Compositing

At the start of the semester I was given the opportunity to work with Michael Bass on a short animation project for children who were going into hospital which aims to put them at ease and familiarise them with the hospital surroundings. The illustration was done by children, and Mike animated the separate pieces.

Where I came in was in the compositing; to combine the real time footage on a handheld camera with the animation. Looking for opportunities to practice the compositing skills I picked up over the summer with JAM Media, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I fully support the ArtsCare project, and loved the childrens’ animation.

I completed two ten second scenes, where I came across a number of problems I had to solve. Firstly, I was used to using Adobe After Effects CS6 on industry quality machines, with two large monitors, and plug-ins. I didn’t realise how spoilt I was until I sat down with my two years old 13″ Macbook Pro on After Effect CS 5.5, with no plug-ins, and no extra monitor. Needless to say, compositing was not quite as attractive when I had to wait 30seconds per frame to render in real time! This was a problem that wasn’t going to go away, so I discovered ways to save my RAM, such as working with the lowest quality preview, turning off motion blur and effects when not needed etc.

When it came to motion tracking I watched a number of tutorials to guide me; I had done it before but wanted a more solid understanding of the process. The frustration that comes with tutorials, is that the tracking points the tutor selects are always perfect, first time round! This has NEVER happened to me. It took me many many attempts to get points that wouldn’t slip, slide or scale in strange ways; if a track is not perfect, it is not worth using. I first tried to track in AE Mocha, but I couldn’t get any good tracks. I then decided to use the built in Tracker in AE which, after a long time trying, gave me a successful track.

I didn’t expect the track to be easy, as there were two subjects that walked over potential points at different stages of my scene. Moreover, it was hard to find high contrast parts of my clip, which would have helped AE recognise the points. In the end, I tracked a large surface area to give me the greatest chance of accurate track data.

The challenges of rotoscoping are mainly stamina based. Simply, there are no short cuts so it will always take a long time. Having learnt from experience, I broke my roto up into many different masks upon one solid layer. To avoid the roto from ‘popping’, I manipulated individual points as little as possible and instead, focused on the whole mask, using he transform tool to move it.

The greatest challenge in rotoscoping came with the faster moving parts of the scene, as it was difficult to determine where to lay my line. Another challenge arose when the hair and the background were of such similar colours, it was difficult to tell them apart. Solving these problems came through a process of trail and error, toggling the background on and off to see what looked right! As tedious as it can be at times, I find rotoscoping quite a satisfying task. Hard work and accuracy always pays off and the results are immediate.

The final part of my process was to add shadows(The scene has further work to be done after my role, such as colour grading, so the finish I do is not the final outcome). I had to transform the poster on a 3D layer as the scene is filmed from an angle adding a bit of a warp in the perspective. This was hard to perfect, so I duplicated and masked the frame to give it a better finish, and to soften the edges of the poster. To further the finish, I added a shadow layer, expanding the mask at certain sides to make it look realistic, and then parenting it to the frame.

This composting task tested my skills, and pushed me to discover new techniques in order to solve problems. I found that I learnt a lot from struggling through something on my own and eventually finding the solution. I enjoyed organising the piece and began to get into a good practice of labelling and order within my compositions, which I’m discovering is really important in the industry. This piece took me much longer than I expected, but I tried to maintain precision and a high standard of work through the process. In the end, I was great to see a piece through from start to finish, and incredibly satisfying to see an end result.

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