What is a Compositor?

What isn’t a compositor might be a better question to ask but let’s keep this article on point. In short a compositor is responsible for fusing together elements such as live action footage, 3d animation, stock footage and other sources into a single picture. Sometimes the goal is photo-realism for a motion picture and other times the goal is to exaggerate the world for a TV spot.

A good comparison might be the job of a weldor. Wikipedia has a curious description that I found particularly useful:

“Welders typically have to have good dexterity and attention to detail, as well as some technical knowledge about the materials being joined and best practices in the field.”

In order to complete some shots, a compositor might take on other responsibilities such as modeling and rendering a 3D object or element. Similarly, a weldor might need to fabricate a special tool or object needed for a custom vehicle manipulation.

When a weldor is combining various parts of a bicycle frame, it is important that the parts are fused together properly or the bicycle might just fall apart. Much like a visual effects shot that is not sound, you may see it fall apart on screen.

Knowing the tools and understanding the related jobs of this industry might just answer questions you didn’t know you had. Never stop learning and developing new techniques.

Wikipedia also has a note regarding weldors:

“Welders are also often exposed to dangerous gases and particulate matter.”

But I won’t get into that.

Lens Flare on 3D Lights?

After Effects lights can be moved around in 3D space but a lens flare effect can only move in 2D space on the X and Y axis. So how can you add a 2d lens flare to a 3D moving light?

The secret is using a simple expression on the “Flare Center” of the lens effect.

1. Alt Click on Flare Center stop watch to add expression

2. Type this in the expression box:

thisComp.layer(“Light 1“).toComp([0,0,0]);

NOTE: Just change “Light 1” to the name of your light.

This tip can be found in the bump map tutorial around 6:15 for those who would like to see it in action. View Tutorial

Dan Ebberts has an ever useful “3D Lens Flare” case study on his website that includes distance falloff. Check that out.

Here is an anamorphic lens flare project too.

PERFECT Compositing

As we get closer to launching Action Essentials 2, I have been developing a simple guideline for better compositing that is broken down to 7 key points. This is by no means a ‘complete’ guide for every scenario but it should be a good place to start. I plan on detailing many of these techniques in the future but here is a basic overview. If you have some tips that have helped you out in the field, please share them in the comments below.

I call it: P.E.R.F.E.C.T.

Read the rest of this entry »

Epic Title

Here’s another use for the Disintegration Tutorial techniques in a motion graphics example. I used a little bit of shine or a Radial Blur to create a lighting effect as it burns or blows away. You can even play around with the colors to create a magical burn away as well. This tutorial has a cool method for creating light beams if you’re interested.

Keep experimenting and have fun!

Watch Video Sample

High Quality Image

The font is called Avalon Quest!

UPDATE: Green screen footage uploaded for Disintegration Tutorial project.

Film Frame Rate Confusion

I sometimes make comps at 24 frames per second instead of 23.976 inside of my tutorials but some people have asked, “What is the correct frame rate for film?” Well, there are a lot of various situations to consider but here are a few good rules.

  • The frame rate for digital film work is 23.976 so you should use this if you are making a cinematic commerical or movie about robots.
  • Some video editing applications abbreviate 23.976 as 23.98 but AE requires the more specific frame rate.
  • Film or not, you should work at the frame rate of your source material.
  • Non-standard frame rates such as 12 and 15 are great for creating animations for the web or even flash.
  • If you have multiple fps sources try to conform things to your output format.

The reason I sometimes use 24 fps instead of 23.976 is probably because I’m lazy and web video can be non-standard without many problems. Of course, it is probably good practice to use standard frame rates so that you can easily author to DVD or Blu-ray. Hope this helps but be sure to investigate your specific workflow, so that you don’t run into problems in the middle of a project. Remember PAL & NTSC standards may vary.

More info on Frame Rates here

Particle Turbulence

For anyone using CC Particle World instead of Particular, you may know that Particular’s Turbulent Field is not available. This feature allows random 3D displacement of a particles position. A similar effect can be achieved with Particle World by adding a TURBULENT DISPLACE effect. It works best with smaller particle and it has some limitations because it is only 2D but it is a nice way to get away from “perfect” particle movement.

Download Project Comparison

Related Topics:

Fire Title ProjectUses Turbulent displacement
Dark Energy & Electric Energy — Uses Turbulent displacement
Fire Burning Project — Complex Fire Project

Related Tutorials:

Soul Removal Tutorial
Energy Tutorial

Useful Tips

I stumbled upon a recently published list of Tips for motion graphics folks by Computer Arts. There is tons of great advice I’m sure you will find useful. So I started thinking, without restating any of these tips (intentionally), I could make a top 10 list, maybe even 20. So here it is! -5 more.

1. Make Proxies of Elements

Designs can be complex, often times an element is used or reused that can be very heavy on rendering. For example, this circular element contains a heavy radial blur that renders very slow. Other parts of the design still require work and you should not have to waste extra time. So I created a full resolution proxy of the element I could output as well.

In the render settings, there is an option for the proxy use, to use none or current settings. Of course if you really need to change the design element, just disable the proxy and have at it. This is also a great idea for pre-comps and things that are somewhat “finished”.

2. King of the Kaps lock

Have you ever noticed how fast you can move around in After Effects with the Caps Lock on? It’s because rendering is disabled however, you can still do almost everything. In big compositions (even small ones) this can save time navigating, editing clips and even keyframin’ without any tax. There is also the Live Update button but this way is much better. Practice using your pinky and toggle on!

3. Watch your Video Someplace Else

Change your scenery and watch a quicktime on another computer or on your desktop outside of AE, perhaps in the presence of another person. You will look at things in a new way revealing aspects you may have overlooked and you might even get some constructive criticism too. At which point you tell your wife to get here things and leave.

