Interview with compositing artist, Olivier Jezequel
We spoke to the extremely talented compositing artist, Olivier Jezequel, who tells us the huge amount of work involved when we watch movies like X-Men and Harry Potter. So whilst we sit comfortably in our sofas and get transported to a different world, let’s find out what geniuses like he does and read his advice to students who aspire to be like him.
Question: What does your job as a compositing artist involve?
Olivier: Compositing is the end of the visual effects pipeline where all the elements (on a flat 2D image format) are combined together to build the final picture. For example, on a typical work, I would receive a shot where I would remove a blue screen behind some characters. I would add a background from the ‘Environment’ team or a sky picture instead. I will then add any computer graphic images made in the 3D department and integrate it into the picture. I will also add all other divers elements needed, making it feel like everything has always been together by balancing the colours and contrasts, warping the perspectives and changing scales.
Q: Could you give us an example?
O: It often involves the use of real elements too, from our library, like fires smokes or branches or other things the director wants to add in his picture, that require to search and test the ones that will work the best. Basically my job it is like layering and composing on Photoshop but on animated pictures.
Q: Any favourite projects you’ve worked on?
O: The last Harry Potter movie was an interesting one, even though technically, I didn’t work on the movie itself. I was involved early on for a few weeks and got some shots for the early trailer. When I say early, it was almost a year before! So the filming wasn’t even finished then. I had to put together a shot where we see Harry Potter and Lord Voldemont fighting, their wands connected with a magic ray of power.
It was an exciting shot because it was my first involvement with the Harry Potter series and that was a very important shot - the final fight! And visually, the shot looked very nice.
So I spent those few weeks finding the right look, the right balance of the effect, and the light interaction playing on the ground and the walls.
Funnily enough when the time came to work on Harry Potter, I had to work on another movie and someone else took over the Harry Potter project, and gave it a totally different approach from mine. But I still love the version I did for the trailer, although it is not the final film version.
I also enjoyed some of the shots I worked on for X –Men: First Class. There was a challenging shot when the submarine detached itself from a boat and I had a lot of fun making the underwater lights feel and look real.
Q: Do you get to exert your creative skills whilst working?
O: We do have some creative freedom inside the shots we are working, with the elements we are adding and how we put them together. For example, I am now working on a movie with a dragon breathing fire. It is my job to build the environment that makes it credible as a whole. Because all I have is a CG dragon and an empty room, I have to find the right fire and smoke elements. I am not talking about one fire and one smoke element. It often comes to using half a dozen of each together or separated to build layers of depth; such as playing with colours as the fire illuminate the smoke, filling the empty space like it is full of smoke, adding embers and ashes and so on. Ultimately, the shot could end up looking totally different depending on who is working on it and which elements he chooses to use. But we also have to work as a team in a coherent continuity from shot to shot. As such, our creativity must be contained towards the direction that the director and clients wish to take.
Q: Gosh that sounds all very difficult. Are there any perks to your job?
O: We usually have crew tickets to watch the movie before it is out. It is the only time in cinema where almost everybody stays until the end of the credits. Usually we try to see our names in it!
Q: Any advice to students who wish to follow in your footsteps?
O: Train yourself on the softwares, they are widely available as demo or student versions. There are a lot of tutorials on the Internet. The next step would be to find a proper course to gain more training on a professional level. There are also some cinema schools that teach VFX and other aspects of film work. Your options are wide and endless.
Q: What’s the most important trait a student should have?
O: The secret about this industry is to like what you do. If you don’t really love that, you will give up quickly when the hours of work or the pressure starts to build up. Watch the making of big visual effect movies. They always motivate me, even now. And sometimes you need motivation
Q: Finally, what’s the best way of getting your foot through the door?
O: A good show reel is your best ticket. There are companies willing to take students as runners to make coffee or cleaning, and after a while, if they show skills and motivation, they will start doing little things. The workload will increase until they become part of the team. Working in film is very demanding. I suggest to start work with commercials first as you will have more chances to do a wider range of tasks. I started with commercials and learned a lot.
An aspiring journalist with a passion for investigative journalistic work. Also a self-declared masterchef.