Welcome to our first installment of our new Women in Arch Viz series. Over the few months we will be featuring some of the talented women who work in visualization in hopes of inspiring artists from around the world and the next generation of women visualizers. If you know a women who should be featured, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We hope you enjoy the series!
Tell us about your current role and what you are doing in the industry.
I am working in London as a senior CGI designer for DBOX, an award-winning creative and communication agency specialized in branding, design, CGI, VR, photography and copywriting.
Since I joined in 2015, I've been working together with the CGI team on a series of stills and VR for luxury real estates, residential, retail and office buildings for clients such as Foster + Partners, Eric Parry, Squire & Partners, David Chipperfield and many more.
What was the path you took to get where you are today and was this always the role you thought you would have? What was your dream job as a kid and why?
I always had a great passion for the Arts. My granddad was a sculptor and he first introduced me to drawing. Likely because of this, I was dreaming to become a painter from a young age.
I certainly have never considered any jobs not related to Art. In fact I remember that I went from wanting to be a painter, a photographer, an interior designer, a graphic designer to my final decision to become an Architect.
I decided to study Architecture at the University of Florence, which is fortunately not too far from my hometown Livorno in Tuscany. From the early days in my studies, I found the way architecture could be represented fascinating. I soon started to consider Architectural representation as a beautiful form of art.
It didn't take long before I realized that the part of the process I liked the most was the representation part and towards the end of my studies I started to think that I had to make a choice: did I want to be an architect or a visualizer? At the beginning I thought that maybe I could have been both, but soon I realized that I didn’t want to be 50% architect and 50% visualizer, I just wanted to be 100% of one of the two, and even if I loved designing, I realized that the thing that really was making me feel happy was spending all of my time rendering, so I decided for once and for all to leave architecture and become a visualizer.
After this significant choice, I realized that I needed to improve my skills significantly to be competitive. Specifically, I had to learn much more about modelling and rendering, so I started a Master in computer graphics in a private Academy in Florence, where finally I got to know software like 3ds Max and V-Ray.
On completion of my masters, I got a job offer from the same Academy in which I studied to become a post-production teacher and at the same time I started working on my personal portfolio. As soon as I finished an image I posted it online on forums, Facebook pages and websites like CGarchitect.com. Incredibly, one of the first images I posted, Arctic, gained the visualization pro of the week on CGarchitect and thanks to that DBOX found me and offered me a position in its studio in London. I never really thought about moving to another country but I could hardly refuse an offer like that! So I accepted the job and a few months later I left Italy to move to London, where I've been living and working ever since.
What is the best and worst decision you've ever made?
The best decision I have ever made is without any doubt accepting DBOX's job offer and moving to London. It was very challenging, especially at the beginning (I barely knew English when I moved) but I've been incredibly lucky to meet extraordinary people who made me feel at home from day one.
The worst decision I made was deciding not to go to have an experience abroad when I was at University and had the chance to do it. I always thought It would have been cool to do it but I didn't do it out of cowardice. If I had done it, eventually moving to the UK or another country would have had been much easier - especially the language barrier.
Based on our industry survey, women still only represent 7% of the industry. Do you have any thoughts on this, how it can be changed, and if it will be changed in the foreseeable future.
I believe that unfortunately our profession is wrongly associated with something extremely technical, a job where you need to be a 3D guru, know all the most recent plug-ins and scripts on the market, have the most powerful machines, be a massive nerd and be able to do a bunch of very technical boring stuff. Sadly, this is socially considered more appealing to men, but less appealing to (some) women.
Of course this common perception is almost certainly incorrect and plenty of women are both talented and enjoy this role. It’s sad that more women don't necessarily want to participate in our industry today, and I am keen to help increase that tiny percentage.
I'm not sure how we could fix the problem, it will take time to break this stereotype, but we are getting there. I think it's definitely a good start to show the presence of women already in the field, in order to attract more of them into our industry. I'm sure that this series of interviews CGarchitect is doing will be a precious source of inspiration for women out there who are thinking about pursuing this career and hopefully, it would be a step forward to make the number of women in Arch Viz grow.
Name three other women, who are not working in this industry, that impacted your work artistically and/or the path you took to get where you are today.
The first woman is Zaha Hadid, I’m pretty sure everyone knows her, she was one of the very few women among the Starchitects. In an incredibly competitive male-dominated environment she was able not only to stand out but also to be one of the most important and influential personalities in the industry and I really wanted to be like her.
The second woman is the Bass player Tal Wilkenfeld, one of the most famous bass players in the world. I used to play bass when I was younger, and she was such an inspiration to me partly because it’s quite rare for girls play bass, and even more rare to find a very famous one! She is even younger than me and in an extremely male-dominated environment, she managed to find her way and become one of the best in her industry.
