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After a couple emails and posts, an interesting question came up about recruitment, and how one goes about actually getting their foot in the door at a visual effects company. What does it take?

These are my thoughts on the matter. Especially now, since there is a huge glut of artists out there looking for work, both professional and beginners alike. What would a recruiter look for in hiring a compositor?

Through interviews with leads and recruiters at different companies, some things are more necessary than others. One is the ability to communicate and network with other people. It is very much a social organization. You are constantly talking about how to improve a shot or sequence of shots and talking with clients or supervisors. Another necessary thing, which many artists aren't able to do, is to put in a reel at the right time, or know someone that knows someone that knows that company is hiring. Another in can be had by being hired as a different artist.

Many large and mid size companies hire entry level positions, which can eventually lead to a higher position up the food chain. I detest saying it, but roto and paint are the staples of visual effects. They're the ones that have to deal with a crappy plate, or paint out a character's wires as they hang from the ceiling. Matchmove is another department which doesn't get much glory. Even though software like Boujou and Matchmover make the job easier, not many larger companies use these off the shelf packages because it doesn't fit in with their workflow. Coming into a company at that level; roto, paint, matchmove, can give you an edge in getting into compositing. All those jobs every compositor must know to a degree. I've had to do all those three in the past to get to where I am now.

But all the things I've mentioned have nothing to do with the actual art or tech involved with compositing! What do they look for in a reel? While I don't speak for Tippett when I say this, I can tell you what I would look for in a demo reel (which is usually applicable to every studio out there to a degree).

A demo reel must be short, concise, and able to keep the recruiter's attention long enough for them to see your name at the end with a phone number. If you're just beginning, put your best work first. Even if you are a professional, put your best work first. When you're starting out, you usually don't have enough footage or projects to put on a reel. If you don't and you're trying to get into compositing film visual effects, an eye to what's real is always important. Like I mentioned in my Tips of the Week, reality is the best reference. In addition to making something look real, add details which are nuances to a shot. The little details count, not just the big ones. If there's a huge spaceship floating over a city, I should see darkness in the city, shadows on the ground, atmosphere engulfing the spaceship, and so on. If you're a professional, put the most catchy shot you've worked on at the beginning. Something that catchs the recruiters eye. Everyone has that cool, great shot that people just go, Cool.. For me it's the shot of the Sentinels from Matrix. The Sentinels are badass. Continue with some of your really good work, and then mix it up with shots from different shows. I personally like putting mine to music, because it helps ease the monotony of just having shot after shot after shot without music. That's mundane. Pick a good track that ISN'T too popular and still catchy, and cut your reel to that. I prefer tracks with little to no vocals. If your reel is being watched among other people, they may want to talk while your reel is playing, and vocals just get in the way.

Your demo reel is your calling card. If you don't spend any time on it and just slap it together, you should not expect a call. Make it catchy. It's your commercial. You are advertising yourself. As such, don't make a ten minute long epic. Professional artists can usually get away with a two-three minute reel. Students and beginners will have to have more, since they should always include breakdowns at the end, which can add up the runtime. My very first demo reel was a minute long, including breakdowns. Definitely TOO short, even if it may have been quality over quantity. But even as a student, I think my first reel sucked, which is one of the reasons I didn't get hired from it. It took me several tries of going back, reading articles, looking at movie making-ofs, and learning the trade from outside the circle, in order to get a foot in the circle.

Dan and Matt summed it up the best, in becoming a good compositor.

Dan: There are different aspects to being a good compositor including aesthetic, technical, and communication skills. Photography and color theory are certainly great places to start. Knowing what happens through the camera and what kind of decisions might be made on set are great to know. Color is something that you'll think about on a daily basis.

Beyond that, compositors need an understanding of light and shadow and a great sense for composition. Paying attention to details and subtleties in everyday life helps you translate that into your work. Watching the way things move and interact will make you a better compositor.

On a technical level, I think the most important skill is being able to pick things up quickly and to have a good understanding of why things work. There are tons of techniques and programs, most of which are proprietary, that could be learned. Knowing them all isn't the important part. It's more about understanding why they work, which will help you learn more quickly.

One of the most important skills is the ability to work with people. Be willing to compromise but able to communicate your opinion. You can be a great artist or technician, but without the ability to work cooperatively, you won't get much done. A good compositor can take direction and translate it into a successful solution to the problem.

Never become married to anything you do because at some point it probably will have to change.

Matt: A strong background in photography, painting, drawing or any of the arts is going to make you a better compositor. Also observing the real world is key to making better pictures. You can learn a lot from just standing outside and making mental note of the things you see. On the other hand, I always find it interesting when I see a natural phenomenon in light and atmosphere that I know if I were put in a shot it would look completely phony.

I hope that this short rant helps both of you, the professional and the beginner. As always, let me know if it helps you in any way.


Thank you for posting this advice, I found it extremely valuable. I'm currently a a second yr. student at Academy of Art University and was thinking of concentrating on compositing. I have a passion for photography/lighting and draw/paint/sculpt profusely. You have just helped me confirm my interest in persuing a career in compositing, please keep this up for future compositors! Hearing tips from people on the inside always helps- Thanks so much!

Great read, very useful indeed. It's been a hard run for me trying to break into this industry, and I'm sure that partly has to do with not focusing enough on one discipline...

Thanks again

Very insightful. This is one of the best articles on this subject that I have read.

Very inspiring

Thank You


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