This week, we're shining the spotlight on Trainee Junior VFX Artist, Sabine Zola, who swapped professional windsurfing for a career in CG.
Read on to learn how Sabine juggled jobs to develop her skills, eventually landing a traineeship at Aardman.
WHAT IS IT LIKE WORKING IN THE CG TEAM AT AARDMAN?
It's very nice, I love the creativity around the CG department, so many talented people that inspire me every day!
DESCRIBE YOUR TYPICAL DAY
First thing I do in the morning when I arrive in the studio is to check the email and Shotgrid to see what is the schedule for the day. At the moment I'm part of the compositing team on The Very Small Creatures so when I have shot assigned, I mainly work on that during the day. I like to hang in the canteen for lunch and, when it’s sunny and not too cold, go for a refreshing walk around the harbour.
WHAT NEW SKILLS HAVE YOU LEARNT OR ARE LEARNING DURING YOUR TRAINEESHIP?
I'm digging into Nuke as a compositor and, in my spare time (when I don't have to work on any specific shot for production), have started to learn Maya and Photoshop.
I'm enjoying learning how to create environments through digital matte painting and full CG scenes.
I learnt how to do a projection in Maya after I created the matte paint and separated all the layers in Photoshop, so I was able to put a zoom camera and create a 3d scene from a 2d photo.
I just finished to create a tropical forest with MASH Ecosystem, a very cool and powerful environment tool. At the moment I'm learning how to create an ocean simulation with Bifrost and Boss. I'm very grateful for this traineeship opportunity that has allowed me to expand my interest toward different VFX departments and software.
WHAT ARE YOUR CAREER AMBITIONS?
Ah that's a tough question... I'm not sure anymore. I was involved in the fashion industry as a model when I was a teenager, then I become a pro windsurfer after high school, and after that I was involved in a music project. I know for sure I want to be in a creative industry and the movie/VFX industry is very appealing, but I'm finding it hard at the moment to decide which department I like most. My problem is that I would like to learn and be involved with everything: from compositing to CG environment and digital matte paining, cinematography to directing and screenwriting. Since 2019 I’ve also also been working on a music project as a solo artist and I still would like to develop and see where that goes. I think it would be a goal to be able to merge together the music and the cinema/VFX scene, but for now my plan is to try and learn as much as I can, in different software and departments and at some point see what I enjoy most so I can have a clearer path of the specific direction I want for my career.
WHAT WAS YOUR STUDY ROUTE AND WHICH COURSE/TRAINING DID YOU TAKE?
I didn't really go down a conventional route. I studied fine art in high school in Italy, but after I graduated in 2015, for multiple personal reasons, instead of going to university to study restoration in Florence (as was planned), I wanted to see if I could have a career as a professional windsurfer. I moved to the Canary Islands and later to Hawaii to train and compete in the wave category and I obtained few 1st and 2nd podiums that got me the overall 3rd place in the International Windsurfing Tour in 2018. In 2019, fate brought me to England where I got involved in the music scene and then the VFX industry, and here I am.
HOW DID YOU START OUT IN THE INDUSTRY
In 2022 while I was developing my music project and after one year working full and part time in a restaurant, plant shop and a cafe, I reached the point where I wanted to build a solid career in something I'm passionate about outside music, and I knew it had to be something related to art and creativity. My partner is a CG Supervisor and quite a few friends in Bristol work in VFX. Seeing what they were doing for living, I asked my partner if there was a role in the VFX industry that I could learn on my own and that didn't require a university degree to find a job. Knowing my appeal for restoration and to "fix what is broken", he told me to learn Nuke because there was a lot of demand for Nuke compositors, that I could learn 'the buttons' in about six months and get work as a roto/clean up artist while continuing to perfect the craft.
In March 2022 I dropped all full-time work down to two days a week to be able to study Nuke full time at home. I found a few good and affordable online courses that gave me enough knowledge to put together a showreel by the end of the summer. I sent it to some VFX studios in Bristol. A friend also suggested to contact Celia Hunt, Talent Manager at Aardman on LinkedIn, and mid-September I applied for the Trainee Junior FVX Artist position that had just opened. After few weeks I received an email from Aardman saying that I was one of the few people that makes it to the final interview and at the same day I received an offer by Moonraker VFX Studio for some rotoscope freelance work. I was working in the cafe the morning I received both emails and was absolutely over the moon! I would have never expected it but Aardman offered me the job a few days from the interview, so I end up working at Moonraker for the month of October and then started at Aardman the 1st of November 2022.
This journey has definitely been one of my biggest challenges so far and economically has been a tough time but I can say now it was worth the sacrifice. I can't thank enough my partner, family and friends that supported me during this period and helped me to go in the right direction.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT WORKING AT AARDMAN?
I really love the people that work at Aardman. Everyone has such a friendly and positive attitude and are always willing to help. I can jump between departments, learning about different topics. There is just such a good energy around that I would have never thought I’d be so happy to wake up every morning to go to work. I'm really grateful to has been given the opportunity to be part of the Aardman family.