Compositor - CG
Compositors work in most areas of animation and post production.
They are responsible for constructing the final image by combining layers of previously created material. Although it is primarily a 2D role within the 3D world of CGI and VFX (Visual Effects), Compositors need a thorough understanding of the CG process combined with relevant artistic skills.
In post production companies, some TDs (Technical Directors) may do their own compositing.
What is the job?
Compositors work at the end of the production process. They receive material from various sources which could include rendered computer animation, special effects, graphics, 2D animation, live action, static background plates, etc.
Their job is to creatively combine all the elements into the final image, ensuring that the established style of the project is respected and continuity is maintained.
To achieve this they enhance the lighting, match blacks and other colour levels, add grain where required, add motion blur (if appropriate), create convincing shadows and make sure levels combine together seamlessly, keying (see glossary), rotoscoping and creating mattes where necessary.
They work closely with Lighters and need to have technical knowledge of how 3D lighting works in order to understand the 'multi passes' that the lighters create. They also liaise closely with Render Wranglers to progress work through the department.
As this is the end of the production line, there can be occasions when it is necessary to work very long hours to catch up on a schedule. Compositors need to keep up to date with technological developments within their field.
Typical career routes
CG Compositors are most likely to have entered the Compositing Department as Roto Artists and worked their way up. In other cases, people who have acquired an understanding of compositing in layers for 2D Animation, using programmes such as After Effects, Animo or Opus, may have the relevant experience.
There are several levels within the department; this job profile applies to a mid-level Compositor. With the appropriate talent and skills, Compositors can become Sequence Heads, Senior Compositors or Compositing Supervisors; the best Compositors can aim to become VFX Supervisors.
Essential knowledge and skills Compositors need the talent to make artistic judgements, the technical skills to take practical decisions and the ability to analyse and solve problems.
Key Skills include:
- extensive knowledge of current compositing software such as Shake and After Effects;
- knowledge of various other programmes including Photoshop;
- understanding of 3D animation process, particularly Lighting;
- a good eye for composition, colour, light and shadow;
- good knowledge of keying process;
- methodical and thorough approach to work, and attention to detail;
- ability to communicate with colleagues and work as part of a team;
- ability to take direction and willingness to address comments and make changes;
- ability to work with a minimum of supervision;
- ability to deliver on schedule, working under pressure if required;
- respect for the procedures and requirements of a particular studio, production or pipeline;
- Knowledge of the requirements of the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures
Training and qualifications
Compositors are likely to have gained a degree in an art-related subject, such as Animation, Design, Illustration, Painting, Drawing, Photography or Computer Animation.
However, by this level, a minimum of two years professional experience; showreels demonstrating artistic talent and technical skill; and good references are likely to be of more value than academic qualifications.
Whether they have received formal training or worked their way up, Compositors need a thorough knowledge of the relevant software currently in use by the industry. Depending on the production, this is most likely to be Shake or After Effects, but could also be Combustion or, possibly Inferno or Flame.
For people moving into Compositing from other departments, there are several Shake courses available and this training would probably be a basic requirement.
Where to go for more information
Skillset is the Sector Skills Council for the audio visual industries. The first sources of information for all jobs in the industry are the National Occupational Standards. Browse Skillset's website for links to our network of training partners, information about training and access to the comprehensive Skillset/BFI course database.
Finally, Skillset Careers is the UK's only specialist media careers advice service; for detailed media careers information and advice, visit www.skillset.org/careers.
The Art and Science of Digital Compositing by Ron Brinkmann. Pub. Morgan Kaufmann Publishers
Digital Compositing by Steve Wright. Pub. Butterworth
Digital Lighting & Rendering by Jeremy Birn, George Maestri (Editor). Pub. New Riders Publishing.
The Art of Maya by Alias Wavefront. Pub. Sybex
Maya Character Animation by Jaejin Choi. Pub Sybex
Inspired 3D Lighting & Compositing by David Parrish. Pub Premier Press
The Art of 3-D: Computer Animation and Imaging by Isaac Victor Kerlow Pub. John Wiley & Sons
Visual Effects in A Digital World: A Comprehensive Glossary of over 7,000 Visual Effects Terms by Karen Goulekas. Pub. Morgan Kaufmann Publishers
Keying – separating picture elements. This can be done in various ways but a basic method is using colour and luminosity (brightness). Sometimes it will involve blue or green screen backgrounds to facilitate the keying process. This technique is much used when elements need to be separated and re-combined with other material; for example, moving an object or character into a different environment.
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