The world of CG relies on the wizardry of compositors, who work in most areas of animation and post-production and are responsible for creating the seamlessly integrated combination of live action, computer graphics, and visual effects for film and video. Compositors work at the end of the production process to join the creative efforts of the team into a cohesive and seamless final product.
Compositors really do it all, so it’s crucial that they have an intimate knowledge of the CG process from start to finish, and considerable artistic skills to boot. Working at the end of the production process means that they receive materials from other parts of the pipeline, including rendered computer animation, graphics, special effects, live action footage, 2-D animation, and static background plates, just to name a few elements that compositors commonly deal with. The job of the compositor is to see that all these elements are united in a way that maintains a similar style and continuity for the final image. Compositors achieve this continuity by working closely with other members of the team to make sure that lighting is perfect, color levels and blacks match while shadows are convincing and blended, grain is added where appropriate, motion blur is added if needed, mattes are created if necessary, and rotoscoping is completed. Compositors work closely with lighting technical directors, rotoscope artists, and render wranglers to ensure that the project continues unhindered through the pipeline until the final fixes are performed. Compositors need considerable knowledge of many types of software, and should be a combination digital wizard, artistic genius, and relentless perfectionist comfortable with taking orders, giving orders, and coordinating team efforts into a polished finished product.
Skills & Education
A career as a compositor is not likely to fall into your lap; a common way to get started is with a degree from an accredited institution in arts or design, such as painting, photography, drawing, illustration, design, or computer animation. Compositors will immediately need extensive knowledge of the latest compositing software such as Shake and After Effects, as well as proprietary software and programs like Photoshop, Maya, Combustion, Inferno, Flame, Amino, Opus, and other software common to the 2-D and 3-D animation processes. Artistic skills are also necessary—the elements of composition, lighting and shadow, and color. Because compositing is done in a team environment, compositors need great communication skills along with a keen eye for detail and a commitment to hard work. Compositors must also be able to work with minimal supervision and be flexible when changes have to be made. Compositors usually earn their position after years of working in other areas of the animation process, and an expansive knowledge of this process will be the compositor’s most important asset.
What to Expect
You can expect to find a healthy and competitive job market. A show reel will be necessary just to get in the door; and references and experience sometimes help just as much as academic training. Compositors usually attain their position after years in the department as rotoscope artists or render wranglers, and if you show initiative and talent, can often work your way up the ladder to become a sequence supervisor, compositing supervisor, or even VFX supervisor. You should expect years of hard work to get there, which will give you time to harness the artistic, technical, decision-making, and problem-solving skills that will be used every day on the job.
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