Images © Ondrej Zunka

Interview with Ondrej Zunka

Today we sit down with 3D artist and storyteller Ondrej Zunka, known for his surreal and detailed world-building. First, thanks for taking the time to do this interview, I have been a big fan of your works for years now. I understand you went to university for business but got into making 3D art in your spare time. Growing up did you have any interest in art or was your first experience of making art in university? 

I grew up without siblings and spent a lot of time playing with Lego indoors or hanging out in the woods around my village, where my imagination kept me entertained. My mum was a photographer back then, and she’d let me take a picture every now and then with her analog camera.

I got into 3D in my spare time during my Economics and System Engineering course, though I never really thought of it as a form of art when I first started. Learning the software was simply something fun to do – a bit like playing computer games.

As I became fluent with the tools over the years working at commercial studios, I started to express myself more through my work.

When you began to make works in Cinema4D how did you learn? Was it pure experimenting or did you use tutorials and other references?

My English was not very good when I first started, so I was reliant on the few Czech tutorials I could find. I stopped for a few months when I exhausted them, only to realize language really wasn’t such a barrier when watching someone demonstrate the software.

Later, I discovered Greyscalegorilla and started following the tutorials without fully understanding everything they were saying.

In the end, I hit two birds with one stone since my English got so much better while also improving my 3D skills.

The same goes for my workplace experience. My first few jobs were in Prague, but I then got a taste for traveling and working at studios all around the world – Copenhagen, Munich, Melbourne, Tokyo, and London – where I furthered my technical know-how and design expertise, but also learned so much more about culture and different world-views.

What do you enjoy doing outside of making art? What are your hobbies?

I’ve been riding street BMX for the last 15 years. It’s honestly something I really need in my life. It’s an activity that requires focus as a single-task, flow-state activity, which helps me with my mental health.

I’ve never done it competitively so there’s no comparing myself to others. It really is just about personal struggles and getting better. I also love the urban exploration part of it – London is big and I love cruising around and looking for new spots in different parts of the city. I’ve also been through a lot of pain because of this sport – I’ve lost my spleen, had my ankles crushed, and much more but I never gave up on it.

I guess I knew that if I did – I would symbolically give up on doing things that are hard but that I love. It has taught me so much about perseverance and perspective, and I actually got into 3D through my BMX buddy.

What were some of your inspirations early on and have your inspections changed? 

I still really love the music video ‘Magma’ by Dvein, I used to watch it on repeat. And I was always very inspired by every year’s OFFF titles. I got to work on them in 2017, so that was quite a dream come true for me. 

Nowadays, I try to look for inspiration anywhere and everywhere. I like to find ideas from outside the world of 3D art, to avoid perpetuating trends and instead create something fresh and new.

What is your process like when making art?

I’ve worked at several award-winning studios all around the world where I learned a lot about professional production techniques. Each year I notice that I’m improving and becoming more fluent with the tools, but it’s still a lot of back and forth. My process is constantly evolving.

I usually start with an idea or a feeling I want to portray, or sometimes I start with a technique I want to explore or improve. 

It’s important to say that a 3D artist is as much a technician/engineer as a visual storyteller. These 3D tools and all the buttons, sliders, techniques, and concepts are like learning a language. 

There’s such a difference in process between most traditional artists and digital artists. Using a single tool like a brush or a pencil can take you to a flow-state much faster than jumping between several programs and troubleshooting unexpected crashes. I’m trying to achieve a more seamless workflow by improving my skills across the board.

How long does each work take, they are always full of detail, is there a lot of works you make that don’t get released?

Usually between a day and a week or two for all my personal work. Commercial projects often take weeks to months because of all the processes and checkboxes.

There are quite a few projects on my shelf I’m not planning to release. I’d say maybe 50% of the work I create isn’t shared online.

How do you get in the mood to work? Do you listen to music, watch TV/Films, what gets the creative juices flowing? 

Yeah, I consume all kinds of cinema, music, and games – a lot of it! All genres. I also spend a lot of time looking at art. You need to fill your brain and soul with all kinds of stimuli, so your art can spill out rather than be squeezed from a near-dry sponge.

Some of the filmmakers I find inspiring are Alejandro Jodorowsky, Alfonso Cuarón, Alex Garland, David Lynch – I could listen to him talking for hours. With music, I listen to literally anything from white noise sounds like rain, classical music, rap, the 60s – 70s rock all the way to the latest pop songs. 

Do you ever have a creative block and if so how do you overcome it?

This term is such an enigma – I think that one way to overcome a creative block is to become more professional – what I mean by that is learning about processes and the fundamentals of visual storytelling.

Creative block can arrive as a result of the wrong order of doing things. It’s important to start with very broad strokes and make your way to smaller finer details. If we dwell on details before the broad strokes make sense we can get to a point where we don’t know how to fix something. In that case, I think it’s a good idea to just start over.

I often start over a couple of times for every artwork I make. 

You have done several NFT’s now, what are your thoughts on this new movement for digital art? I noticed you have more reasonable prices for your NFTs than some other artists who are selling for insane amounts. Was this done on purpose?

It’s exciting, it’s overwhelming and it’s finally here. I still can’t believe it. So much is going on every single day. Mentally, it’s difficult! But out of this difficulty, an incredible amount of creativity is emerging. We’re outside our comfort zones. I’m certainly pushing myself and I can see so many artists pushing their work to new levels. 

My first Nifty Gateway drop was just before the market exploded and I do realize that not everyone is buying my work for the love of the art. It’s important to remember that many of the collectors are hoping to make a profit. I honestly believe in this technology and think that crypto art is here to stay. That’s why I orient myself towards longevity instead of trying to ride the hype train. I want collectors to feel safe investing in me. 

Is there any advice you would give to a younger artist when it comes to making digital art?

The journey is the fun part, be patient. Don’t rush it, there’s no end goal.

Try to become fluent with the tools you use so you can be free in expression. Don’t let the medium dictate what you create. Strive for competence. Copy other artists to learn from them but turn it into your own thing. Look for inspiration elsewhere than Instagram or Pinterest if you want to make something unique. 

Remember that there is a big difference between wanting to make art and wanting to be an artist. The word artist is just a label and doesn’t necessarily mean you are good at making art or let alone that you love making art.

You can view more works by Ondrej Zunka on his Instagram and website.

Ondrej Zunka digital rendering Ondrej Zunka digital rendering Ondrej Zunka digital rendering

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Images © Ondrej Zunka