Christopher Johnson: Great. Well, hello! Thank you for making time this afternoon Sarah to talk about your career and your creative work.
Sarah: Of course!
Christopher: As I mentioned to you, it’s all day guys basically doing what you do.
Sarah Dziuba: I can imagine. I mean thankfully — well not thankfully, but I get to deal with a lot of women in my field, so I don’t see it from your perspective. However I guess if you’re to look at it as a visualizer, yeah, you’re right, it pretty much is all men.
Christopher: Yes. Well, where I’d like to start basically is if there is some initial spark for you that had you say, that’s it, that’s what I want to do.
Sarah: Honestly, there was no real spark, it just kind of crept on me over one particular semester. So I started to going to school for architecture; growing up, architecture was my dream, like, I thought that was going to be it. But then I started taking pre-college courses and I was like, holy crap, this is pretty boring. I don’t think I can do this for the next 50 years of my life. So then I was like, okay, interior design, that’s in the same realm. You can still do architectural work and the like. I started college in San Francisco and was enjoying the classes, doing well but I was slowly realizing it wasn’t what I envisioned for myself. The second year, 3ds Max was one of the courses, which was at least ten years ago now. So when I took that first class I thought, oh my goodness, this is really fun. You can do something different every single day, and just watch the space come together in a fashion other than floor plans, space plans and elevations and image boards. You get to actually see it get created and I started just diving in. And then the next semester, or two semesters after that, they started offering an advanced course. So it was like, okay, sign me up, let’s party. This is what I want to do. Essentially I’ve gotten to where I am now with only 2 courses, the rest was self taught – which I am pretty proud of.
Christopher: Yeah, so you just said … an image board, is that what you called it?
Sarah: Yeah, it’s an inspiration board. We still use them here every day. The designers pull all of these images that have inspired them to create the space that we’re proposing. It’s an interesting part of the process.
Christopher: So it sounds like there was some spark because at some level, there was some part of you that said architecture. Did you read The Fountainhead or did you have something happen in that arena, or was mom or dad an architect….
Sarah: So you’re talking about the initial spark, like when I was a kid.
Sarah: So when I was younger, my parents were building a house outside of Las Vegas. But we had a property out there and this is when people were still drafting by hand. We would always go to visit the architect and he’d let me poke around and watch him do everything. It just seemed so fascinating to be able to build something from the ground up. So watching that happen, I think that’s obviously what sparked the interest. And then clearly my parents were into architecture and design to want to build something from the ground up and be as hands on as they were in the process. To see how they went through the process as the clients was pretty fascinating. So I guess that’s when it happened, when I was around six years old.
Christopher: Right, yeah. That’s what it usually is. Just for your reference, especially when it comes to visual effects, for a lot of CG artists, Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Terminator, those films are the spark. I like to touch on that because it is kind of a big question about why you do what you do, and what pulls you forward, in a sense. On that note, back to where we just where. Were you at San Francisco State U. or where were you — where did you take those 3DS Max classes?
Sarah: No, the Academy of Art.
Sarah: Yeah. Everybody kind of looks at it as kind of a “mail in” school, like draw this picture and you’ll be accepted. Which it’s not. You have to really apply yourself and hone your talent to make it. I started with, I think it was around 400 people in my class and only like ten graduated.
Sarah: Yeah. And even out of those ten, there’s not a lot of those people with jobs in our field, just because it is so talent driven and kind of vicious. Not vicious in a bad way, but you have to be pretty talented to make it as a designer in San Francisco.
Christopher: Yeah. So from the 3DS Max class and graduating at the Academy of Art, what was next?
Sarah: So from there, I graduated in the golden year of 2009 when everything was crumbling.
Christopher: Oh man.
Sarah: Yeah, so that was fun. So from there, I actually took a marketing and graphic design job for the Ritz Carlton. And how I was able to land that, given the circumstances of the job market, I’ll forever be grateful because it happened literally the week after I graduated. At that point I was like, oh my gosh, I don’t know how I’m going to be able to afford to stay here. I need a full-time job, asap. I worked for the Ritz for about two years but within that, clearly I was still trying to find work within the field because I didn’t want to lose sight of my degree. So I kept in contact with schoolmates, keeping the network open. One of my really good friends, Alma who was at O+A at the time, had told me they needed help with renderings. So I worked contract for another year or so and at that point, I was working sometimes up until 30 hours a week for O+A as well as my Ritz Carlton job. So it was kind of getting to a burnout point, so finally I was like, hey, any chance you’re thinking about hiring full time?
