The Invisible Art : Legends of Movie Matte Painting is a great ole book which has absolutely nothing to do with this post. Well, except that it refers to Compositing techniques in film which are so well done that the audience miss them altogether.

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And that is partially what this post is about, that not the audience but seemingly the entire industry of feature animation historically has, more often than not, shifted focus away from the value the craft of Compositing brings to the production of making animated films. Its really an old gripe that I can finally let go of since Disney, Pixar, Blue Sky, and really all of the Animation industry have embraced Compositing by this point, kinda, sorta.

 

In the not so distant past you couldn’t for the life of you find an article which described the contribution of Compositing on animated films. After many years of frustrated searches in vain, I figured that several of these Animation companies had developed their own proprietary tech and preferred rather to showcase these facets of their pipeline rather than the role Compositing techniques played in producing their films. This makes sense from a commercial perspective where a companies produce is more significant by focusing on the art and tech which distinguishes them from their competition. The use of ubiquitous industry-wide methods of production does little to brand a company, and unfortunately in Animation, that would include the craft of Compositing. It is also true that in most cases Compositing solutions were a last resort, often referred to as a cheat. That particularly rankled my feathers as my chosen specialty was always held in such a higher regard within the live-action VFX industry whence I came.

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It was into this environment that I and many other compositors attempted to transfer our skills from liveaction VFX into Feature Animation. This convergence of seemingly disparate techniques and production philosophies was in some companies more of a conflict than at others. As there are political, managerial, procedural, and financial reasons why to choose one mode of production over another, and all are valid depending on the circumstance. All valid yet equally frustrating when, as an artist your ideas are often overlooked or consciously avoided before you even have the chance to offer them. However, perseverance and really good ideas tend to be like cream and eventually rise to the surface.

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At Blue Sky Studios all I’ve noted above transpired, and I was as surprised as anyone when my pitch to present our advancements in Compositing to the global film industry during the 2009 SIGGRAPH Conference on Computer Graphics in New Orleans, LA was accepted. Several of us in Compositing had developed tools and techniques which we’d used to great effect on “Ice Age 3 : Dawn of the Dinosaurs”. I subsequently put together an 11 minute film showcasing all of these contributions to our film, but also what I knew to be of considerable interest to the global animation industry, and something many Compositors out there were longing to see.

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And boy what a reward when my friend and colleague Matt Wilson and I traveled down on the company dime to present our film and Q&A at Le Petit Theatre, in New Orleans French Quarter. And as one does at Siggraph we met up with many friends and associates from other companies around the globe who annually fly in to attend this gathering, whichever city it is in year after year. I saw many in our audience I’d worked with out in California, and was proud to share what we had accomplished at Blue Sky. A friend of mine even borrowed a van and drove down from Baton Rouge to join us and see what I was up to, and another college friend flew in from Myrtle Beach, SC. These fellas were a little less interested in filmmaking and instead waiting patiently to go out in the French Quarter those nights, to take in local Blues and Zydeco at Tippitina’s , the House of Blues, and other smaller joints. We had a grand ole time, getting sideways on Hurricanes and counting our current blessings.

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Primarily though, it was a long time coming to give a focused presentation on advanced Compositing tech and technique for feature Animated filmmaking. It was a rare satisfaction for me who had for years read trade magazines backwards and forwards trying to track down any semblance of Compositing I could be inspired by, and find opportunity from, within the top Animation studios, only to find nothing at all. And then, a “Blue Sky Idea” formed, to go against the grain (as if I had a choice) and converge liveaction VFX Compositing into Feature Animation (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/blue-sky). I certainly wasn’t alone in this, but somehow when anyone swims against the current, it certainly can feel that way !

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