I could say that, after each finished shot, I felt more and more like a compositor.Martin Demovic
How did I start my compositing journey
My name is Martin Demovič and I’m a digital compositor currently working in Pixomondo Stuttgart. I moved to Germany after spending several years as a 3D generalist in Slovakia.
This was my first compositing reel after graduating the vfx online school Compozitive. Before I attended Compozitive, I tried to learn compositing by myself at home from online sources. But when I found the Compozitive academy, I immediately signed up for the first class and I have never regretted that decision. That pretty much changed my career path and effected the way I work today. Thanks to the academy, I got my first job in the vfx industry at Pixomondo. The year I spent on this reel was the hardest year of my life. It has given me a lot of experiences and confidence in handling my new compositing role in the studio.
Every shot in the reel was supervised by our Compozitive mentor Vlad who has been in this industry for many years worked on lots of big movie projects and decided to share his knowledge with his students.
In my path to become a compositor, I focused my entire effort on post production in Nuke. Time to time I used Photoshop and 3ds max to help me with some challenges. As I mentioned earlier, I used to be a 3D generalist and my experiences from this job allowed me to make the reel stand out from the crowd.
I noticed that many junior compositors have similar reels as a result of graduating from the same vfx school. That’s the reason why it is always important to diversify the look by modifying the used patterns. As students, we were provided a wide range of shots to choose from and it was up to us to decide which shots we want – from complex green screens, CG vehicles up to full CG shots and much more. I always worked on multiple shots at the same time, because it gave me the opportunity to jump from one project onto another if I became tired or got stuck with what I was currently doing.
The entire showreel consists of materials provided by the academy. In my classes, we have also covered all the techniques of using deeps, projections and multipass CG integration. That helped me to create these types of shot more smoothly. I will now explain my approach and techniques used for each shot.
Shot 01 : Sci-fi Cityscape
When I saw this drone shot of Vancouver for the first time, I was very excited about how nice and impressive the shot looked. It looked like the best possible shot for a futuristic look. Based on the materials provided by the academy, I have rendered all CG layers like buildings, extensions and ships in multiple layers, all with DEEPS data.
It was up to me put it all together in a logical order, create my own atmosphere and add something special that would change the school pattern look. It was challenging to merge two different 3D worlds, one from 3D renders and another one created in Nuke with projections, as both Deeps and Depths were different. However, with special expressions, we got a nice and accurate result.
I started with looking for references for the overall atmosphere look. I really like the sunset look of the original plate, so I tried to keep that. What I wanted to change was the overall color palette and atmospheric haze as a it would be a cool element to define the depth of the shot even more.
Atmosphere references (source: internet)
After I chose the favorite atmosphere look, I started with the background replacement. I’ve added a new sky and a mothership where all the crowd ships will fly and I have also changed the mountain shape a little, in order to get a better skyline composition. As I had a 3D camera and tracking markers for the shot, all the elements in the scene were projected on the cards at approximate distances. To better integrate mountains skyline with the sky, I added the layered light wrap.
For the buildings extensions, I used a pretty different method than the one I was used to as a 3D artist. In the past, I would rendered the whole sequence in a 3D software and then combined it with the plate. Basically, I had one DMP frame of the city and 3D models of all extended buildings from the lighter. I imported the 3D model of the buildings to Nuke and separately projected every building from the DMP frame on them. It was basically a texture for all those buildings. With these methods, you can save time when you have to render it all in 3D. Of course, this could be used only if the 3D camera doesn’t have a big parallax movement. As the DMP has much more details than the 3D models, I also had to projected the rest of the details from DMP on the cards and placed them in the middle of every building.. In the end, I color integrated those building extensions with the plate without any visible connection.
As I had a selected atmosphere reference, I tried to match it in colors and haze. The haze was completely done in Nuke with noise, 3D models and cards. It was one of the tricks that Vlad also showed us during the lessons. It is a very impressive and strong technique and you can create really cool stuff with it.
I used a 3D scene from a previous step and put there all the additional cards that represented the rest of the all the buildings. As I had the 3D model only for the extended parts of the buildings, I also had to prepare the rest of the buildings.
As always, I used cards and roto masks for every missing building or part of the city which could have an impact on the depth of the atmospheric haze. For the variation and movement of the haze, I used an animated noise which I put on few cards in the space between the buildings.
With deep node, I combined all the noise cards together into a seamless atmosphere, which I later colored and integrated with the sequence. It probably sounds a little complicated, because it was. But with this method, I managed to simulate the haze without the need to go outside of the Nuke and use some special FX software.
CG ships integration
As I already mentioned, all CG ships were provided to me by the academy and my work after that was pretty straight forward. This was the first time that I ever used the deep workflow properly in a big shot. As it was rendered in Renderman, the naming of the layers was different as the one that I was used to work with in Vray. I took all single channel elements for master and crowd ships and combined them in a logical order to get the best result. Since the ships were rendered without masks for the buildings, I used rendered deep layers to create holdout masks in Nuke. Because we had almost everything in deeps, including the city, it was better to stack all CG ships in some logical order to make the compositing simpler and organized. Another thing I have to mention is the fact that clean and organized scripts are pretty much a sign of every Compozitive graduate. We were very strictly guided and mentored to always have simple and well organized scripts with no mess, because we have to be team players in case someone will pick up our script in future.