4. Safe Experimentation

Do you like what you have created so far but want to try something risky? Duplicate your composition and continue working from the copy. No regrets just a free and open mind.

5. Be Ambitious but not Unrealistic

When working for a client, plan your project carefully. Don’t put all your time into 1 shot and assume the rest can be pulled together last minute. Leave extra time to finesse the end result. For example, a 3d scene can look great with some GI and refractions and all that jazz but rendering will be a nightmare and re-rendering is a nightmare you can actually die in. You can make things look great with standard rendering and creative lighting so don’t be lazy here.

A commercial isn’t usually judged on the best part but rather what is lacking. Remember this, with today’s technology, you can create anything imaginable, but deadlines are a reality and you don’t want to shoot and miss.

AE Quick Tips

Sometimes during my work in AE, I solve little problems and add them to memory without telling anyone. Well before I forget, I want to make a short list. You’ll probably see more posts like this now that I have an outlet. These may be simple but I found them to be quite useful and allowed me to break certain routines.

1. Fade in Fade out Adjustments:
So you have a video element that has 2 keyframes in the beginning that fade the clip in and 2 more at the end to fade it out. Now you want to lower the opacity but you normally have to adjust both keyframes. Instead I just add an expression by alt clicking the stopwatch and typing value*.5 this cuts all values by 50 percent.

2. Helping Failed Renders due to image buffer errors:
Often times HD projects will fail on render due to image buffer errors or all sorts of things. Here are a couple things to try during clutch situations.

  • Change the AE secret preference to purge after 1-4 frames. (hold down SHIFT while accessing the edit menu/preferences. The “Secret” menu appears.
  • Another thing to try is render to an image sequence like PNG or TIFF, this way if the render fails when going to a QuickTime, you still have good frames that you can add to by rendering the incomplete portion.
  • Another thing to try (if you have access) is loading your project into a 64bit machine since it can handle more memory and actually allowed me to finish a render when my 32bit machine couldn’t.

3. Working Late
Order a pizza before they close so that you can have a late snack after most places close. Be considerate of toppings that will still taste good after refrigeration. When you have rendering problems they can last all night but then you pull out a cheesy friend and somehow it’s not so bad.

Grain Works

Film grain is a necessary part of visual effects and used commonly in motion graphics to add a more natural look. After Effects has great tools for adding film grain that are based on real 35mm film stock. The only problem is that it renders very slow! There is an alternative plug-in called noise that creates nice random but somewhat sparatic grain that can look a bit ‘digital’. The add grain is a much more fluid formula. Only problem is that it renders very SLOW!

What I like to do is create a grain video loop that I can place on top of my video with the overlay transfer mode. Similar to our free fast film grain preset found here, except the quality of the grain is much better.

Quick Tip:
When matching grain of CG elements with Live Action footage it is sometimes hard to see grain detail in dark areas for accurate matching. What you can apply a temporary adjustment layer to the top of your comp and add the equalize filter. This makes it easier to see the grain frequency more clearly. Yay!

Steps:

  1. Create a new comp that is 150 frames
  2. Apply Add Grain and adjust the settings to your taste
  3. Render the video out to quickTime PhotoJPG
  4. Import to AE and set the loop to 10 in the interpret settings
Useful Tools

In addition to After Effects there are other great tools I found myself using frequently on this latest project:

Trapcode Horizon
This great little After Effects plug-in makes it easy to add environments to 3D scenes and saves a ton of time. I use it almost as much as Particular. www.Trapcode.com

Lenscare
Probably the best tool for creating realistic blur for individual layers or by using a depth matte. http://www.frischluft.com/lenscare/lenscare.php

HDR Shop
This program is hard to describe but I use it to create spherical environment from digital still images to create 3d Environments and backgrounds. http://www.hdrshop.com/ Learn as much as you can on this subject it is great.

Nodal Ninja
This tool makes shooting still images for panoramic easy and consistent. Be sure to check it out all the helpful resources within.
http://www.nodalninja.com/

Compositing Practice

One of the things I like to do is take something that exists in the real world and try to recreate it digitally. In this example, I extracted the helicopter on the right and replaced it with my helicopter. The key was matching the lighting, color, blur, and grain of the original shot. What is really great about this technique is having a reference for what things are supposed to look like. Then when you are working on a 100% CG shot you will have the proper chops… I mean skills to get it done. These kind of excercises will give you that real world experience needed to become a great compositor.

Art of the Title

Here is a great site where you can watch intro title sequences for feature films. Get ready to be inspired!

http://artofthetitle.com/

Be sure to check out our forum for other inspirational links or post some of our own.
http://www.videocopilot.net/forum/viewforum.php?f=12

Stay Glassy After Effects

Here is a fun method for creating translucent glass frames in After Effects that I”m working on.

When I record this tutorial I’ll probably add a little more detail to make it look even better. Although the simplicity makes it very interesting and who knows maybe for the tutorial I’ll go out of my way to make it look worse just for fun. You never know : ) Enjoy.

Here is the CS3 project file

Watch Sample Video

SHORT-CUTS Episode 02: 3D Sparks Title




In this new (not-so-short) Short-Cuts Episode we’ll take a look at creating sparks in AE with CC Particle World and uncover some hidden features as well. This tutorial uses the new Per-Charachter 3D in AE CS3.

Be sure to stay tuned to the end for a sneak preview.

Watch Tutorial

SHORT-CUTS Episode 01: Bump Maps

Our first Short-Cuts episode is online. Now there is an outlet for all the little things that would otherwise get buried in my backyard.

In this new Short-Cut tutorial, I’ll cover a cool tip for generating bump mapping with 3D light as well as utilizing 3D position with 2D effects.

This one ran a little long but in the future expect 1-5 minute videos with short tips and tricks.

Watch Now