The role, salary, software and skills of a compositor in the film industry

Compositor job description

Compositors ensure that all the visual elements of a film are rendered seamlessly on the screen. They deal with a complex combination of images including green screen/chroma key sequences, special effects, visual effects, mattes and live action coming together to complete a believable whole. 

The role of the Compositor is a crucial one as they produce the final output of the film or game. A high level of technical knowledge is required to integrate the layers made up of different formats. The Compositor will work throughout the production with various departments to ensure that all visual elements are delivered in compatible formats.

Role and responsibilities

Compositors play a vital role in the final output of the finished film, television series or computer game. They assemble all the layers of live action footage, animation, and special effects into one at the end of the post production process.

A solid knowledge of CGI elements and how to integrate them is essential to the role of the Compositor. Their work is key to the visual success of the film, television episode or game. 

Responsibilities of the Compositor may include:

  • Liaising with the director, producer and post production head to establish the formats and delivery items of all the elements that make up the production
  • Collating all the materials from the camera, animation and special effects teams, and ensuring they are all compatible
  • Advising filmmakers on the best lighting, color levels and blacks to maintain a consistency of style and look throughout the shoot
  • Working closely with lighting technical directors, roto artists and render wranglers to ensure the smooth running of the production pipeline
  • Taking responsibility for continuity of shots and effects of the entire work
  • Enhancing lighting effects
  • Creating convincing shadows within a shot
  • Adding motion blur to scenes
  • Integrating rear projection into background images
  • Working with blue/green screen effects
  • Ability to do some keying, rotoscoping and creating mattes as required
  • Conducting quality assurance of visuals and correcting errors before final composition
  • Ensuring the director’s vision of overall style is delivered

Software and other tools used

  • Nuke
  • Adobe Photoshop, After Effects
  • Shake
  • Maya
  • Combustion
  • Inferno
  • Flame
  • Amino 
  • Opus
  • RenderMan
  • Blackmagic Fusion

Skills required

Compositors require an equal amount of artistic and technical skills. Their role is the crucial final step of the output of the film or game when all the elements are composed to its final render. As this is the final stage of a production Compositors may have to work long hours to meet tight deadlines if the schedule is behind, this can be a challenging role and a variety of technical and time management skills are required.

Sometimes Compositors can work on up to 120 versions of a single scene to integrate all the elements required of a special effect, the ability to multi-task and a high level of attention to detail is required. 

Employers may look for the following skills in a Compositor:

  • Solid knowledge of a broad range of software
  • Strong artistic skills 
  • Career training in VFX compositing and a strong demo reel
  • Good communication skills, ability to work with all heads of departments
  • Problem-solving skills, especially technical issues
  • Attention to detail
  • Ability to analyze visual elements and make them consistent throughout
  • Knowledge of the visual effects pipeline
  • Proficiency in cinematic lighting, how shadows work in the real world
  • Good working knowledge of the post-production process, especially the FX department
  • Understanding of visual storytelling and editing
  • Ability to work in a team as well as individually with minimal supervision
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Ability to keep resources and teams on schedule and within budget

Average salary

The average wage of a compositor ranges from USD $37,219 to USD $123,108, and sometimes more for a compositing supervisor or FX supervisor. *Source: Payscale


Explore other visual effects jobs

Visual Effects Careers

VFX courses taught by industry experts