Although the course that I did at Escape Studios was called ‘Complete Compositing’ the larger post production houses would not usually hire someone as a compositor that didn’t already have some experience working on feature films. I was always expecting to have to start in a paint and roto department. Paint and rotoscoping are two separate disciplines but both are staples for compositing.
Rotoscoping involves ‘cutting out’ parts of a live action plate that the compositors need separately from the rest of the shot. This needs to be done if the objects couldn’t be shot as separate elements in front of blue or green screens.
The process involves tracing around the objects on a particular frame and then animating the shape to match the outline of the object as it moves through the shot. This can be a slow and manual process.
At Framestore we used a piece of software called Silhouette for our roto work. Once we had completed the rotoscoping we rendered our shapes out as black and white mattes that the compositors could use to isolate the objects.
The paint tasks involved removing things that were in the shot that weren’t supposed to be there in the final shot. An example would be painting out wires supporting an actor during a stunt but most often it seems to be removing markers placed in the shot to help the camera tracking department.
I was hired as Framestore was ramping up for Where The Wild Things Are. Because we were animating the faces on all of the monsters, each monster had about 10 markers on them. These had to painted out in every shot.
There is a blurred line between the paint work and compositing so most of the paint work was done in Shake, with Nuke starting to take over by the end of my time in the department. Silhouette also had excellent paint tools and was sometimes used as well.
During my time in Paint and Roto I also worked on Avatar, Clash of The Titans and Salt.
Although the paint and roto department is not as glamorous as compositing, and I certainly wouldn’t want to have worked there forever, I am really glad I spent a year there. I learned a huge amount and worked on shots that I am still proud of.
This was the first time that I had worked with footage from film instead of video so I had to deal with grain and colour spaces. I learned loads of techniques and completed shots that I would never have thought were possible before I started.
More importantly I learned a lot about working on a high profile film project. I was surprised at how closely my work was scrutinised before it was approved and the sort of things that were noticed and sent back. In my previous jobs I had never had my work checked frame by frame while the viewer lifted the brightness to check the darkest areas of the shot that the naked eye could never see.
Working to this standard on these projects really prepared me for my move into compositing.