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.
“CHALLENGES ARE DIFFERENT WITH EACH MODEL. THE ANATOMY VARIES SO MUCH, IT REALLY KEEPS THINGS INTERESTING”