A plate, in production terms, is footage shot to be used for visual effects in post-production. An example of a plate may be a sequence of actors fleeing from a mega-monster that will be integrated into the scene during post-production, or simply background footage of landscape that will have all foreground action added later by a match mover.
The plate supervisor is a member of the visual effects team, and is hired to oversee live action shooting as it relates to VFX post-production. As in the examples above, the plate supervisor understands how the shot must be laid out and how long the scene must run to accommodate the monster that the team of artists has been working on back at the studio. Therefore, he or she works closely with the director and director of photography on set as a consultant, helping them to visualize what the end product will look like. Additionally, the plate supervisor may be hired to exclusively work on the second unit, shooting plate footage separately from the first unit crew.
In pre-production, the plate supervisor participates in previz (pre-visualization) meetings with the producer, directorial team, and visual effects staff. There, shots will be planned to accommodate VFX elements that will be added in post. Rough 2-D or 3-D animations (called animatics) are played in order to demonstrate the basic VFX sequences that have been designed to complete the scenes in the script that are impossible to create during live photography. The plate supervisor takes copious notes regarding necessary live shots and precisely times each sequence based on the script and director’s vision. That information will be used on set to guide the director and ensure that when the footage arrives at the VFX studio, the effects and animation can be seamlessly integrated without any need for reshoots.
Skills & Education
A college degree in film and television production, computer animation, digital art, or a related field is required. Coursework should include studio art, including still photography. Proficiency with digital art tools such as LightWave, Maya, or 3ds Max is necessary, and training with Avid and Final Cut Pro is also useful. A plate supervisor should be a jack-of-all-trades, capable of match moving, rotoscoping, character rigging, and animating. Furthermore, this career demands an individual who can get in sync with the director’s creative vision. You must be organized, detail-oriented, and an excellent communicator.
What to Expect
Depending on the size and budget of the production, the plate supervisor may be only one of several visual effects supervisors. He or she is assigned to the set to allow the VFX supervisors at the studio the freedom to concentrate on art creation, without having to worry about photography on set. Lateral moves between working on set and working in the studio are easy to come by and generally happen based on the skills required for a particular project. Employment opportunities are most plentiful within visual effects studios that cater to film and television. Freelancing is a viable career choice, but is less stable. To reach this senior-level role, pursue roles in post-production art like match mover, rotoscope artist, or render wrangler.
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