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A Renoir painting of a woman with red hair and flowers, pink and blue background.

Oktawia Sokalska on breaking the fourth wall, AI and Renoir


  • Student Journal
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  • Visual Effects (VFX) for Film and Television


In VFX, we usually bring someone else’s vision to life – either the film director, concept artist, or supervisor. It doesn’t mean we don’t make any creative decisions in the process. When I’m working on a shot, I tend to think about it like an artist thinks about a painting, and I try to find inspirations where great historic artists found them.

Film is my long-term passion and when I first learnt about VFX, I instantly fell in love with the way it supports the story and opens the door to endless possibilities (both by enabling the desirable effects and addition to visual symbolics of the movie). It also combined my interests of arts, science and physics (I never could decide which to pursue). I was specially enchanted by Industrial Light and Magic's history in the beginning of VFX in the '70s.

The job which picked up my attention first was Compositor, because it's a lot like painting (which was what I enjoyed back then, and still do), integrating all elements into one consistent shot, adding final touches and thinking about all aspects of the image theory. Being in one of the later stages of the pipeline is both challenging and satisfying – I may have influence on how viewers will perceive the story through the shot I created. One day, I'd like to create shots as memorable as the ones I was enchanted by.

Usually, I take inspiration from various areas such as books or stories I’m currently emotionally involved with, history, physics, interesting natural phenomena, and sometimes other famous VFX shots in film history. For example, last year, I did projects such as a bamboo breaking simulation, inspired by my interest in Chinese martial arts movies, and experimenting with soap bubble shaders, being enchanted by the mysterious science behind their colour change. This year, on the other hand, both of my graduation projects were influenced by the concept of breaking the fourth wall and illusion – a common concept in art theory.

The BA (Hons) Visual Effects (VFX) for Film and Television course definitely challenged me to learn by myself and from my own mistakes. Although I still could find help from my tutors, the majority of the course was designed to give us time to work on the projects quite independently. This had its pros and cons, but I can definitely say that it helped me personally in a way to grow and open up to my peers more – the VFX work is very collaborative, and without communication with other people, the project would never be completed.

For me, as an introvert and non-native English speaker, learning independently and working on team projects forced me in a positive way to bond more with other people and learn to trust, help and rely on each other. Also, the individual projects I picked for myself during the course were quite challenging. While I was looking for help and advice, I had to broaden my network beyond tutors, and talking to people in the industry will hopefully increase my chances in the job market.

My final major project was the one I presented at the FMX conference in Stuttgart with AUB, and it was a rather individual work. My research investigates ways to transfer an artistic style to an image sequence, to preserve its most characteristic qualities, including correctly representing artist gestures, using tools and mediums, but also considering important aspects of compositing such as working with alpha mattes, control over separate layers and temporal coherence. The artist whose style I picked for the project was 19th century painter Auguste Renoir.

I was inspired by the increasing influence of machine learning in the arts with all its surrounding controversies, but also by a desire to contribute to the discussion about that topic specifically from a VFX artist's point of view. This involved asking questions about why neural style transfer and generative AI are not that commonly used in the VFX industry despite being developed for a while, followed by exploring the challenges behind such as ethical and legal issues along with the level of creative control.

In the research process, I tested various existing methods of neural style transfer, from CNNs and GANs to diffusion models, and compared them in terms of time efficiency, accessibility and ease-of-use. Moreover, I trained project-specific LORA models with the aim of achieving desired results. The research goal is to choose the best combination of techniques to meet the set requirements and perform a style transfer over the composited sequence of images to produce a shot showing a “brought-to-life” Renoir painting – the breaking of the fourth wall.

The other big project I’ve been working this year was a graduation film, a project we do as the whole VFX year. I’ve been a 2D Lead and a Compositor on that, and had the pleasure of working with an amazing team. We had our ups and downs during the whole process, but I think our film is pretty special and can’t wait to see it ready at the BFI in London in the summer.

Outside university, I’m developing my other interests in my own company. As I said earlier, I’m an introverted person, and while I love working on VFX with my team, after a busy day at university I really enjoy spending my free time alone – drawing, reading, listening to podcasts and music, wandering around parks in Bournemouth, watching movies and shows. VFX is rewarding but completing the work takes a long time, not giving me much time for other activities. However, I have some other hobbies such as playing guitar and martial arts. I can join concerts organised by music society, one of them at ArtsBar. I’ve also joined taekwondo society this year.

I’ve always had big dreams and tend to plan my future in detail, but during my studies I’ve also learned that it’s good to be surprised by life. That’s why now I’m more open for opportunities that may arrive unexpectedly. My plan after graduation is to move to London and work with one of the VFX companies on shows and films as a Junior Compositor.

In the long run, I’d like to see myself as a VFX supervisor helping to bring to life great stories. Also, I’m not limiting myself only to UK. I love travelling and would be delighted to end up in South Korea, as I’m very passionate about this country, its culture and history. But that’s a big dream – one step at the time. I’m not going to stop learning, and I’d love to progress in my career dynamically.

Something to think about

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