22 July 2014

Christopher Jaques, Compositor

This weeks profile Q&A is with Compositor Christopher Jaques.

Christopher is one of our compositors and spends his time combining myriad images from a variety of sources (live action, computer-generated images and graphics) to produce a final shot for film. He is one of the final stops in the VFX pipeline. Recent projects include Man of Steel, Jupiter Ascending and Exodus.


How did you get into the business?

At a young age I was always encouraged to study the things I enjoyed, rather than the things people feel they have to. I ended up doing Art, Design and Mathematics at A-Level, not knowing where it could lead. After that, mainly because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do I went to Art College where I found out about compositing. Because I had studied these topics, I ended up getting a place to study on the BA course of Computer Visualisation and Animation at Bournemouth. This was invaluable as we all got a really good general knowledge of visual effects, as well as a grounding as to what the industry would be like. The final year is where I got a chance to work in Shake and really found out what could be done with compositing. After having an industry based project set and performing well in it I realised it was for me. Once finished I found my way to Double Negative as a roto artist and have been learning my trade here since.

Is there anything you wish you had done before you joined the industry which would have better prepared you for your career in VFX for Film?

I wish I had carried on with photography, and paid attention when I was told how a camera worked. I did a lot of photography from the age of 10 to about 18 then I stopped. Having this sort of knowledge really does help to add effects that you would only expect from certain types of lenses, for example the way light bounces around inside the camera.

What natural skills do you think lend themselves to doing your job?

Being creative, a problem solver, a good communicator, logical, being able to take criticism and probably most importantly, being a team player.

Are there any particular training / courses you’d recommend?

I would recommend the Steve Wright books and “The Art and Science of Digital Compositing” by Ron Brinkmann. They can give you a very good knowledge about the fundamentals of compositing. You would be surprised about how many compers in the industry don’t know some of the stuff in there. Also for more software related training I would go on the Foundry website. They have some amazing tutorials on there, also Nukepedia is a handy little website for tips and tricks.


From Andrew Williamson: Question for Christopher: Are you able to ‘switch off’ from VFX in your spare time, or are you always strategising about how you’re going to complete a shot?

Yes – of course it can be difficult if a show is particularly demanding but the pub always helps! Personally I find sport and the gym helps me relax. I think it is an important thing to have a good work-life balance as it helps you work more efficiently when you are at your desk.

From Shailendra Pandey: How do you make something look “Real”?

I would say the best way is to do your research before you start so you have a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve. The ‘look’ of things can be drastically affected by different lighting conditions and movements in reality. Once you have done your research, break each task down into small, manageable pieces and build your work up gradually as though you are painting. Always look back as much as you can to your reference. Also, remember that you are not necessarily trying to make things look totally real; you are trying to make your composite look like it was really shot by a cameraman (not comped at all!). And lastly – always match your blacks!

From Arkadiusz Leszko: Hi. What is your toolkit for daily workflow which help you making shots more realistic. For example nodes, effects like – chroma abberation, grain, defocus, blooms etc. Can you share names of some tools you like using which come from out of the nuke’s box?

Hi Arkadiusz. You’re right – I regularly add lens effects, such as edge flares and chromatic abberation to shots, to ensure my shots look ‘real’. I use a combination of standard Nuke tools, and the many custom-written DNeg Nuke tools to get my shots to final. Fortunately for us, we have a big R&D team and a number of technical compers too, who are always writing new gizmos, so there’s always something new to try!

From Max Auer: Which part of compositing makes the most fun to you and are there also some tasks you don’t like that much?

If I’m honest, the most fun you get out of a shot is when it is finalled and the director loves it! The second most fun aspect for me is managing to produce something unexpected. Nuke has opened up such a variety of things we can do with its 2.5D approach. Even though you can’t do everything in Nuke that you could in Maya, or Houdini, you can get very cool results. The worst thing for me is stereo conversion, hands down.

From Jordan Bates: Morning members of Dneg, I have a question for Christopher. In December I visited your offices in London with my university and it was mentioned that you may be doing internships for students soon, is there any development on these brews or is it possible to get the email of someone who may know? The lady who gave the tour said we could get gets from our lecturer but I don’t believe he had it.

Hey Jordan, we passed your question onto our Recruit Team as they’re the ones looking into this. Recruit team says, ‘Hi Jordan, we are keen to bring in interns at some stage in the future. We don’t have an internship program set up as of yet, but as soon as we do we will post information on our website so please keep an eye out! If you have any questions about careers at DNeg, please e-mail jobs@dneg.com.’, cheers Dneg Ed!

From Mac Byers: What was the best/ most rewarding film you’ve worked on up to date? What film, that you weren’t involved with would you have loved to be a part of, regardless of studio…

Tough question! I would say that the most rewarding film I have worked on so far was Inception, there was always a feeling that we were working on something different and very special. As for the one I would have loved to work on there is no doubt in my mind that it would be the James Bond film, Skyfall. Bring on the next Bond!

From Tan Chee Kwang: Hi Chris, what the longest shot you have done/which shot did you spend the longest time to do? how many weeks?

The longest time I have spent on a shot was about 2 months. It was a shot on Snow White and the Huntsman and I took it from the cleanup stage all the way to final. It was great to work on a shot from start to finish: the dark fairies were spiteful little critters!

What is the best thing about your job? and what the worst thing about your job?

The best thing for me is when you see your shot in a film for the first time . The worst thing for me is when you get so involved in your shot that you become your own worst critic. My job is pretty amazing though!

Hello Chris, before you start compositing what were you doing? beside nuke skill what other software do you work with?

Before I started compositing I went to art college with the aim of becoming a graphic designer. When someone explained to me what compositing was, and how it’s just like Photoshop but it’s moving”, I knew we would be a match made in heaven. We have (almost) been happily married since.

What is the difference between doing work for tvcs/tv shows and movie?

I have never worked on TV shows but my Dneg colleagues who have would likely tell you that the main difference is turn around is a lot quicker in TV than it is in film. In TV, the shot needs to look perfect on the run whilst in film we work frame by frame, meticulously scrutinising as we go along. Film all the way I say!

From Fabian Holtz: Hey Christopher! How many of the elements you composite are you creating yourself? Like mattepaintings, 3d geometry (with textures/shaders), or particle systems? How well should you know those (and other) techniques as a successfull compositor?

As a comper at double negative we don’t often create our own elements, although it depends on the size and duration of the show. We have specialist teams of matte painters, texture artists and shader writers all of whom are amazing and provide great elements to me. This allows the comp team to specialise in comping!

From Arjun Singh: Hey Christopher ! Tough job, compositing. So, I wanted to know how hard is to composite water and debris for an explosion since both follow their respective physics criteria, and, how do you composite motion capture fighting ?

I haven’t actually had to deal with motion capture fighting, but I can imagine most of the process would be dealt with by the 3d department. We would then be passed a set of cg passes that we could work with and fit into a plate. As for the second question, I would go back to what I said earlier and just break down each part into separate layers. Make sure each one works individually when it’s in the shot. Once they do layer them together and then worry about how you are going to make them interact after that.

From Abdul Kaderr: Hi Christopher! During production is it easier to film composite elements (such as dust, smoke, debris) for every project, or using off-the-shelf composite elements such as Action Essentials? who wins, After Effects or Nuke?

Here at Dneg over the years we have built up an extensive element library, so most of the elements you would want to use are there. For me it’s definitely Nuke; node based programmes all the way.

From Nathan Mateer: What advice would you give folk like myself who are interested in working in the industry?

Do it because you enjoy it, and you really want to do it, not for the money. If you want to do something for the money, become a lawyer, you work similar hours.

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