I know I might sound a bit cheesy but I couldn’t think of a woman who inspired me and encouraged me along my path more than my mum. She’s an incredibly brave woman and she always supported all of my choices, standing by my side. I would not have got this far without her help and support, Thank you Ma!
What motivates/inspires you the most?
I love competing. There is nothing that would motivate me more than a challenge, that’s why I often find myself running out of hours of sleep to do rendering competitions in my spare time.
I’m also very motivated/inspired by the work of the other artists, and in the past few years, I had the chance to meet in person some of the most talented people in the industry thanks to my work, events, and conferences. It makes me realize how lucky I am to be part of an industry where is so easy to get in touch with your peers and getting inspired by them every day.
What lessons have you learned in your career to date that you think would benefit others in the field?
I used to work very long hours, and I loved it! it was very tiring but also extremely rewarding. I was younger and I had the energy to do it for a long time, but at some point, I realized that I was leaving too many things behind and, even if I thought it was manageable at the time, in the long run, it was really hard to handle.
That’s when I realized that after all, work is yes a very important part of life, but just a part of it, as well as your friends, your family, your hobbies, etc... there needs to be a balance between all of these things. If you allow your work to take over everything else for a very long time, the reward that you get at the end might not be enough to balance what you gave up over the years.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
Do what you love, love what you do - that’s all you need to know. This doesn’t apply just in this industry obviously, but this was, and it is, more important to me than I can fully describe. We spend half or more of our time at work and you need to do something you love, otherwise, you are going to literally waste half your life!
What has been your proudest achievement in business to date?
Without any doubt, my proudest achievement by far was being chosen to be on the judging board for the CGarchitect 3D Awards for the years 2016 and 2017 together with some of the biggest names in the industry.
What other artistic pursuits or creative outlets do you pursue outside of your day to day work?
I love drawing and painting, even if unfortunately I haven’t done much of it recently. When I am not working or spending time with my friends/family/boyfriend I spend quite a lot of my time doing my own CGIs for competitions or just for fun. This really relaxes me and helps me remember that I’m able to create CGIs just with my resources and without external inputs from clients etc.
Where do you see the industry going? Does it look significantly different from where it is today? If so, how?
I think we can already smell the change within the industry, I believe that clients will always want stills, but VR/AR are becoming more and more popular and I’m sure they will play a big role in the next few years. However, I feel we are still in the very early days, so I believe it’s not going to be a day-to-night change.
Please name five artists, creatives or business people (outside of the archviz industry) who have inspired you.
Many artists inspired me over the years, some of them are Caspar David Friederich, for his evocative Romantic Landscapes, Vasilij Kandinskij for his superb use of colour and for the unique relationship between Art and Music, architectural photographer Julius Shulman for his use of composition in photography, Architect John Pawson for the pure geometries and the importance of light in his buildings and Snohetta Architects for the connection between architecture and nature.
Please name five artists within the industry you think have influenced your own work or have influenced the industry?
That's an easy one, the first artist I'm going to mention is Alex Hogrefe, because even if he doesn't know it, he taught me so much about post-production through his blog (visualizingarchitecture.com) and he's probably the reason why I started to get so passionate about it.
The second artist is one of my ex-teachers at the Master, Fabio Corica. Fabio is an incredibly talented guy who was one of the first people who helped me realize that my path was CGI and not Architecture. He taught me quite a lot of technical skills but most of all he influenced my workflow and the way I tell the story of an image.
How not to mention MIR! I don't think anyone influenced my work more than them, especially in my early days. The first time I saw one of their images I was still a student and I couldn't believe that somebody would be able to do something like that!
Another incredible artist I definitely need to mention is Alex Roman, his film "The third and the seventh" is just poetry and I think it had a huge impact on the industry and on myself. Even many years after this piece of art was released, I still struggle to find other people/studios capable of what he did, and every time I see that film I almost cry!
Last but not least, DBOX. Can't describe how much this studio influenced me, my personal work and the whole industry. I've been very lucky to have the chance to work there and the amount of stuff I learnt over these years is just insane.
As a women do you feel you had to work harder or do anything differently than your male counterparts to get where you are today?
I don't think I've ever been treated in a very different way, not in recent times anyway. I do recall that years ago, when I decided to pursue this career, some people were constantly underestimating me. They said that I would never make it in this industry, or that I wasn't good enough. I was not sure why they said that; maybe because they couldn't believe that a young woman could work in a quite technical and male-dominated environment, or maybe just to be mean. Who knows - i'm so glad I proved them wrong!
