Did you know that in most post-productions, even if a shot doesn't need to go through any other VFX department, it will most often still need to be worked on by a compositing artist? This makes compositing an in-demand job in visual effects.
So, how do you ensure you’re industry-ready to take advantage of all the job opportunities out there for VFX compositors? One way is to enroll at CG Spectrum, where the success rate of their advanced compositing students is impressively high. In fact, 90% of 2021 grads found jobs in the industry!
To find out why so many of CG Spectrum’s graduates are getting hired in compositing roles at studios around the world, we chatted with former students and current mentors of CG Spectrum’s Nuke Compositing Course. We also gained some top interview and showreel tips while we were at it!
What is Compositing?
On first inspection, it might seem tricky to determine what a compositor is responsible for, but that's actually the point! A VFX compositor's job is to create seamlessness in and between shots in films, commercials, and cinematics for games.
Compositing involves integrating CG assets, matte paintings, and live-action footage to make a single, cohesive moving image. Each layer is matched in terms of light and shadow, color and grading, perspective, and depth, to maintain shot and sequence continuity. It is the last step of the VFX pipeline.
A scene before (left) and after (right) compositing.
Why are skilled VFX compositors in demand?
According to our in-house Career Development Manager, Maxine Schnepf, there are two main reasons that compositing artists are so in demand.
Increase in demand for content: Streaming services have altered not just how society consumes content but also how much we consume. Last year, Fierce Video reported that total global content spend pushed past $220 billion, and it’s only predicted to rise. This increase in content means an increase in compositing work, creating more openings for skilled compositing artists to fill. The nature of a compositor’s unique and versatile set of skills: In visual effects, more complex shots may require input from other departments (match move, 3D modeling, animation, etc.) but, as the last step in the VFX pipeline and the department that is responsible for tying all the 2D and 3D elements together, a compositor is vital to delivering a polished final post-production product. This means that most films, TV series, commercials, and cinematics require a higher number of compositors working on a project compared to any other creative or technical department — because there is more work, more consistently, for them to do.
Even though compositors are in demand, competition is still fierce, and compositors must be equipped with the right skills to be considered. CGS graduate Reed's reel is an excellent example of the quality of work studios are looking for in new hires.
"My only regret is that I didn't do it sooner! My mentor (Gen Camilleri) helped me accelerate my learning through our weekly meetings. Once I completed the course, I was left with great portfolio pieces for my showreel and given free ongoing help by a Career Development Manager (Maxine Schnepf), who helped me polish my resume and LinkedIn profile to help kickstart my career." —Reed Yerien, CGS compositing graduate now employed at Fin Design & Effects in Sydney, Australia.
Why do future compositing artists choose CG Spectrum?
The visual effects industry is not only highly competitive, it is constantly evolving, which means compositing artists must not only stand out creatively, but they must also keep abreast of the latest technology and trends!
Department Head of Compositing Sean Amlaner (The Incredible Hulk, Westworld, Bridgerton, Black Panther, Ralph Breaks the Internet) believes the key to CG Spectrum’s success lies in its heavy industry focus in all aspects of the course — from its curriculum, to the tools used, to the people who teach them.
CG Spectrum’s courses are Industry-led Students are mentored by senior-level or higher compositing artists, most of who are actively working in the industry with their fingers on the pulse of the latest trends and technologies. They are literally practicing what they preach.
CG Spectrum mentors are artists helping to write the literal rulebook for compositing departments at VFX studios worldwide! Their knowledge & skillsets are vital to the personalized experience our compositing students receive.” —SA
"CGS was the most organized, polished-looking program I could find to learn compositing. All of these skills change so much, so often, that getting taught by someone who is actively a pro in the field makes a whole lot of sense." —Compositing graduate Ben Macchiano. He is now working at ArtJail in New York.
CG Spectrum’s courses use industry-standard tools and techniques The compositing courses are built around the idea that they must be consistently up-to-date with high-quality training. Industry-standard tools such as The Foundry’s Nuke are included in the course fees, along with access to the massive online asset library,FootageCrate. This allows compositing students to spend more time on actual compositing tasks and less time attempting to source materials. It's also a great source of inspiration!
CG Spectrum gets students industry-ready CG Spectrum’s courses prepare students for life after study, including showreel and interview prep. Their industry-standard training with a career-focused curriculum, including a portfolio-focused term, helps students to stand out when applying for jobs as a compositor in VFX.
While the job title might allude to junior when discussing entry-level, many of our recently-graduated compositing students illustrate skills & knowledge that can rival that of a mid-level compositor.” —SA
Sean emphasizes that student and mentor feedback on the compositing courses is vital to ensuring consistent and quality updates based on industry expectations and trends. They also bring outside senior-level or higher compositors to audit the program, ensuring no part falls behind current industry standards.
