A passion for storytelling and design has led Compositing Supervisor Daniel Elophe through a multifaceted career spanning both production and post-production that’s taken him all over the world. Here he tells us what it takes to be in his role, what he looks for when adding a Compositor to his team, and what he sees as the future of the art.
Tell us about your early career. What got you interested in Visual Effects?
I’ve had a very long and winding career that has led me up to this point. I’ve been working in the entertainment industry for 16 years. Since I was little, I always had a burning desire to work in film and television. When I was 18, I moved to Australia and was surprised to discover the wave of filmmaking work that was happening there at the time. I applied to every job possible, eventually landing a position as an assistant producer for a television commercial production company. In that role I was exposed to post-production facilities, and a love was born. I loved working with these creative people operating big machines like Edit Box, Henry, Flame, and Da Vinci grading suites. I decided that was what I wanted to do, as I had a strong passion for design and story telling. I quit the production company and enrolled in film school in Sydney. I studied practical film production, learning how to expose film, light film sets and manage productions. I eventually ended up working for the largest post-production facility in Australia; first in their video-tape room, and then later for 4 years as an Avid editor. During that time I cut numerous television commercials, TV shows, documentaries as well as editing short films in my spare time, some of which have screened at the most prestigious festivals around the world. Unfortunately, more and more opportunities for editors were based in reality television, something that didn’t interest me. My passion for design and making something out of nothing helped me make the jump to becoming a Flame Artist. That role was to up-res commercials edits for broadcast, do any colour grading, title graphics, and visual effects necessary for a commercial production. It took me around the world, having the opportunity to work in places like London, Dubai, Copenhagen, Montreal, and of course Australia. I found the skills as a Flame Artist priceless, as you had to think fast, create fast, as well as work directly with Directors, Producers, Art Directors and corporate clients. The responsibility of the final product fell on your shoulders, and post-production relied on you, your creativity and professionalism to make sure you did the job right, and had a happy client.
While working in Denmark the winds started to shift and I was given the opportunity to do some VFX work on some feature films, instead of commercials. This helped me realize my passion for working in Film. After over a decade abroad, I decided to move back to Canada, eventually joining Image Engine five years ago, and I haven’t looked back since.
For anyone who wants to follow your career path, what are the skills needed to become a Compositing Supervisor?
There is a wide array of skills necessary to do this job. First and foremost, a broad understanding of overall production and VFX practices, as well as a strong understanding of photography and light. It is a role that is a mixture of 3 facets; artistry, management and a technical understanding of the latest compositing and filmmaking practices. At the heart of it is a thorough understanding of film and digital mediums, and how they respond and produce images under every environmental circumstance. A compositing supervisor must find balance between budget, time, and technological constraints, while using every tool under their belt to help implement and deliver the best images possible. The foremost skill needed to do this job, is a passion for movies, imagery and a love of working with creative people. A good compositing supervisor should help foster an artist’s drive and want to create the best imagery they can.
What does your role as Compositing Supervisor at Image Engine entail?
My role involves the management and facilitation of the 2D side of a production. We work with other front-end departments (CG, Lighting, FX) to ensure the best quality of work is produced to a level that enables the compositing department to have all renders and materials necessary to complete a shot to the highest standard. Along with the supervisors and leads of other departments, we plan best production methodologies and practices to achieve the look and aesthetic of the sequences and shows we are working on. Beyond that we are responsible for the quality of the final look of shots produced at Image Engine that are delivered for a film. It is our responsibility to guide, mentor and give compositing artists the tools necessary to complete shots.
Building out your team is a big part of your role. What are the things you look for in a good Compositor?
I look for someone who understands their skills and their strengths. Thankfully we are not all the same. Some are extremely artistic, and less technical, like myself, whereas others are very technical, and what excites them is building tools and scripting. I look to have a team that is balanced between the best of these skills. What I love are compositors who are constantly think out of the box, constantly think about how they can push a shot, how they can push a mood or a feeling. It’s not about producing a shot for a film, but helping creating emotional content of the film through visual means. If you are doing character or creature compositing, that means bringing out as much detail or life in the eyes or making the subsurface of the skin look real, like there is life in there. Or, if you are doing hard surface or machines, matching the glints and pings that reflective surfaces naturally do under light. I always get excited when I see a Compositor really look and think about how they can make a shot more than just a shot, but an event. Of course, there is always a time constraint, so it’s finding someone who can do these things in a specific time frame, let go, and be able to move onto the next shot.
What have been your favorite projects that you’ve worked on?
I have loved all projects at Image Engine. Some highlights for me have been Battleship and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was exciting purely from a creative standpoint. The sequence we did was so ridiculous and over the top, but it was all about having fun. I was blown away by what the team at Image Engine was able to produce and how we came together as a creative team. At other studios, I think my favourite project was Tron Legacy. I was just excited to be a part of the project, and blown away by the images that were being produced.
What is the future of Compositing?
For me the future of compositing is more and more about the convergence of 3D and 2D. Deep Compositing is truly an exciting future. It has allowed Compositors to take their creativity to another level, in dynamic and often quick ways. As Compositors, we assemble our renders, but often, added 2D elements like smoke, fire, bullet hits are the icing on the cake that make a shot feel real. With Deep data, generated out of 3D, we can place these things right in 3D space, rendered from a 3D scene camera and instantly held out. It allows us the flexibility to art direct and move elements as necessary. We don’t need to spend time rotoscoping an element into place.
What advice would you give to those who are looking to get into this industry?
Advice I would have for anyone wanting to get into the industry is to be true to your passion. Know and cultivate what you want. Also, don’t rush. Be thankful for the opportunities that come your way, and be thankful of the experience that they provide. If this is going to be your career, there is never any rush to get to ‘the next level’. In this industry, we are ALWAYS learning. Every film is different and technology changes and evolves constantly. Do whatever you can to fuel your passion. This is a complex industry and it can take people’s fire and creativity if you aren’t careful. Stay true to what you want and enjoy the ride.