3D World

Day in the Life

Vladimira Strukanova takes a break from being crea­ture artist at Ziva Dy­nam­ics to talk 3D World through her typ­i­cal day


Vladimira Strukanova re­veals what it’s like to work as a crea­ture artist at Ziva Dy­nam­ics

Aself-taught artist, Vladimira Strukanova has spent her ca­reer spe­cial­is­ing in the cre­ation of in­cred­i­ble CG crea­tures and char­ac­ters, ap­ply­ing her in-depth knowl­edge of an­i­mal anatomy to a host of in­cred­i­ble de­signs across film and tele­vi­sion. Through­out her ca­reer Strukanova has worked on VFX for Ram­page, Car­ni­val Row, Gemini Man, Ter­mi­na­tor: Dark Fate, and a slate of ex­cit­ing new projects to come. Cur­rently she en­joys her day-to-day re­spon­si­bil­i­ties build­ing an­i­mals at Ziva Dy­nam­ics, the pi­o­neer­ing de­vel­oper be­hind nu­mer­ous char­ac­ter cre­ation tools. Strukanova took time out of her busy sched­ule to walk 3D World through a day in her life.


I start my day early so I can catch up with the rest of the Ziva team on the other side of the globe in Van­cou­ver, Canada. It’s a nine-hour dif­fer­ence be­tween Van­cou­ver and Prague, so when their day ends, mine be­gins. We typ­i­cally chat about what hap­pened while I was asleep and how their day went. It’s re­ally valu­able being able to speak ca­su­ally with my team even though they’re thou­sands of miles away. As we catch up, I’m likely eat­ing ce­real and sort­ing my daily pri­or­i­ties in my head.


Ziva is ex­tremely flex­i­ble with work­ing hours, so my work day may start any­where be­tween 9am and noon – it de­pends if I have an im­por­tant call with my su­per­vi­sor in the even­ing (their morn­ing). If I do, I will typ­i­cally have a very re­lax­ing morn­ing and choose to work later into the even­ing. I per­son­ally pre­fer a night shift any­way – it’s a calm­ing at­mos­phere and I feel more pro­duc­tive.


By 11am, I am typ­i­cally re­view­ing yes­ter­day’s work and read­ing the lat­est com­ments from my VFX su­per­vi­sor. This crit­i­cal feed­back helps me iden­tify what I need to tackle first and how to ap­proach my tasks ef­fec­tively. The best thing in my work is that chal­lenges are dif­fer­ent with each model. The anatomy varies so much

be­tween dif­fer­ent species, it re­ally keeps things in­ter­est­ing and the feed­back is al­ways unique. As a self-taught mod­eller I learned very quickly how to look for mis­takes and trou­bleshoot any ob­sta­cles us­ing tra­di­tional and un­con­ven­tional meth­ods.


By 1pm, I am fully en­grossed in the nitty gritty of ac­tual modelling. I al­ways start with a re­ally sim­ple skin base to block out the pro­por­tions and sil­hou­ette. Then I build a skele­tal sys­tem for it. I try to gather as many ref­er­ences and tech­ni­cal facts as pos­si­ble be­cause bones are the corner­stone of a crea­ture. Then mus­cles. Each mus­cle is a sep­a­rate ob­ject with its own shape and thick­ness. All these mus­cles have to work well with each other as well as with the skin. Un­der­stand­ing what is hap­pen­ing un­der­neath is key to a be­liev­able char­ac­ter.


When work­ing on some­thing as de­tailed as an anatom­i­cal model, it can re­ally help to take breaks and step away from the screen. That’s why I use a very late ‘lunch break’ as an op­por­tu­nity to rest my eyes. I avoid all screens and com­pletely stop re­view­ing my notes. The amaz­ing thing about work­ing from home is there are count­less pro­duc­tive ways to spend your lunch break, and you can do it all while still in your PJS. When I re­turn to my model after an hour and take a fresh look at things, I am bet­ter able to see any mis­takes or im­per­fec­tions that I wouldn’t have been able to see be­fore. This is es­pe­cially use­ful if I am work­ing on two mod­els at once. Switch­ing be­tween the two and tak­ing ‘eye breaks’ will give you a fresh look at the var­i­ous forms and shapes.


Typ­i­cally around 4pm there will be a team review video call, dur­ing which we show our progress. In modelling we usu­ally make turnta­bles and view­port snap­shots of our work. Then we up­load them to our review app to­gether with ref­er­ences and notes of what has changed. If I don’t have a review call at this time, I will of­ten use the free time to watch some of the VFX BTS and modelling in­ter­views from ma­jor stu­dios. This is the first com­pany I’ve worked at that openly en­cour­ages me to ded­i­cate part of my day to ‘con­tin­ued learn­ing’, even though it may not im­me­di­ately im­pact the model I am de­liv­er­ing. This time lets me see how lead­ing stu­dios ap­proach crea­ture is­sues in pro­duc­tion and pick up use­ful tips and tricks that I can ap­ply to my fu­ture work.


At this point, it may sound like I’ve only done a few hours of ac­tual modelling work, but this is nowhere near the end of my day. Since I am not re­stricted by the nor­mal nine to five sched­ule, I of­ten keep work­ing well into the even­ing be­cause the job truly aligns with my hob­bies. I stay in front of the com­puter so I can meet with the rest of the team in Canada, even though I have noth­ing left to do or I’ve fin­ished ev­ery­thing. In the com­ing hours, I would have re­views with the VFX su­per­vi­sor and other mod­ellers on the project, and even­ing cof­fee calls with my lovely col­leagues.


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