Whether light, mask, costume or setting, film scenes are usually composed down to the smallest detail. Before you can see them on the big screen, shots are usually edited many times. At the end of this process, digital compositors (DCs) are responsible for the final images of the film. This is especially true for productions that rely on visual effects (VFX). Often a VFX scene consists of different elements, which are combined to a realistic looking picture by Digital Compositors.
Digital compositors' field of activity is diverse and creative in both technical and artistic terms. An important task of DCs, for example, is to integrate computer-generated content into the film scenes. From animated characters to spectacular stunts or explosions, the aim of CG compositing is to make the virtual characters or effects appear as realistic as possible. Picture by picture, the details and the effectiveness of the image are worked on. The goal is to create the perfect, true-to-life illusion.
In VFX productions, scenes are often not shot before a final setting, but rather in front of green or blue screens. Here, DCs use so-called rotoscoping and keying techniques to separate people and objects from their backgrounds and place them in other environments. In this context, it is important to know how good matchmoving works, i.e. how to position objects in rooms optically correctly. For this purpose, 2D and 3D camera tracking techniques are used to record the exact camera movement.
Film sets are usually not as clean as they later appear on the screen. In fact, all kinds of technical equipment like cables, tracking utensils or scaffolding lie and hang around. It is not uncommon that a coffee cup is left on the set during the lunch break. These objects, if they make it into the picture, must be removed and retouched by digital compositors.
But image processing by DCs usually goes far beyond removing unwanted objects. Not only do they take care of important design details such as consistent coloring and mixing, they also use technical means to optimize film scenes aesthetically. For example, they improve the look of the actors and actresses by making their wrinkles and dark circles under their eyes disappear. DCs redesign entire scenes when shots are not as desired afterwards. They also improve lighting conditions or, in the case of artificial-looking studio backdrops or costumes, create textures that make them look real. And these are just a few examples of their optimization tricks.
Digital compositors should have a good eye for what makes good photography and cinematography, for example a feeling for light, composition and perspective. Knowledge of common compositing software programs such as Nuke or other image editing tools is also important.
As a DC you should also be a team player. After all, a film consists of several frames, which is why digital compositors often work on a production in large teams over long periods. Since DCs bring together elements from different departments of a VFX production, the ability to coordinate is also a bit of a challenge. Some DCs are therefore 3D generalists and have knowledge or even qualifications about other work steps that are necessary for VFX (pipeline). But this is not absolutely necessary to work as a DC. However, it can be quite helpful if they can overlook and master parts of the VFX pipline at least to a certain extent.
For example, part of the VFX pipeline is "modeling", where VFX artists generate individual characters or objects with the computer. Or anything that has to do with setting these elements in motion. That is called "rigging" when it comes to the objects in detail, and "animating" when several of these objects need to be brought together and coordinated with respect to their movement. DCs should also understand texturing, where small details play a role, like the polished surface of a metal armor, as well as lighting and rendering, where the final video output is produced.
As with many other professions, experience is the most important factor in digital compositing. In addition, universities such as Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg’s Animationsinstitut offer comprehensive training and numerous opportunities to gain a foothold in the film industry in this field.