Interview: Sava Živković (CGA 2018)

Sava Zivkovic is a Director and CG artist based in Belgrade, Serbia. Born in 1989, he graduated from the Belgrade University of Arts in the department of Interior and Furniture design. Having developed a strong passion for film and animation, he decides to take on this career path and focuses on motion graphics, architectural animation and all things CG. In late 2017 he started his directing career at Axis Animation and continues the collaboration with Glasgow based studio, working on AAA game cinematics as well as never ending development of personal IP’s.

03_IW 2018 Talk

Hi Sava, we are so happy to have you with us on VFXSerbia and CGA conference. How are you?  

Hey! Happy to be here, thanks again for the invite, I feel honored to be a part of this event! Doing good, trying to keep busy at all times:)

Your last couple of pieces have been released in a role as a Director at the Axis Animation studio. Are there any advantages of working with the established studio like Axis, or do you more enjoy the total freedom of your early days and personal work?

There’s two parts to this answer. On one end I absolutely love working with Axis, for multitude of reasons! Apart from the obvious one, like getting to work on AAA titles you’ve admired over the years and being a part of their development, the most rewarding part for me is getting to work with an amazingly talented team of people and learning from them. The upside compared to personal work comes from detaching myself from production, which was sort of weird at first, but I started to enjoy that detachment more and more. Now I get to do what I love the most, which is the bare bones creative aspects of the project, and not have to worry about how the hell am I going to model that or render this.

With personal work however I still need to figure out how the hell am I going to model that or render this, but the point to be made here has to do with ownership, and no matter how big of an IP you’re working on in AAA is, it’s never quite the same feeling as it is when you’re creating something yourself. The excitement, the uncertainty, the thrill and the things you learn from personal projects cannot be measured, and the overall value you get as a creative is why I’ll always find time for personal work.


What kind of challenge would be interesting for you to do next, like different ways of expression and storytelling, or completely different medium, like VR or interactive storytelling?

Honestly VR never really appealed to me thus far, it’s an interesting medium but I like sticking to traditional film approach with storytelling. Interactive storytelling as in games or other content of the sort is definitely interesting but I still have much to learn before I decide to shift the medium I use. I think that’s one of the mistakes people make, being impatient and immediately jumping on the next thing that comes along instead of really fine tuning the craft. I still consider myself to be a beginner in many things, filmmaking one of them, and before I’d go for new mediums I’d like to explore the traditional film landscape a lot more, by making more short films, longer format films and hopefully leading up to features one day.

Where do you get your inspiration for the art directing and look development? What is the importance of references for your work?

This is a tricky one, as important as reference might be, those waters should be treaded carefully. Seeing work that inspires me always triggers the need to make something in response, but you have to know how to control that impulse or you’ll end up copying, and that is dangerous grounds, mostly because of the fact that you didn’t use the potential to create something new but rather imitate. That’s why I’ll rarely start with reference these days, but instead a piece of paper or a word document. Thinking about the core idea for the film, the main theme I want to convey, and once that informs the whole story the art direction part comes easy. I personally subscribe to Robert McKee’s notion that the story is the only original aspect of filmmaking, everything else is interpretive, a different director will interpret any said story differently than I will, or Art Director for that matter. Luckly I do get to work with amazing art directors at Axis, or with my good friend Milan Nikolic for our personal projects, and that definitely streamlines the process. Surrounding yourself with amazing artists and not striving to do every single thing yourself can be extremely beneficial.     

Pinewood MoCap (2)

Would you attribute your personal projects as a reason for progression from the art college to the position of the director in Axis animation?

I most certainly would! Working on all of those personal projects led up to creating Main Titles for IFCC 2017 which was the direct result in my collaboration with Axis. Client work is important, we all need to pay bills, but in most cases it doesn’t speak to who you are as a creative, mainly because it’s difficult to keep your intentions true in the wake of all the brand requirements you have to honor. That’s why personal work is the most important aspect of artistic growth, it tells who you are and conveys your taste in the purest way, and that’s the best way to get hired in my opinion.

How much did university education help you in your career? 

It’s kind of weird, in the past years I didn’t attribute much to my university education, but looking back at it now I think it definitely played a major role. Even though it was a different subject matter, it served as a boot camp to all things art related and definitely opened up the world of filmmaking to me. I think my family played a bigger role, I’m lucky enough to have been always supported in everything I wanted to do, and my dad also collects art so I was always surrounded by it while growing up.

“Build Your World” is your latest commercial work which you did by yourself. How do you manage to do 2 minutes of full CG project in such a short time tell us a bit about the project?  

Well you can say that a lot of it has to do with technological advancements in render engines, or with the fact that due to the nature of the project, which essentially is a commercial for 3d asset library, all of the assets were done even before I started. However I think the main answer lies in planning ahead and having a clear vision of what you want to accomplish very early on. I talk a lot about the importance of previz and how that is the moment when you make your film. If you’ve done your work correctly in the previz, then that is the hardest part of the project done, and all that remains is for everything to be produced, which is the easy part.

