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This is the final step of the visual effects pipeline. A compositor takes all the elements of the film and layers them on top of each other. They use elements like color correction, masking and other tricks to create the illusion that all elements naturally belong together. They may be putting an animated character into a live-action scene, overlaying destruction onto a building, or even layering a simulated tsunami over a shot of a city street. The possibilities of what a compositor may be working on are endless, and they are often using the complex tools within The Foundry’s Nuke to complete their work.
Once the animation and effects teams are done working their magic, the 3D elements need to be lit to blend into the scenes. A lighting artist, or team of lighting artists, strategically places lights throughout the 3D scene to ensure light color, intensity, and shadows match up with the originally shot piece. Each sequence of frames is then rendered out from the needed camera angles and handed off to the compositor.
The job of an FX artist revolves around adding simulated elements to a film that seamlessly exist in the director’s world. This includes simulations as well as the more abstract tasks that don’t really fit in anywhere else in the pipeline. At any given time, an FX artist could be working on things like destruction, fire, liquids, smoke, and particle simulations. They also could be adding hair to a character or creating footsteps in the snow. They will often work alongside the animators and modelers to ensure the natural movement and interaction with colliding FX elements.
Animators then add a texture as an outer layer and use the custom controls of the rig to bring the character, prop, or vehicle to life. Its movement is mathematically mapped out and sequenced by software that outputs the final animation. They also work with motion capture data that needs to be tweaked to achieve a final look.
Before an object or character can be animated, a rigging team must build a system of controls, or a digital skeleton, for animators to use. This usually involves adding bones, calculating and implementing skin weights, and adding muscles to replicate the natural movement of a character.
As filmmaking gets more complex, R&D is becoming increasingly more important. During this stage VFX supervisors work with directors to figure out how certain shots can be accomplished. In the meantime the VFX artists, technical directors, modelers, animators, and compositors do their own research. For example, if a film needs explosions that come from a specific source, like a missile, the VFX artists and technical directors study videos and photos to see how the fire and smoke behave. They then create tools within a program to efficiently work on the final shots.
The 3D modeling and texturing teams are essential to creating things that aren’t practical or cost-effective to have on set. Being one of the first groups involved in the post-production process, they may have to model assets such as props, buildings, vehicles, and weapons. 3D models may also be used to complement something shot on set. Some of these can just be simple and used to correct lighting and shadows. Other assets may need to be fully realized and textured, especially if they are going to be destroyed or modified.
Layout, also referred to as production design, has a different meaning for different teams. The end goal is to have a visual representation of what the final sets will look like. This helps physical set builders figure out and communicate to directors and producers what is physically possible and what may need a digital set build. For the VFX team, it defines how digital set builds might have to be incorporated. The layout team and production designers may use drawings, photos, and 3D renderings to finalize the sets.
A 3D camera is generated so that the VFX team generates the 3D characters and objects that need to be integrated into the footage. The process of matching the motion of a character or object with the footage called rotomation.
Concept art and design are arguably one of the most important phases of pre-production. A concept artist or team of artists create the look and feel of a film by drawing fully fleshed out images that further define settings, characters, props, costumes, lighting, color and more. The mood and style of a film is often defined by what is created during the concept art phase.
Pre-vis takes storyboarding a step further. 3D artists create low poly models and representations of the locations where scenes play out. They work with the production team to set up camera angles and block out complex scenes ahead of time, saving time and money on set.
During the storyboarding and animatics phase an artist or team of artists create visual representations of the actions within the script. They analyze the character motion and settings within the story and use basic drawings to define framing from shot to shot. The results are subject to change down the line, but these visuals give the production team a chance to start preparing.