Working on a sequence for an effects-heavy film is like putting together a puzzle, with digital artists having to stitch the live action footage and computer effects together into a seamless composition. This careful blending of the two elements falls on the compositors, visual technicians who build the final cohesive scene from work created by a project’s entire effects team – the matte paintings, animated characters, environmental effects, and more.
It’s a challenging role, but one that 2010 Digital Arts & Design graduate Brian Rust has excelled in while helping deliver such blockbusters as Maleficent, Jack the Giant Slayer, and this week’s big home video release, X-Men: Days of Future Past. Brian is lead compositor at groundbreaking effects house Digital Domain, and was one of a dozen Full Sail alumni who worked on the latest X-Men sequel. Speaking about his work on the film, he offered a look at the filmmaking experience from the role of a compositor – work which is as much about organization and communication as it is about process.
Starting a new film
X-Men: Days of Future Past was technically challenging yet extremely rewarding to work on. When I start working on a shot for a movie like this, there are typically blue/green screen plates that were shot on set. I spend a lot of my time at the beginning removing the blue or green elements, which will then allow me to add in the backgrounds and other objects. There’s really no such thing as an “easy shot.” Every frame of the movie is going to be scrutinized and it’s my job to make sure each one I work on is perfect.
Coming up with tools, shortcuts, and templates is helpful, and one of my favorite things to do as a compositor. When I was a student at Full Sail we had only limited time to complete projects, so I learned very quickly how to speed up processes that I found myself doing over and over. I have definitely carried that with me into my job as a compositor. If I can spend 30 minutes coming up with a way to save three hours, then why not?
Working with others
When you have anywhere from 5 to 20 different people working on all of the aspects of a shot, it’s up to the compositor to make sure they all flow together nicely. Because of that it definitely makes the job easier when the people you work with are exceptional at their jobs, and that you have good relationships with them. That mindset, mixed with some hard work, and a bit of luck, has put me in a really great position, and I have been extremely fortunate to work with very talented people in all of the departments at Digital Domain.
Seeing it all come together
It makes me love my job even more when I hear people are excited to see my work, and with a movie like X-Men, the buzz was crazy. It felt like every other day something new was being announced about the film, or they were releasing new clips of the movie online. So to have something I worked on, spent time on, worried and stressed out about, being enjoyed by millions of people is great. I don’t think that feeling will ever go away. It’s like seeing my mom put my artwork on the refrigerator for the first time – but like that every time.