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Compositor

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

What does a Compositor do?


VFX compositors seamlessly integrate CG assets, matte paintings, and live-action footage to make a single moving image, known as a shot. They match each layer in terms of light and shadow, color and grading, perspective, and depth, while also ensuring each shot maintains continuity within its sequence.

Before digging into their shot, Compositors may also be required to research real-life examples, watch reference videos (when possible), and generate multiple concepts. 

Oscar-nominated VFX Supervisor and CG Spectrum Mentor, Genevieve Camilleri talks about how she tackles a shot as a Compositor:

“I will begin blocking the shot out and problem-solving what assets, elements, and techniques will be required. I then begin to build the shot up creatively. I always try to find real-world references to support the work I am doing. Once the supervisors and myself are happy, I then begin to polish and refine my work on a more technical level.”

Role and responsibilities

When watching a film, on first inspection, it might seem tricky to determine what a Compositor was responsible for, which is actually the point! It’s their job is to create seamlessness in and between shots.

As compositing is the last step of the VFX pipeline, Compositors must combine all the 2D and 3D elements that make up a shot, ensuring they appear as though they naturally belong in the same space. For example, they may be given a foreground element that has been shot in front of a green screen which they need to integrate with a matte painted background, CG characters, and FX elements.

Compositors are often also responsible for smoothing out an actor’s appearance to appear younger (de-aging), and adding 2D effects such as dust particles, lens flare, motion blur, and graphics.

Responsibilities specific to a Compositing Artist in film may include:

  • Integrating 2D and 3D elements of a shot while balancing the creative and technical side of each component
  • Paint fixes, rotoscoping, chroma keying, colour and grading continuity, graining/degraining images
  • Stitching plates (live-action footage) together
  • Working with blue/green screen effects, creating mattes 
  • Enhancing lighting effects and creating convincing shadows within a shot
  • Integrating rear projection into background images
Software and other tools used

Compositers are commonly required to use one or more of the following softwares:

  • Nuke
  • Adobe Photoshop, After Effects
  • Shake
  • Maya
  • Combustion
  • Inferno
  • Flame
  • RenderMan
Skills required

Compositors require a mix of technical, creative skills, and interpersonal skills. The VFX industry is a highly collaborative environment—a single shot will often travel through multiple departments before reaching the Compositing Department—so a Comper must be able to work well in a team, and have a solid understanding of the VFX pipeline

Employers may look for the following skills in a Compositor:

  • A solid understanding of composition, color theory, and image properties
  • Strong understanding on the visual effects pipeline
  • Extensive Nuke knowledge and experience (demonstrated via showreel)  
  • Photographic skills - understanding depth of field, shutter speed, lighting, aperture, composition, and framing
  • An understanding of stereo (3D) and anamorphic compositing in Nuke
Average salary

Wages for Compositing Artists start at around USD $75,000 and peak at around USD $180,000.

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