Christopher: You were kind of like, hey, I was kind of thinking about, what do you think about, kind of like, maybe, sorta…
Sarah: Bring me on for full time please, thanks. That was May of I think, 2012, or 2013. So I was working full time with them, however they still thought that deep down I wanted to work as an interior designer. Because most times in interior design, not many people love creating renderings, it’s always dumped onto the interns. So that’s why the renderings coming out of design and architecture aren’t necessarily the most amazing, unless you see them coming out of the large firms that hire outside archviz firms. This ended up allowing me to create a little niche for myself and I told them, nope, I’m all in, I want to be 3D. They were obviously on board because this alleviated a lot of stress and work from the other designers. So from there, the rest is history. And now, the renderings that we pump out are pretty killer, which is satisfying.
Christopher: It’s come such a long way. You used to be like, rendering was a bad word. People would move in the opposite direction if you said that because it used to be where you’d press a button and it’s like, okay, let’s go get lunch. Right?
Christopher: A long process.
Sarah: Oh yeah, it still kind of is sometimes but I think that’s the beauty of it. I don’t know, the process in general from start to finish. Not even just the actual rendering portion of it but just like, seeing the file from the original grayscale when you’re first starting to build, to the very bitter end. I don’t know, I think it’s all worth it. It’s definitely all worth it.
Christopher: Yeah, yeah, and it has come so far. Like the photorealistic stuff that’s coming out now is just stunning. I mean, we’re getting just really realistic reflections of glass and water and the whole … it’s amazing.
Sarah: Yep. We recently ran across our old Uber HQ renderings, when we first started working with Uber, probably like five years ago. We were comparing them to our most recent sets and it was night and day. It was actually quite embarrassing for myself because I was like, oh wow, that’s where I started off.
Christopher: That’s where technology has come, both from the software and the hardware side.
Sarah: Oh yeah, of course that helps.
Christopher: So this might be a good place to jump off into tools. Obviously, 3D Max is, I’d imagine, still a really important part of your workflow. Is that kind of your core application?
Sarah: Yeah, that’s daily; almost all of my time is in Max. The next would be Photoshop. Other than that — we use CAD and Revit quite frequently.
Christopher: Autocad you mean?
Sarah: Yeah, Autocad and Revit and sometimes, but very rarely Sketchup. But those are the programs that I only kind of jump into if I need to export something. But my main two core programs are 3ds Max and Photoshop.
Christopher: So back when, you were also using V-Ray I think for render. Are you still using V-Ray?
Sarah: Oh yeah, still V-Ray. All day, everyday.
Christopher: Okay. And do you use V-Ray RT, they used to call it RT, I don’t even know if they changed the name or not. But the one that uses GPU for rendering, or are you doing like, straight CPU render?
Sarah: I’m still CPU, as old school as everyone loves to call that.
Christopher: So should we call this interview, Sarah old school Dziuba?
Sarah: It’s really sad because I’m only 30 years old and I’m already old school.
Christopher: Well you know, I can go off on the differences but the basic difference and why things are going GPU is because it’s thousands of cores versus tens of cores.
Sarah: I know and I get it. Eventually I’ll get there. You’re going to be…
Christopher: Yeah it’s late in the day to pull out the claws. I guess the other thing too that I wanted to ask because on that front, there are applications now like Octane and Redshift. Have you poked around with those, like done demos and just kind of seen how they work?
Sarah: Yeah, after you initially told me about Octane, I dabbled for a bit. However it is going to take a lot to switch our teams over – we’re at a rock and a hard place. The design world is very late in the game when it comes to like software and hardware. I know people the are still using Mental Ray. Now that Assembly has been acquired by Canon, I’m trying to get everybody up to speed with my rendering techniques. So as much as I want to try something new and I do dabble on my own time. Sadly, it’s hard to get a big group of people on board with it.
Christopher: The reason it obviously comes to my mind, obviously is that with Octane, you have a plug-in that comes with the 3DS Max. So it’s essentially plug and play and because your work station — wow, one of them really has three really powerful GPUs on board. With certain — it depends on the scene and the specs of the scene, but with certain scenes, you can get real time rendering. Which is just kind of a holy grail for a lot of 3D artists. Still many don’t believe it’s possible but it’s remarkable how those advances are happening with those kinds of applications. That harness the GPU. Speaking of which, using the Max, V-Ray, Photoshop, a bit of Sketchup, Autocad and Revit. Let’s see. When you’re creating something for a given project, I’m sure there are parameters which you’re creating around. But are there certain things that you bring that is say, Sarah Dziuba, that you love to express in your work, that you might identify and share? The way of working or…just like a way of working or a way of thinking about what you’re creating. It can be anything really.