We also saw your Instagram posts inspired by architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies Van Der Rohe, Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry… Is there anything from this regions’ architecture that inspires you? E.g. Socialist monuments have raised a lot of eyebrows after the exhibition at the MoMA.

Architecture will always have a special place in my heart, and while most of my work in archviz was inspired by Modernism and especially by Bauhaus, I am a child of the Balkan region and I can definitely attribute a lot of visual direction in my current work to Socialist Brutalism. I mean you just can’t go wrong with massive slabs of concrete, can you? 🙂  

What has inspired you to spend some time working on a project for our local car hero Yugo?

That was a quick and dumb excuse to learn some new techniques and software, but the idea to use the Yugo again came from wanting to go a slightly different route. There’s thousands of  tests with cars in hangars and they always feature the latest and greatest in automotive industry. Enter a clunky, dirty, used and misused Yugo with a good dose of Slavic trumpets for the musical backdrop, and you got yourself something with a bit more character 🙂

What’s the most interesting thing that happened to you while working on Destiny 2? Is there something that surprised you the most?

I don’t know if I can single out the one most interesting thing, the whole project was such a treat and learning experience in the best possible way! I know it’s a bit of a cop out answer but I will talk a lot about that project at CGA Belgrade so I want to save something for the audience as well:) One thing that surprised me though was the sheer speed of the entire project, 12 weeks in total for production, but most of all the speed of animation itself. Character animation is something I never learned and I thought the process is a bit lengthier, but as I said before its fast when you work with the best, and we definitely have some of the best animators at Axis!

01_IAMC 2018

We love your projects progression reels! They are a great addition to the main reel and a great way to share your knowledge and design processes with the community. Your editing and sound mixing on them are brilliant, I can see you are enjoying making them?   

Thank you! I’m glad it shows, I definitely have loads of fun editing process videos, it’s something I look forward to the entire production of any project! Honestly for me it started as a marketing tool, posting detailed breakdowns, explanations and process videos ensured viewers got more value out of the project and stuck longer on the behance page, or maybe wanted to see more. It’s only after a couple of them that I realized I really enjoy doing those detailed breakdowns and sharing the process with the community. They’re also a great way of showcasing your personality, as you can go with a different tone to that of the project and just have fun 🙂

You are still working on your projects where you do both the technical and artistic side, like “Build your world”. Is your evolution to directing closer to satisfying your passion for expressing creativity more than a generalist artist?

I would like to move away from production as much as possible, I think I’ve been subconsciously trying to do that for quite some time now, but it just recently fully manifested. In the end what I’m really after is pure filmmaking, and with CG that is done in the previz stage. What follows is months of repetitive work to execute all the technical requirements in order for the film to look good. And don’t get me wrong I enjoy that process a lot, but I do not love it as I do the initial creative stages.

What are your thoughts on CGA conference and what can our readers and CGA guest expect from you on the CGA2018?

Well for one I can’t wait for it to start!:) You guys have definitely raised some eyebrows with all the amazing speakers and that title sequence, by the way I can’t wait to see the full thing! We’ve been witness to an incredible rise in European cg/art conferences in the past 10 years, and I believe they could be life changing experiences as you can meet your heroes, learn from amazing industry people, get hired, or switch careers entirely. For my talk tho I’d say people can expect even more rambling about personal work mixed in with some actual professional stuff and a healthy dose of a meme or two 🙂  

Your art directing and visual storytelling is very powerful. Have you been offered to collaborate on feature films? What kind of project would you consider working on? It can be equally an international name or Serbian director?

Thank you for saying so! I mentioned this only a couple of times, but I got offered to make my own feature film, multiple times now actually, and while the road to that actually happening is still very long, it is something I greatly aspire to do some day.

After all, when you complete your personal and business projects, how do you rest from the computer?

I don’t:) But when I get the chance, I live a very standard life, chill with my girlfriend, walk our dog, drinks/party with friends and digest as many films as I humanly can:)  

Sava drinks/parties with friends: Milan Nikolic (concept art), Kristina Antic (motion capture) Nenad Merzel (vehicle artist), Nebojsa Jez/Iz Svemira (music/sound design, graphic design), Marko Bibuljica (motion capture,) Sava Zivkovic (direction/animation), Mihailo Radosevic (character artist)

Thank you Sava, and see you at the CGA2018!   


Once again, November becomes the month of computer graphics, as CGA Belgrade hosts its two-day journey through the latest news, trends and developments in the VFX industry. We have worked especially hard this year to expand our main program, which we are proud to announce will feature two separate tracks! For big-picture thinking and groundbreaking ideas, make sure to look for the Know It All sign. For hands-on training and insider tips & tricks, don’t miss the Know How stage.

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