What is Compositing?

Hey all,

So a lot of people often ask me what is compositing and what is it all about?  Well I thought I would help answer this for you to the best of my ability.  I accept no liability on any increased creativity as a result of this post…

Mad Max CompositeMost people start with a history of compositing but I think it best to understand what it is first before we discuss where it came from.  It is important to understand how it is evolved to truly understand the medium but to get you started lets talk about what it is.  Compositing, in a nutshell, is taking multiple images and layering them together to create the illusion that you have one image.  There are much more detailed components to compositing but ultimately you are taking elements from two or more visual mediums and mashing them together.

Now this mashing can be done in many different ways and these days they almost always use a computer and some form of software.  The most common software that artists tend to use for elements of compositing usually are:

There are lots of others but I am not trying to give you an exhaustive list, merely a taste of what the world looks like.  I have linked the above list to overviews of each so that you can look into them a bit further if you wish.

Avengers Composite

When combining the images together there is a process of colour correction that has to happen to match the images together and make them look as if they are all part of the same image.  This is a difficult thing to do especially for someone starting out but with plenty of practice the eye soon becomes trained to see what is necessary to get the correct shot.

Another tool that is used, as can be seen in the Avengers photo, is Green Screen.  Directors use this in live action shots and then pass over to digital compositors.  The compositor can then remove the green from the image easily, as it stands apart from the actors and objects in the shot, and then replace the green with whatever they desire instead from another shot.  In the pictured example the green has been replaced with a shot of the city that the Avengers are saving.  This is all done digitally.

When compositing first started though, they didn’t have computers to digitally edit the film so instead, they used the same principles of layering elements of shots on top of each other to create one film.  The first known example of someone doing this is in this video of the 1898 production,  Four Heads are Better Than One, by Melies.

As time has moved on, many skilled artists and directors have pushed the boundaries of compositing and with the introduction of digital media this has produced greater and more realistic results in faster time.

There is a great article on the VFX house, Double Negative, website that explains the job of a compositor from one of their own in house compositors, Christopher Jaques.  If you are interested in the industry, I really recommend you give it a read by clicking here.  Christopher also recommends a good book called The Art and Science of Digital Compositing which you can pick up on Amazon here.  One further book I can recommend is Digital Lighting and Rendering which you can also pick up on Amazon here.

To be a compositor it is important to gain an understanding of lighting and how camera’s work so you know which effects are realistic from the hardware used to create the shots.  It goes without saying that you should get familiar with software if possible and things like Blender and Nuke’s non-commercial offerings which are both free to use are great places to start.

Finally, if this has wet your appetite and you want to learn more about the evolution of compositing you can check out this awesome article and video on FilmmakerIQ.

Let me know if this has interested you and if you want any advice feel free to reach out to me and I will absolutely help you where I can.

Have a great weekend one and all.

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