they include calculations and that helps with understanding how everything works, especially with rocket engines and thrusts, and complex things like that.
After that, I just take my notes and start writing it all out. I ask myself, ‘How would I explain this to my little brother?’ Then I create a good hook at the beginning to really entice people. I like to be a little mysterious with the first few slides to create intrigue and interest. Then I write out the story or script.
From there, I go into Adobe Illustrator and create some basic graphics. I make them really simple, then take those into After Effects and animate everything to make it look really cool.
Do scientists ever call you out if they see something wrong?
Oh sure. For example, in the project that I did with Explainify, I have these sound waves coming off the rocket and some people noticed that the waves overlapped. And the comments were that I basically had a passive explanation of Sonic booms. If I didn’t do that, people would point out that I made a mistake.
I also have to be correct in the animation to make it scientifically correct. But it’s fun! Like in Journey to Mars, I had an idea in my head of how the rocket would pitch in flight, but I don’t know for sure. I just think about what it would look like, then I see it animated and say ‘that is the look I was thinking of.’
I try to keep my animation style very simple so it’s good enough to convey the message. Because the thing is, I could make it super fancy. I could add shadows, flares, cool effects, and everything, but it’s not necessary.
Your audience ranges from young students to SpaceX aerospace engineers. Why do you think that your animations resonate with audiences of all ages and experiences?
I like my audience because they are extremely diverse. I think it’s because I explain things in simple terms. But at the same time, I don’t explain in a way where I insult the intelligence of my audience. I just break it down to the most fundamental principles that can be applied in other fields. So, the audience is learning not just rocket science, but maybe something about general physics.
I leave out many details in my animations because I find that people want to figure out details for themselves. And then they start doing calculations for themselves and that’s when the comments come.
For example, I got the question once – How many apples could you actually put in between Earth and the Moon? Then someone will do the calculations and it becomes really fun.
So, I’m really grateful for having such a fun and intelligent community.
What are some of your future goals for Spaceiac?
I really want to do a long-form web series – a coherent story going from episode to episode. But still make it light-hearted, entertaining, and fun. This is something that could be used in an educational setting that would really keep the attention of kids.
We’re seeing a lot of celebrities go up into space. If you had a chance to take a seat on the SpaceX Starship to Mars, would you take it?
First of all, I would never get the chance to fly to Mars because I’m too tall. I’m 6-foot-5, so I don’t make the height limit – I’m roughly 6 centimeters too tall to fit into the spacecraft. Maybe that will change the future. If it did, I still wouldn’t choose to go to Mars because I think that would be a little bit of a heavy-duty journey and you don’t really know what’s going to happen when you get there.
The thing that I would love to do is fly to the Moon because just the thought of standing on the surface of the Moon and seeing the Earth rise – that would be mesmerizing! To do that is like seeing the entirety of humanity and all its history just like rising in front of you – amazing!
To learn more about Iliya Pyshnyy and Spaceiac, listen to Episode 21 of PRESS PLAY Podcast powered by Explainify. Now playing on Apple Podcast and Spotify, as well as on YouTube.
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