Compositor Stefan Ihringer talks about his career as a freelance artist, sharing knowledge
and expertise, and making the most of compositing software, in particular eyeon Fusion.
|Stefan Ihringer is a freelance compositing artist based in Munich, Germany. He has been working in visual effects since 2006, after studying computer science and programming design. At the end of his studies in 2004, he did an internship at a motion graphics company where he also learned editing and how to use After Effects, which served as the basis for freelance work. As a student he had enrolled in an elective about Fusion compositing although at that stage hadn’t considered this as his future career.|
Art or Craft - or Both
Stefan reflected, “You can approach compositing as an art or a craft. Since I have a background in computer science, not design per se, I have tried not to compete with artists who are more skilled in design and matte painting. Instead I've approached compositing as a job where you try to find elegant solutions to problems. Scripting has often played a part, as well as understanding the math behind image processing.”Across the Tools
In the past several years, spent working on a range of commercial, broadcast and feature film projects, all of his jobs have required using either Nuke or Fusion. “I'd say the main differentiating factor has been market share,” he said. “That is, Nuke is used by the majority of VFX studios for reasons of customizability, particular tools and the availability of a huge pool of artists.
“Fusion on the other hand has a smaller market share but is much cheaper, faster in many ways and thus - in my opinion - very suitable for companies that have tight deadlines and over-the-shoulder client sessions, like advertising. In the end, an artist proficient in one application can get familiar with the other one quite rapidly. It's a different story with After Effects, of course, which is layer-based instead of node-based and needs a different approach.”
Stefan has a very active blog and tutorial website where he shares his experience, ideas and interesting discoveries on visual effects and compositing. He also has a collection of Fusion scripts and macros he has created over time for specific tasks. Among the advancements that Fusion has gained over the last several months, Stefan finds Dimension, the optical flow and stereoscopic plug-in, is very effective when it comes to fixing stereo problems or analyzing motion, although its cost is very low compared to other similar software. “Moreover, the current version of Fusion basically comes with a free plug-in that bridges the workflow between AVID editors and the compositing department,” he said.
Under the Hood
“The regular kind of plug-in would be written in C++ and needs to be compiled - it's a requirement of that particular programming language. But because Fuses are small programs written in LUA or the graphics card language OpenCL and are human-readable text files that Fusion will execute on demand, you don't need to compile anything or restart Fusion to execute the updated version of your plug-in. They are a way to rapidly draft ideas or test routines. An important factor in my case is that you don't need a special programming/compiling application for C++. A free text editor is enough to write Fuses.”
When thinking about the fundamental skills that all compositors need to master to gain control of their work, he said that using real-life reference footage and photos is probably the best suggestion for compositing students. “Effects like light wraps for example work much more subtly in these kinds of images than what you usually find in compositing tutorials. Also, skies are much brighter than you might expect, especially if your final image should be bright enough to reveal details in areas lit by ambient light only.
The Soft Side
Stefan noted that, usually, these are the kinds of frustrations that happen when the whole shot hasn't been executed or thought-out well enough. But nobody will blame the script writer, DOP, light crew or director. In the end, it's the compositor's job to save the shot, on time and in budget. In these cases it pays off to be a good communicator.
“Depending on your role,” he said, “it's important to point out possible obstacles early on, either to the supervisors once you are assigned a shot or, if you are the supervisor, during the planning stages and on set. This requires experience but communication and being a team player are things you can already start training for on student projects.”
“Nevertheless, editing and comp department communication needs to run smoothly because compositors need a way to see their finished or in-progress shots in context. When available, a VFX editor can be an important bridge between departments, in my opinion. Some of my recent projects that didn't have one suffered from lack of communication or technical misunderstandings. The production editors’ job is telling a story, and they won’t have much time for technical VFX issues like file sequence numbering, the challenges of matching AVID speed ramps or rebuilding splitscreens already prepared for the rough cut.
Companies Stefan has worked with in recent years include Pixomondo, Scanline VFX and Parasol island, handling 2D and 3D compositing on film, broadcast, commercials and trade show projects. Among the feature films he has worked on are ‘The Avengers’, ‘Battleship’, ‘Vicky and the Treasure Gods’ and ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’. www.comp-fu.com www.eyeonline.com