7 Tips for Compositing More Efficiently and with Better Results

The world of digital compositing is a complex one. Whether you're brand new or an experienced compositor there are always new tips and techniques to be learned that can not only speed up your workflow but help to produce even better results. As the amount of visual effects (VFX) work has sky-rocketed the need for great compositors has never been greater. No matter what application you use, this article will give you some great compositing tips to help you produce better results.

Review Your Footage

Whether you are integrating 3D into live action or compositing flashy effects to spice up some stock footage, you should always check the type of footage you're going to be working with. Don't just jump in and start working without knowing the clip inside and out. Take time to think through the task and the best way to accomplish this particular composite. Study the camera movements. If there aren't markers for matchmoving in the footage, what elements in the video will suffice? As a digital compositor you may find that the footage given to you could be a whole lot better. You won't always be supplied with the easiest footage to work with so it's up to you to figure out ways to work around it.

Save Presets

Most compositing applications, whether it's After Effects, NUKE, or Fusion will give you the ability to save out custom presets. This could be anything from a simple color correction to a grainy film effect. Find the things you use most often in any composite project and create custom presets for them. Custom presets will allow you to save a lot of time because you won't have to re-create the effect again. Of course, you can still make adjustments to the presets as needed when implementing them into different elements of your composite, but having these presets will give you a great starting point to build from.

Be Organized

This tip, though simple, is often times overlooked. Nothing is more confusing than having a lot of different layers within a composite with no name. Sure, you may remember what each one does for the time being, but if you save your file and come back at a different time you are likely to be more than a little confused. This is especially important when you're working with very complex composites that can get into a ridiculous amount of layers. Organize and name your layers appropriately as you create them is a great habit to get into. Don't do it an hour from now or ten minutes from now. Name them on the spot. Naming them right away will also ensure you give them the appropriate name. Another very important reason for getting into this habit is when your footage needs to be passed off down the pipeline; it can be very frustrating and confusing to a person opening up a composite without a proper naming convention. Organize

Create Separate Lighting Passes

If you're integrating 3D elements into your footage, it's a great idea to render out each light separately. Separate lights give you much more flexibility over the lights, and you can composite all the lighting passes together in post. This will allow you to make any slight adjustments to each individual light and give you much more control over your final composite. You can never predict what type of changes will need to be made so by rendering out separate passes, you can avoid having to do time-intensive re-rendering in a 3D application. Check out this great NUKE tutorial on an Introduction to 2.5D Relighting in NUKE to get a better understanding of this workflow. This same principle can also apply for any of the other elements for the 3D render, like a global illumination pass or ambient occlusion, allowing you to make adjustments to each individual render pass without destroying any of the other passes. Light

Auto Save

This tip is probably a no-brainer, but is still important enough to mention. Utilize an auto save function in your application. Nothing is more devastating than spending hours on a project only to have your computer or application suddenly crash. Just about every artist has been burned by this at some point; due to that fact that they're probably backing up their files in every way possible. However, if you haven't had this happen to you, there's a chance you aren't saving as often as you should. If you're one of the lucky ones, avoid the frustration by using some type of auto save feature, because applications will inevitably crash at some point.

Blur CG Elements

If you're incorporating CG into live action footage you should try to avoid the sharp and perfect look that CG often brings. One of the common mistakes of integrating CG into live action is ignoring that the CG is always perfectly clear, causing it to feel very unrealistic and the viewer can easily tell it's not part of the footage. With a real world camera it's difficult to get the perfect sharpness that's a key part of CG. There are different factors, like depth of field and motion blur. As soon as you plop a crystal clear CG element into this real-world footage, it will stand out like a sore thumb. So incorporate blur and little imperfections into the CG that will allow it to blend much more convincingly with the live action footage. Blur

Be a Team Player

VFX is a very collaborative effort; you may find yourself working with many different people from different departments like lighting, modeling, effects, etc., on the same project. Being able to communicate between different teams is important. You also need to be able to give and take feedback. Having this strong communication between fellow artists will allow everyone's work to improve.   Compositing is an important part of any VFX pipeline, and being able to work more efficiently will allow you to produce the best possible results. Of course, not all of these tips may apply to every project you work on, so it's up to you to find the times when these tips can be implemented into your work. To learn more about compositing, watch these great compositing tutorials to gain a strong understanding of this important step: Getting Started with NUKE and Compositing 3D Renders in After Effects.