Given all of the coverage we are seeing with the #metoo campaign, it begs the question if the architectural industry is any different. Have you seen or experienced similar issues yourself or seen others within the industry experience the issues the media is bringing to light about workplace harassment and assault?
I’ve been very fortunate that this has never happened to me. All the people I met in my current and previous jobs have been absolutely professional and I never in any way felt threatened or found myself in an unpleasant situation with anybody. I really hope that’s the sign that our industry is “clean” and not just me being lucky.
What advice would you give women thinking about entering into the arch viz industry?
The best advice I could give is to believe in yourself and don't let anyone tell you what you can or can't do. People will say "you're not good enough" or "you're never gonna make it", listen to them, but just to prove them wrong later on.
What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you as it pertains to working in this industry?
I think the biggest challenge will be getting more women in the industry in the first place, and once we get them, the challenges they'll be facing will be the same as the men - which will be trying to keep up with the industry changing, new technologies, new ways to represent architecture, understanding the new needs of the clients, and so on.
Anecdotally, I have noticed that on average the women artists within the arch viz industry tend to be some of the most talented people in our field. Would you agree? If so, why do you think that is?
This is a really interesting and complicated problem - one I certainly don’t have all the answers for. My personal feeling is that this isn’t unique to our industry: it’s similar in other industries where the percentage of girls is very low. I've been talking about this very same problem many times with my boyfriend who works in technology and also in his industry the problem is very present.
I think that that at least part of the problem is that girls are normally taught to be "perfect" and the social pressure on them is often quite significant (often more than for guys). It is tragically common that girls often simply exclude themselves from the "competition" if they are not sure 100% they will succeed. On the other hand, a guy will frequently be far more likely to try to enter the competition even if is just 60% sure that he'll succeed (or even less), because generally, he's more keen to take risks and under less pressure to not fail. The result is that the few girls that actually enter the competition are the bravest and very self-confident and for this reason they turn out to be very good at what they do.
Where do you envision yourself 10 years from now? What are you doing and what did you do to get there?
That’s a million dollar question! Unfortunately, I’m not sure I can answer this one, 10 years is a long time! I’m pretty sure I will be in London, and I’m pretty sure I’ll still be doing CGI!
Please take one of your favourite projects and walk us through the piece from start to finish.
I'm gonna talk about one of my favourite personal works: Tea Time
This image is done in 3dS max + Corona + Photoshop. I made it for the Evermotion Challenge in 2015, and it gained the first award.
I’m pretty fond to this image as was the first one I made after I started working for DBOX and even if the approach to this CGI didn’t change that much from the previous ones in my portfolio, my experience at DBOX was essential for it, especially given the photography and the level of detail.
The theme of the Evermotion Challenge 2015 was the LOFT. The first thing I always think about before starting a new image is finding some good references, which can be found in everything: photography, other CGIs, paintings, illustrations etc. I think a good reference is the one that can communicate a very similar emotion you want your image to communicate. I usually search for different types of references: some for the composition, some for the lighting, some for the general atmosphere and some for the colour palette. In this way, i’m pretty sure that my image is gonna be exactly how I want it to be at the end.
Since the beginning I wanted this image to be an art studio, so I tried to find as many references as possible to better understand what art studios look like and how the lighting and atmosphere inside them look.
Once I have all the references I need, the next step is particularly important to me: sketching. I think that before playing around with 3D, camera views, modelling etc, it’s absolutely necessary to have a very precise idea of what you are about to do, and of the story you want to tell. That’s why I normally do some sketches of my idea until I find the good feeling of the composition, balance, image crop, etc. What I always repeat to myself is that if something works in a sketch, it must work in the final render as well!
Sketching helps me put together all the information I collected from the references, and it gives me the chance to “see the image even before it’s done” which means I don’t have to go straight into the 3D software and waste my time finding the right camera view, the right image ratio, and the right composition - because I’ve already done all of that in the sketch phase. This is why I normally use the sketch as a guide for the 3D and compositing.
With Tea Time I wanted to show a very specific moment: when the artist has a little break to clear her mind, drinking a cup of tea, thinking about her unfinished painting and what to do to finally complete it. I also wanted to create some kind of mystery on the scene not showing the painting, making who watch the image wandering how it would be like.
When it comes to the 3D phase, I think it’s essential to know in advance what you can do in 3D and what in post, according to your skills, to the time you have, and how powerful your machine is. For me, I know that i’m not the fastest person in doing 3D modelling, and my machine at home is not the most powerful in the world. This means i’d rather add some photography elements in post instead of modelling and rendering them, just like I did in Tea Time, where a lot of the elements I used are photography.
For me, the machine is just a tool, along with the various pieces of software, and as long as you know your skills you’ll be able to use your resources to your own advantage.
Postproduction breakdown video youtube link
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