Former Nuke compositing student Joe Carvalko, had the following advice for prospective students looking for the right school to study compositing:
I think the old model of taking four-year traditional schooling is outdated when applied to any subject in the digital world. In the world of CG, the only way to really learn your subject is to immerse yourself in it. —JC
In Joe's experience, as soon as he gained a solid understanding of the foundations of compositing, through his practical lessons led by his industry mentor, he felt he could immerse himself. This gave him room to pursue creativity and push the boundaries past what he thought was possible. Joe got a job as a VFX compositor before even finishing his course!
What qualities do studios look for in a junior compositor?
Maxine, who has worked in VFX for many years and has been responsible for hiring artists, looks for the following qualities in a junior compositing artist:
Adaptability, and the ability to problem solve and learn new things is very important because no two shots are the same, so just following along with instructions or watching a tutorial won’t always cut it.
In addition to these more general qualities, Maxine highlights that a junior compositor should also have a solid knowledge of the VFX pipeline. Understanding how other departments work will help a compositor communicate better with their team and be able to integrate all the different elements into their shot successfully.
CGS graduate Domenick Castillo's Kong shot from his compositing reel. Domenick now works at FuseFX inNew York.
How to stand out as a VFX compositor in a highly-competitive industry?
You’ve graduated. Now, what’s next? We asked some of our experienced mentors for advice on interviewing and showreels. Here’s what they had to say.
What do employers look for in a good VFX compositing reel? Senior Compositor at Wētā FX and CGS compositing mentor, Brittany Piacente (Loki, Black Panther, BladeRunner 2049, Vikings, Mad Max: Fury Road), looks for realism, creativity, and originality in a compositing reel.
Realism demonstrates a good understanding of photography and what things look like in real life; creativity shows that you can think outside of the box; originality is important to stand out from the rest of the reels — to impress upon viewers that you can apply your own ‘flavor’ to what you've learned.
It can be very repetitive to see the same free, online materials on multiple reels, but if someone can make a shot their own while still feeling realistic or even stylistic, it can feel like a new shot & that keeps viewers interested.
As far as the technical aspects of a reel go, Brittany likes to see a combination of different facets of compositing in a single shot, such as:
Blue/green screen extractions
Digital Matte Painting (DMP) integration
2D/3D tracking and integration for additional elements
A shot from Joy Lahmann's recent compositing reel. Since graduating from CG Spectrum, Joy was hired at MPC in Paris, France.
Some additional VFX compositing reel advice:
Check for technical errors: Things like defocus that’s not matching the plate, saturation and black levels being busted, static grain, or dark/bright or sharp/soft edges; these can be avoided with a thorough QC (quality control) pass.
Get feedback on your reel: Have industry and non-industry people review your reel for a range of useful feedback
Keep reel length short: The people who view reels (whether they are creators or recruiters) will often tell you that you have approximately 15 seconds to capture someone’s attention and near 30-45 seconds to keep it. This is why it’s so important to only show your best work. All-in-all, a good reel shows your skills, but it also keeps the viewer engaged and wanting more.
Compositor job interview tips Kasy Stein (What If...?, Kong: Skull Island, Ice Age: Collision Course, The Martian, World War Z), VFX Compositor at Sony Pictures Imageworks and CGS mentor, stresses the importance of prep before an interview: Do your homework!
Check the company's website & showreel, & who its clients are. Ask (politely) who might be interviewing you & do your research about this person, their work, etc. It will give you a better idea of where the conversation might go & show you're taking this seriously. —KS
Kasy says preparation also includes knowing how to answer questions about yourself and your goals.
"I had a great experience with CG Spectrum. The classes are easy to understand, and the mentors really want to help you understand and get better at your respective craft. Kasy was a great mentor. She helped me with all of my questions and also helped me get ready for my first industry job." —Sayge Kortenber, who graduated this year and shortly after got hired at Framestore in the US.
And remember, don't give up if you don't get the gig right away — it's a numbers game, after all!
Study compositing at a training center where the majority of its graduates get hired in the industry!
CG Spectrum's Nuke compositing courses provide you with the tools that not only get you industry-ready but that help you stand out to potential employers.
Through our industry-led curriculum, you will gain a deep understanding of the fundamentals of Nuke while also being given the time and professional guidance to flesh out a strong and unique showreel. This could be just the ticket to securing your next job in visual effects!
Shoshanah has almost a decade of visual effects production experience, coordinating VFX teams in Australia and London. Her credits include Mad Max: Fury Road, Ant-Man, John Wick: Parabellum, Game of Thrones, and Christopher Robin. She now enjoys getting to write about the film and games industry.