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VFX Student Parlays Newfound Skills Into Success on Webby Award-Winning ‘What If’ Series

Just three terms into her studies at Toronto Film School Online, and Maryna Hordiienko is already seeing her newfound skills she’s learning in the Visual Effects for Film & TV Online Diploma (VFX) program paying dividends in her work.


“I’m not considering myself a VFX artist yet by any means – there’s still so much to learn – but I do see an improvement already and it’s only been three terms, so that’s big,” said the 25-year-old senior video editor of the Webby Award-winning series, What If.



“You really do see the results almost right away, because the program has everything you need – modeling, texturing and compositing… Understanding how it all works has helped me so much already. I’m only a quarter of the way in (to the program), so I’m sure it’s only going to get better.”


After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv in her native Ukraine, Hordiienko was initially drawn to news writing, but found her interests beginning to shift more towards video after moving to Canada four years ago to study New Media at a GTA college.


Two internships – as a Digital Writer/Social Media Intern at The Weather Network and a Post-Production intern at Cineflix– later, and Hordiienko’s conversion from writing to video editing was complete and she began seeking out positions that could help her further hone her newfound passion.


“I was looking through all the postings back then and found one I really liked at a start-up company,” she said of joining the team at Underknown – which is now billed as ‘the #1 science video publisher on social media.’


“It started as Backyard Media, and it was a really interesting environment. I didn’t have too much experience in editing back then, but they hired me…and I kind of grew up together with the company.”


Before long, Underknown had launched one of its flagship series, What If, and tasked Hordiienko with the double duty of writing its scripts and acting as its senior video editor.


Described as an “epic exploration of possibilities,” What If is a science documentary web series that examines a scientific theory, research or fact through hypothetical scenarios that aim to both fascinate and engage. It recently won a Webby Award – hailed as the “Internet’s highest honour” – in the Science & Education (Video Channels & Series) category.


Questions posed in the series’ bite-sized, four-to-seven minute-long mini-docs include everything from What If A Volcano Erupted Into Space, to What If You Only Ate Raw Meat.


In its early days, Hordiienko said the series mainly made use of stock imagery and footage, but as some of the topics began to get more and more complex and outlandish, the need to develop her VFX skills became more and more apparent.


“For episodes like the What If The Moon Crashed Down to Earth, how many clips can you find online for that? So that’s when I kind of got into After Effects and started doing some compositing the best I could,” she said.


“That’s how it all started. Then I began looking into some programs to study VFX online because online videos weren’t enough – I really needed the structure.”


And structure, she said, is precisely what she found in Toronto Film School Online’s VFX offering.


“This VFX course is so good in that everything is structured so well. We started in Photoshop and After Effects and have gone from there to programs I’d never even heard of before I started school. It’s really cool,” she said, listing ZBrush, Maya, Arnold, Element 3D and Blender among the software she’s been exposed to in her first three terms at Toronto Film School Online.


“The instructors are so helpful, too. I’ve never had to wait for days for them to get back to me… it’s been great. I have nothing to say but good things. I’m really enjoying it so far and I’m really happy.”


As for her future aspirations, Hordiienko said she’s hopeful that one day in the near future, Unknown might consider launching its own VFX department, along with the creation of a senior role for her in which she can put all her newfound VFX skills to good use.


“Right now, I really like modeling…but there are still so many terms ahead, and so much more to learn, that I’m open to anything,” she said.  “I’ll figure it out as I go.”




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