Particles trails and engine
As the project was approaching the end, I focused on creating details such as wing trails, engine tail and head distortion. All of these elements were created in Nuke, even though for me it could be easier to create them in some 3D software. But my goal was to learn to work in Nuke as much as was possible. As I mentioned I used Nuke particle system to create wing trails and with the same setup I also made engine tail. For heat distortion, I also used particles and idistort where you can deform and blur a plate by these particles as UV channels. Then I adjusted the length and amount of the heat distortion by depth pass which I had from rendered particles.
After many iterations, feedbacks from Vlad and hours spent on the shot, I finally got to the end. I made the final touches such as color corrections, I added our favorite lens flares, camera shake, camera distortion and grain. I probably made between 20-30 versions of progress for this shot, till Vlad/supervisor said which one will be the final 🙂
Shot 02-03 : Gotham style
These two shots were parts of the 6-shot sequence that the Gotham project shot in Vancouver and they were provided by the academy. As I’m a big fan of Batman movies, I liked these shots since the beginning and I saw the big potential in them. On this small school project, I had a chance to use my 3D skills to help with the model of the Batmobile, do the simple rigging and animation of this vehicle. Lighting/rendering part of the project was done by another student, which created a nice cooperation supervised by Vlad. As I wanted to focus on the compositing part of the project, I will describe just this process of creation.
As always, I started with finding references for the mood and atmosphere.You can find many references of the Gotham streets on the internet, so it wasn’t hard to find an inspiration. I wanted to keep the darkness of the original plate with little color change and add more depth atmosphere with haze, fire and smokes.
Gotham references (source: internet)
I wanted to bring more life and movements to the street which would create a better atmosphere. I started with adding smoke elements to the walls and the road. I used the available school elements library, where I could choose different types and then flip and time offset them to get more variations. Then I added some street signs, neons, wall paintings etc., all with the projection on cards. One of the biggest challenges was the realistically integrated fire in the barrel and, as always, I wanted to make it in Nuke. My second challenge was reduced water puddles. This helped me to avoid creating splash interactions with the vehicle, which could be a bit tricky to do in such a realistic way. For the removal, I used camera projection on the cards where I used several clean plates and blended them when the camera went forward. Like I mentioned few times before, I tried to bring models directly to Nuke 3D space and work with them there. This can sometimes be a challenge, but it taught me how to be a lot more efficient.
CG Vehicle in Batmobile style
As probably most of the compositors, I also really looked forward to start playing with the CG layers and now it was finally here. In this case, I probably used all of them to get the final look. Like on the previous shot, I used single channel elements to combine them into the final look. Then, I used the util elements as a position and a normal pass to help me with the relighting. As I added fire and some street lights to the plate, I had to relight the vehicle to make it match the plate. I used the position pass to create a point cloud where I wanted to know the specific position of the vehicle model in the Nuke 3D space. Base on this, I put point lights there to simulate real light conditions. Then I used the relight node in Nuke with position and normal pass.
In a very similar way as in the previous shot, I created the engine tails in this case. I used an animated axis of the engine position and connected particles onto it in order to get a base layer. After that, I used the motion blur, glows, some additional blurs and color correction to achieve a look that was on the reference.
Because I had a plan to add the atmosphere base on the street model, I had to create a very simple model of that. I used the Nuke model builder to create a simple geometry that represented most of the objects on the plate. I had two intentions on how to use this model. The first one was for building the atmosphere and the second one for using it for light interactions. I created an atmosphere in a similar way than for the previous project. So I put a few cards into space with animated noise and, by using deep expression, I blended them together. I used the same model for the light interactions – on an animated axis, I linked two spotlights as the front vehicle lights and a back point light as the engine. From this setup, I got an additional light pass which I used as a mask to grade the plate. The last thing I would like to mention is the faked reflections on the ground from the Batmobile. It was pretty easy to do as I just used the Batmobile render, flipped it and moved it to the position which made it look like a reflection. Then, with a 2D track, I matched the movement with the original Batmobile and used a mask of the water puddles which made the reflections visible just on these highly reflected areas. These small details really help to get the shot to the next level.
Time for final color corrections, lens flares, lens dirt, distortion and grain which always help the shot to get a real and much nicer look. On these two Gotham shots and, again, after many versions and feedbacks from Vlad, I really learned a lot on how to use Nuke 3D space more and how to relight rendered CG model and integration elements to a plate. In general, I could say that, after each finished project, I felt more and more like a compositor.
This is the end of the first part of the compositing reel breakdown. Based on my plan, these three shots should be the core of the reel, so I spent most of my time on them. I am very grateful for Vlad’s patience and the time he spent to help me be better. I also want to thank Compozitive for giving me a chance to write this article. The second part of the reel breakdown will follow soon. Don’t forget to be COMPozitive.
Martin Demovic / Compositor in Pixomondo Stuttgart
Martin’s IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm9793848/