Sarah: What keeps me going is the details, and really getting into the nitty gritty. Especially for architecture and design, there’s so much that goes into it. The little folds on the sofas or the way a light hits a fixture — just things that normally people wouldn’t take the time to think to model in our field. I’m very lucky that I’m able to actually take the time and think about the space, which allows me to also help figure out solutions to problems in the space the designers are facing. The renderings are a guinea pig for their in-real-life designs.We work together to make the best end product. Overall diving in is where the fun is.
Christopher: So you get to put on your rendering wizard cape and come in and look at their idea and go, I don’t think so.
Sarah: Yeah. It’s fun. It took me a while to realize I could come back and say no to them, but now that I can and realize it best for both worlds – it works.
Christopher: Very good. So you also have — speaking of hardware, it’s kind of a two part question. One, you have — well, starting with, O+A, you had an i-X2 and you also worked with one I think in Assembly. But you also have the i-X mini and I’m curious, are you on — you like to call the i-X2 Big Bertha, as I recall.
Sarah: Yeah. So the original is Big Bertha and the one I’m on right now is Big Bertha 2.
Christopher: So the i-X Minis are being used by other designers?
Sarah: Yes, we have a few architecture people that are Revit heavy, and whenever we get busy, we need an extra workstation for them to jump onto.
Christopher: How do they — I’ll ask you about the i-X2 in a second, but the Mini, a new model for us — how do they — and you said that’s for Revit, it’s ideal for Revit actually, or AutoCAD.
Sarah: I’ve used it a few times for 3DS renderings. I use it as a backup, if I’m not in a rush to get a renderings back, I’ll throw it on her. It’s a great machine but it’s not as good as the i-X2 obviously.
Christopher: Not as good as mine!
Christopher: Yours has a ton of cores so that’s helpful, especially with — you’re doing CPU rendering V-Ray, so I guess that is my next question really. I don’t know if you remember what kind of computer you were using before, but maybe what you had first, that Studio O +A, and then when you went to the i-X2. Like, what were you using then, do you remember?
Sarah: It was a Dell and it was only eight cores; that’s all I can really remember. It was a rough go but I didn’t know any better at the time.
Christopher: And then you got your i-X2 and what was that like for you?
Sarah: Oh, it was a game changer. It was kind of like a blessing and a curse because we could do things so much quicker but then so much more work was piled on. But it was like honestly, I couldn’t think about a different way to go about it. It was a true game changer.
Christopher: Very good. I always like to hear that.
Sarah: Yeah, you did us good!
Christopher: Very good. Looking to the future and this I think might be a two part question. First, some of the new technologies that you’re either excited about or starting to explore, embrace, and number two, where are you personally? Where are you wanting to take your own artistry and creativity?
Sarah: VR. I am still trying to find a project that I can squeeze that into, but our projects are so fast and so large that it’d be kind of something that we’re just kind of waiting for a client to ask for it because it’s going to be a little bit time intensive considering the amount of detail that we generally provide. Not something we can do for fun on a project at the moment, sadly. I’m excited for that moment to come though.
I think the foreseeable future is just doing what I’ve been doing, as well as getting Canon accustomed to a better rendering workflow. Just making sure that everything that comes out of there is as good as they want it to be. So how we’re going to get there is still in discussion but I’m excited to see the role I’m going to play in it.
Christopher: It seems like it’s kind of going that way and just in lots of ways. Just generally, an immersive experience. I think what you’re talking about now is, for example, designing something that the client walks through. Right?
Christopher: Yeah, yeah. That’s great and I think the software field is coming along as well. 3ds Max has got some new features and there’s other tools like game engines, which people are beginning to use and the tools are all being built up around AR and VR. And, better to be paid to learn and implement it perhaps than pay with your own free time.
Christopher: Very good. Sarah, I guess what we could close with, and this isn’t typical, but if you have any questions of me that I can provide answers to? Or any kind of final comment that you wanted to share, like your new dog Spot or living in San Francisco or anything that you want to cap our conversation with?
Sarah: No, I don’t — way to put me on the spot.
Christopher: No, I’m going to put you on the spot after by emailing you and asking you for some pretty pictures for our article.
Sarah: Oh, I can do that. That I can do for you.
Christopher: Okay good. Well listen, really was a pleasure. I’m so glad you made time this afternoon to share about this and I think the article will probably go up next week. So I’ll email you, if not tonight, by tomorrow regarding some pictures that you’d like to share about maybe the different stages. Maybe share those early renderings.
Sarah: No, my God, those are going in the vault. I’m never bringing them out.
Christopher: As huge of pixels as possible.
Sarah: Oh my God, they were so bad. Oh my God, no, no thank you!